Aug 25, 1998

Snow in August

Space Science News home




Bonnie surprises hurricane team on second flight into the eye


Aug. 25, 1998: (This is the ninth in a series of stories covering the ongoing CAMEX mission to hunt hurricane data in a way not done since the 50s. Other stories are linked in below.)

Weather researchers taking part in NASA's CAMEX-3 hurricane study found Monday that Hurricane Bonnie is still not a classic storm, and is full of surprises - including snow in the middle of August.

An armada of five aircraft took part in the second flight into Bonnie as the hurricane continued northwest at less than 16 km/h (10 mph). Joining the NASA ER-2 high-altitude jet and the converted NASA DC-8 airliner, NOAA increased its study team to two WP-3D Orion turboprop airplanes and the U.S. Air Force added a C-130 Hercules cargo plane to measure the season's first hurricane. The NASA airplanes left their staging point at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., for the eight-hour mission at 3:30 p.m. EDT, returning at 11:30 p.m. EDT.

What looks like abstract art at right is a detailed microwave image of water - as rain and as ice - distributed along a strip 40 by 160 km (25 x 100 mi) inside Hurricane Bonnie (click for image showing ). It was made Sunday by the Advanced Microwave Precipitation Radiometer (AMPR) aboard the high-altitude ER-2. Every object emits a little bit of radiation; the frequency depends on the temperature and other factors. AMPR is tuned to microwaves - at 10.7, 19.35, 37.1, and 85.5 gigahertz (GHz) - unique to water. By scanning the scene below the ER-2, AMPR produces images of water distribution in the atmosphere. AMPR is similar to instruments aboard polar-orbit weather satellites and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM). In observing Bonnie, AMPR shows convection and storm intensity, eye wall structures, rain distribution. During landfall, it will be able to map changes in convection and show the relationship of electrification to signal storm intensity changes. More information on AMPR is available on its page at the CAMEX-3 web site and at the AMPR home page.



Click on the picture to go to an animated infrared view of Bonnie!

Mission Scientist Robbie Hood from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., stressed that the nation's weather researchers will greatly benefit from the large body of information being collected at one time at distinct levels of a single hurricane.

The ER-2 aircraft flew up to an altitude of 21 km (69,000 ft), the DC-8 at 10.6 km (35,000 ft), with the NOAA Orions at 4.6 and 1.5 km (15,000 and 5,000 ft), and the Air Force Hercules in the storm at 3 km (10,000 ft).

"We could all communicate and know what parts of the storm we were studying, our timing was perfect," she said. The collection of aircraft made six passes through the hurricane. "The NOAA and Air Force aircraft really helped the study because we had a better idea of what was happening below us," she added.


Bonnie displayed a unique feature to ER-2 pilot Ken Broda from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Calif., who made his first ever flight over a hurricane in the Monday mission.

Left: A GOES-8 image this morning depicts Bonnie's strength by showing cold areas (growing colder from blue to yellow to red) which indicate where clouds are highest in the atmosphere.

"I saw a large, domed cloud that looked like a mini-hurricane swirling out of the top of Bonnie about 70 miles (112 km) north of the eye at about 55,000 feet (16.8 km)," Broda said.

"These storms are usually very symmetrical, but Bonnie is nothing like what we would expect," said Texas A&M University weather scientist Ed Zipser. While hurricanes normally display a pattern of wind flow that pulls winds in at the base of the hurricane, up through the eye, and out at the top of the storm, Bonnie apparently doesn't work that way.

"We found winds coming into the hurricane from the southwest at 40-50 knots (74-93 km/h) at our altitude, and winds and moisture being pumped out of the chimney that Ken saw flowing to the Northwest. As we flew to the boundary of the winds, the moisture blown out through the chimney turned to snow and fell into the DC-8 flight path - this was very spectacular," Zipser said. Instruments also recorded wind shear along the wind flow boundary.


Evidence remained of the possible restructuring of the hurricane center as the eye remained lopsided on the east and north sides of the storm. Just trying to locate the eye produced more of a bumpy ride for the researchers Monday, according to DC-8 pilots Gordon Fullerton (left) and Dick Ewers (right). In addition, DC-8 instruments recorded 117 km/h (63-knot) winds at 10.6 km (35,000 feet), a wind speed not considered usual, and an Orion recorded 222 km/h (120-knot)winds on the northeast side of the storm, 93 km (50 nmi) from the center. (photo credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA)


The researchers will not fly today, and are considering a mid-day flight Wednesday in concert with NOAA as the hurricane approaches a possible landfall.


