Up And Up In The Air

Yesterday on the forecast and operations call as the mission scientist I called an “up day”. A day where the ARM Facility will place its observatory in a state of increased vigilance. More soundings (weather stations on balloons to understand how temperature, water and winds vary with height in our atmosphere) and our radar our in Pearland, Texas will execute a special algorithm to follow storm systems. This was based on a forecast produced by the TRACER forecast team who are doing an outstanding job!

Oli and Marcus read data from ARM’s Micro Pulse LIDAR.

I will not bury the lede, the forecast panned out! An amazing day of storms in the Houston region well captured by DOE and NSF radar systems! Now, for the Up In The Air bit. I have several missions here in Houston. One is to understand the wider TRACER field program. Today I connected with my long time friend Marcus Van Lier-Walqui. We both want to understand the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) part of the ASR funded component of the TRACER campaign. We headed south west of the ARM site featured yesterday to sites run by Colorado University in Boulder and the Cooperative Institute for Severe and High-Impact Weather Research and Operations (CIWRO) at Oklahoma University.

Jonathan heads into the fields of Texas to retrieve a UAV.

We started the day out with Gijs, who was here with Justin, Jonathan and Radiance. They were flying a very impressive UAV fixed wing platform over pasture here in Texas. The launch system was amazing and while completely safe was a little intimidating. Managed risk! this is what the best people do. A bungee cord rapidly accelerates the UAV to get lift so the rotor can take over thrust once clear of the launch platform (a table… your tax dollars being spent very wisely!). The platform then measures the winds (heat and water) that goes into those big clouds we are studying. The heat and water are vital to understand because we want to see clouds that have the same heat and water but different mixtures of tiny particles. Only then can we understand how those tiny particles change those big clouds.

Gijs mentoring and inspiring as always.

Our next stop was to visit Liz, Michelle and Francesca flying a completely different UAV, a quadcopter. This amazing platform, more akin to the platforms starting to dominate the consumer market, does a profile of the same heat and water for those big clouds from the ground to 2,000 feet every 15 minutes! To put that in perspective I am crazy excited about ARM launching those balloons every hour. Both platforms are posterchilder for American ingenuity, home built over a decade with the kinks worked out by trial and error. I feel so honored to be an intruder on work that has taken blood sweat and tears over many years to make work.

Michelle and Liz capturing vital data with the CIWRO Quad Copter.

Our final stop was back at the ARM Mobile Facility. Since we had requested enhanced soundings we wanted to check in. Of course the team had it all in hand and we even got to see the Colorado State University radar being installed. Even better, as we arrived the amazing staff at the AMF were launching one of our special sondes! Marcus’ son Olie was with us and Gabby offered Olie the chance to launch the Sonde! So, TRACER scientists, your 20:30 UTC sonde and the science from it is courtesy of Oli Van Lier-Walqui!

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