The GPM satellite and a constellation of other weather-observing spacecraft scan the entire globe every three hours.
This March weather system over the eastern U.S. included snow, water and ice. A flyby by the U.S. and Japanese GPM instrument revealed cloud composition at different altitudes.
Meteorologists are getting a whole new view of the weather systems that bring rain, snow and ice thanks to an instrument launched into orbit earlier this year. The next-generation Global Precipitation Measurement satellite and a constellation of other observatories and relays scan the entire globe every three hours to send back an avalanche of data.
GPM’s active radar system dissects clouds from top to bottom by measuring how its signal is reflected off of precipitation particles within the clouds. The observatory also has a microwave instrument that measures the amount of energy a cloud radiates. This information is then beamed through a network of satellites to a ground station in New Mexico and then on to NASA computers in Maryland. There, complicated algorithms decipher from the data stream the type of precipitation particles—water, snow or ice—held within clouds and tally the total precipitation within the weather system.
Officials say GPM’s capabilities are improving weather, natural disaster and crop forecasting while also giving researchers new insights into global water cycles and the physics of how these systems operate.
The gifs above and video below show what GPM sensed when it flew over a storm in the eastern U.S. in March. The satellite, built by NASA and the Japanese space agency, discerned the full range of precipitation types and the weather system’s three-dimensional structure.
“With this GPM mission data, we can now see snow in a way we could not before,” said NASA’s Gail Skofronick-Jackson, a GPM project scientist and chief of the agency’s mesoscale atmospheric processes lab. “Cloud tops high in the atmosphere have ice in them. If the Earth’s surface is above freezing, it melts into rain as it falls. But in some parts of the world, it’s cold enough that the ice and snow falls all the way to the ground.”
She continued: “What’s really clear in these images is the melting layer, the place in the atmosphere where ice turns into rain. The melting layer is one part of the precipitation process that scientists don’t know well because it is in such a narrow part of the cloud and changes quickly. Understanding the small scale details within the melting layer helps us better understand the precipitation process.”