Note: More details are available in the NASA press release describing CAMEX-3. Check back as hurricane season progresses. We will post science updates as the campaign develops.

PIX: High resolution scans of 35mm camera photos from the CAMEX-3 campaign are available from Public Affairs Office at NASA headquarters. Please call the NASA Headquarters Photo Department at 202-358-1900, or contact Bill Ingalls at


CAMEX Series Headlines

August 12: Overview CAMEX story , describes the program in detail.
August 13: CAMEX maiden flight , for calibration of TRMM satellite instruments
August 14: CAMEX test flights , CAMEX flies over tropical storm weather in successful calibration run
August 18: CAMEX aircraft make second flight with TRMM , second calibration run for TRMM
August 20: CAMEX may get first chance at a tropical storm , later this week 
August 21: Here comes Bonnie! , CAMEX scheduled to fly over T.S. Bonnie 
August 22: West by Northwest , CAMEX team may have to evacuate to Georgia 
August 24: Eye-to-eye, and Bonnie winks, CAMEX team makes first flight through eye 
August 25: Snow in August, Bonnie surprises the hurricane team (this story)
August 26: Camera of many colors
Hurricane hunters using advanced scanner to peer into storms
August 28: Preparing for Danielle NASA team takes break as Bonnie fades away
August 31: Quite a Windfall Hurricane team completes first half of unique science campaign
September 2: Bonnie Cuts a Towering Figure Satellite radar shows mountainous cloud chimney
September 4: Hurricane team studies Earl Four aircraft probe storm
September 10: NASA team awaits next hurricane
September 16: Hurricane season passing its prime Thunderstorm studies continue as a new hurricane candidate wends its way from Africa.
September 18: Two new storms brewing for hurricane research team Scientists fly 4 out of 5 days, clear air sampled over the Bahamas, oceanic convection data collected east of Cape Canaveral
September 21:The last hurricane - CAMEX team wrapping up campaign with flights into Georges
September 23: Hurricane Georges puts on a light show - CAMEX team treated to purple sprites and weird lightning

NCAR has an extensive writeup on the GPS dropsondes used in CAMEX-3 and other atmospheric campaigns.

A new study - not related to CAMEX-3 - by the Arizona State University suggests a link between hurricanes in the northwest Atlantic and air pollution.

CAMEX-3 - the third Convection and Moisture Experiment - is an interagency project to measure hurricane dynamics at high altitude, a method never employed before over Atlantic storms. From this, scientists hope to understand better how hurricanes are powered and to improve the tools they use to predict hurricane intensity.

An overview story (Aug. 12, 1998) describes the program in detail. The study is part of NASA's Earth Science enterprise to better understand the total Earth system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment.

Measuring distance and speed: Because meteorology and aeronautics first used modified nautical charts, their data bases are in nautical miles and knots (nautical miles per hour). In these stories, we use Standard International ("metric") units first, and give more familiar measurements in English units and the original measurements in nautical units.

km - kilometer (1 km = 0.62 smi = 0.54 nmi) 
km/h - kilometers per hour 
mi, or smi - miles (statute miles; 1 smi = 0.87 nmi = 1.61 km)
mph - (statute) miles per hour 
nmi - nautical miles (1 nmi = 1.15 smi= 1.85 km) 
kts - knots (nautical miles per hour) 
Standard International Units: 
English (or US) units: 
Nautical units: 


Web Links
CAMEX-3 home page contains links to daily flight operations and instrument descriptions.
Lightning Imaging Sensor aboard the TRMM satellite observes lightning from above the clouds - and my lead to better warnings on the ground.
MACAWS uses the Doppler effect (red and blue shifts) to measure wind velocity.
SPARCLE is a Space Shuttle experiment set for 2001 to demonstrate laser wind measurement from space.


subscription image


Sign up for our EXPRESS SCIENCE NEWS delivery


More web links 
  • More Space Science Headlines - NASA research on the web 
  • The Marshall Newsroom - more information on this and other news from the Marshall Space Flight Center 
  • NASA's Earth Science Enterprise Information on Earth Science missions, etc. 
  • Global Hydrology and Climate Center studies the global water cycle and its effect on climate. 
  • National Hurricane Center carries the latest tracking information on tropical storms and hurricanes. It also has lots of historical data and images, including hi-resolution copies of the pictures above of damage by Hurricane Andrew. 
  • The Public Use of Remote Sensing Data at Goddard Space Flight Center has high-resolution images of Fran (including the original of the image used in this story), Andrew, and other hurricanes and of other events seen from space.