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PODCAST: From Skies Over Japan, High-tech NOAA Jet Gives Winter Storm Forecasts a Boost

 

PodcastIn mid-January, NOAA dispatched one of its highly specialized aircraft to collect atmospheric data over the North Pacific Ocean to improve winter storm forecasts for the entire North American continent.

NOAA’s high-altitude, twin-engine Gulfstream IV-SP jet is stationed at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan through February, where it is conducting a series of eight-hour research flights before repositioning to Honolulu in March.

In this podcast, meet NOAA G-IV flight director and meteorologist Jack Parrish, who spoke with NOAA’s David Hall about what it’s like flying these important missions and what makes this specially equipped G-IV aircraft right for the job.


Podcast Transcript:

NOAA G-IV flight director and meteorologist Jack Parrish

NOAA G-IV flight director and meteorologist Jack Parrish.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

HALL:
Hello, I'm David Hall with the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. If you've been watching the news lately or just looked at the window, you know that much of the United States has been experiencing powerful winter storms. To enhance weather forecast for the entire North American continent, NOAA has dispatched a specially equipped Gulfstream IV jet from its home base in Tampa, Florida to Japan to gather atmospheric data upstream of storms before they impact the United States. I recently spoke with meteorologist and Gulfstream IV light director Jack Parish, who is currently with the jet and its highly trained crew.

Jack, can you tell us a little about the mission that the Gulfstream IV jet is flying this season? Why is it being conducted from Japan and what do we hope to learn from the mission?

PARRISH:
Well, David, the NOAA Gulf Stream jet is out here in Japan because Japan is a long way upstream of the severe weather that's going to go downstream, developing as it goes downstream across the Pacific and eventually impact anywhere from the Pacific Northwest in southern Alaska to the heartland of the U.S., to what we have seen recently, these big snowstorms across the East Coast.

We'll be taking observations in areas where the storms grow and getting an accurate depiction of those conditions in the Pacific to apply that data into the global forecast model, hoping the result will be an improvement in the three to six-day forecast product.

HALL:
What is it like onboard the aircraft during a typical flight? Can you take us through a mission?

PARRISH:
Yeah, you bet, Dave. The typical mission starts at 5 p.m. local time here in Japan. And since it's the middle of winter, the day ends at about 5:30. So leaving Yokota Air Base, we typically have about a half hour's worth of daylight, which is just enough time to see Mt. Fuji and Tokyo downtown in daylight and then you go in the dark. We study the next seven and a half 8 hours in pitch darkness out over the Pacific. There is usually nothing whatsoever to see outside the window. And so we spend a lot of our time concentrating on the computer displays. There are a lot of computer displays on the airplane. It is not very comfortable inside the plane, but fantastic graphics to look at [of] the data from the dropwindsonde instruments that we're dropping down toward the ocean. And thanks to those good graphics, we're able to correct any problems in those data before they leave the airplane, so that the data that goes into the forecast models will be of the highest quality possible.

HALL:
Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology onboard, particularly the sensors that you drop from the plane? How do those work and what kind of data are they collecting?

PARRISH:

NOAA’s high-altitude, twin-engine Gulfstream IV-SP jet.

NOAA’s high-altitude, twin-engine Gulfstream IV-SP jet.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

Well, sure, Dave. The sensors are called GPS dropwindsondes. They are about a pound. They're made mostly of cardboard with PC board inside, and the data that comes from dropsondes are pressure, temperature, humidity and GPS-derived wind direction and wind speed. Most of these data are collected four times per second, as the sonde is descending toward the surf of the ocean; it takes about minutes. And when the sonde hits the water, it splashes, it sinks, it falls apart and we never see it again. But the whole time that it's going down through the troposphere, it is relaying this information back to the airplane. That information can then be coded into a World Meteorological Organization-coded temp[erature] drop message and sent off to the forecast models.

HALL:
And what's special about NOAA's Gulfstream IV that makes it a good fit for these winter weather missions?

PARRISH:
Speed, altitude and endurance are the endearing qualities of this particular aircraft for this particular mission. The aircraft travels at about 475 knots. And right after takeoff we get the airplane right up to 41,000 feet. During the course of the eight-hour mission, as we burn off fuel, we'll climb as high as 45,000 feet, and that takes us, especially in the winter environment, a little above the top of the troposphere where all the weather occurs. We're actually stratosphere surfers in this particular environment. And that means that our dropsondes dropped from the very top of the atmosphere can capture the entire atmosphere as they're falling down toward the ocean. So the endurance is another factor; we're good for eight hours, so we're able to cover a tract of about 3,600 miles during the course of one flight. Throw in the dependability of a fairly new twin-engine turbofan jet. And the other endearing factor, along with fuel efficiency, is the fact that we can fly, maintain, keep the engineering going and manage -- and especially quality-assure the meteorological data with an entire crew of nine people.

HALL:
And what's it like being in 10 Japan and working out of Yokota Air Base?

PARRISH:
Well, you sure can't knock the fresh sushi. And the biggest thing is friendly people both inside the gate and outside. Yokota Air Base was a heck of a find for NOAA.

HALL:
Jack, is there anything else you'd like to add?

PARRISH:
I want to reemphasize the fact that I think the crew is really happy to be out here doing this NOAA job. It has a direct effect on next week's forecast, the work we're doing today. And I think the crew finds it very satisfying work.

HALL:
Well, thank you very much.

PARRISH:
You're welcome. Thanks for talking with me, Dave.

HALL:
That was Jack Parrish speaking to us by phone from Yokota Air Base in Japan. Thank you for listening. Until next time, I'm David Hall.

Posted Feb. 17, 2011 NOAA logo.