How many times have you thought “Gee, why can’t those weather forecasts get it right?” Meanwhile, the weather forecasters are probably thinking “Well, if we only had the right tools, we could.”
As detailed here by the Ottawa Citizen’s Tom Spears, better tools are in the works.
NASA is developing something called the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, targeting a 2014 launch. It’s a satellite that measures snow and rain, hopefully with greater details than can be determined now. Elements of the system are getting tested on a DC-8 flying out of Egbert, Ontario (west of Lake Simcoe) in joint missions with Environment Canada.
As Spears writes:
Ordinary weather radar can show where snow is falling, and whether it’s a light flurry or major whiteout. But there are unknowns, especially how much water is contained in that snow. That’s important to know in a world where fresh water is valuable and sometimes scarce.
Ordinary radar can’t tell dense, wet snow from drier powder.
As well, it can be tough to measure flakes that are blowing around as they fall. Rain comes down steadily. Snow can whirl around, blow sideways, and take its time falling.
Joe Munchak of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Institute put it this way:
“Rain is easy,” he said. “It’s the variety in snow, the flake size and water content, that make it difficult to measure from a radar and satellite perspective.”
It’s an interesting article. And who knew Ontario snow was so good for this type of research? If you want to learn even more, here’s the NASA website for that project and a press release on the flying lab.