NASA Wallops studying East Coast snowfall using airplanes


WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. – NASA scientists are about to embark on a new journey, flying a plane right into the center of a storm to better understand snowfall on the East Coast.

“NASA has not done, actually scientists have not done, experiments looking at the details of those storms for 30 years,” says Gail Skofronick-Jackson, a program scientists for NASA’s IMPACTS Mission.

Scientists are sharing details about NASA’s new field campaign “Investigation of Microphysics and Precipitation for Atlantic Coast-Threatening Snowstorms”, also known as IMPACTS. Experts say there’s already a lot of data on rain but not enough on winter weather. So they’re using planes to gain some more insight.

“IMPACTS it’s about studying East Coast snowstorms and how the snow is distributed inside the storms in the processes that go into why it’s distributed that way,” says Lynn McMurdie, the principal investigator for NASA’s IMPACTS Mission.

A team of scientists, pilots and engineers will soon be flying in a P-3 aircraft, which is essentially an airborne laboratory full of equipment, in order to collect data on snow storms.

“It will be flying inside the clouds themselves and measuring the snowflakes that are being formed there and the environment in which the snowflakes are forming,” says McMurdie.

Experts say, right now, there isn’t a lot of information about global snowfall which is why it can be challenging to forecast. “So although here on the East Coast we have a lot of ground instrumentation and we have a kind of good idea of how much snowfall happens after the fact but there are a lot of parts of the world where we don’t have that information and we need to rely on satellites to measure that,” says McMurdie.

They hope the information they gather through IMPACTS will help improve weather forecasts and give them insight as to how the Earth is changing. “Taking this kind of data this detailed data for these types of storms can help inform our models not only that every day models for our forecasts but also for climate change,” says Skofronick-Jackson.

While NASA is commonly known for space exploration, there are countless people working on all types of research to help everyone better understand the planet we call home. “We’re trying to better understand these storms so that you know whether you’re to put on your snow parka or your raincoat or to put on sunscreen everyday,” says Skofronick-Jackson.

NASA has been working on this campaign for almost three years but this plane will finally take to the skies on Wednesday and complete trips until March 1.

Wednesday’s flight will simply be a test but scientists are closely monitoring a system headed towards New England that could bring snow. Officials say they want this to serve as an opportunity for “citizen science”, meaning scientists flying in the plane can communicate with people on the ground answering any questions they may have online.

Categories: Local News, Maryland