To Predict Snowfall, NASA Planes Fly into the Storm

Scientific American's Susan Cosier writes that cloud-diving expeditions reveal the hidden physics of brewing snowstorms. Photo credit: Jelle Wagenaar

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ER-2 Weather Spy in the Sky

The Weather Channel reports on the IMPACTS mission, including its airborne science platforms and instruments. The story features interviews with ER-2 ...

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NASA wraps up mission sending scientists flying into snowstorms

A NASA research field campaign launched in 2020 has flown scientists into winter storms across Wisconsin and the U.S. to answer lingering questions ab...

NASA research group hopes to learn more about winter storms by...

A NASA research group called IMPACTS has been flying into winter storms with the hopes of learning more about the weather phenomenon. IMPACTS principa...
The P-3 research plane leaving its hangar at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Patrick Black/NASA

Scientists are flying into snowstorms to explore winter weather...

High up in some ice-filled clouds, sitting inside an airplane loaded with science instruments, Christian Nairy looked at pictures flashing on his comp...

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NASA tracks winter storms from Georgia

Fox 5 Atlanta reports that NASA scientists are taking a close look at winter storms by using a Cold War era ER-2, a derivative of the Cold War-era Lo...

UND launches weather balloon to help with NASA research

Giant balloons are popping up in the news these days as mysterious objects float across portions of the United States and Canada. Meanwhile, large bal...

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Winter snowstorms are frequent on the eastern seaboard and cause major disruptions to transportation, commerce, and public safety. Snowfall within these storms is frequently organized in banded structures that are poorly understood by scientists and poorly predicted by current numerical models. Since that last study on snowstorms, the capabilities of remote sensing technologies and numerical weather prediction models have advanced significantly, making now an ideal time to conduct a well-equipped study to identify key processes and improve remote sensing and forecasting of snowfall.

The Investigation of Microphysics and Precipitation for Atlantic Coast-Threatening Snowstorms (IMPACTS) will fly a complementary suite of remote sensing and in-situ instruments for three 6-week deployments on the ER-2 and P-3 aircraft. IMPACTS will address three specific objectives, providing observations critical to understanding the mechanisms of snowband formation, organization, and evolution. IMPACTS will also examine how the microphysical characteristics and likely growth mechanisms of snow particles vary across snowbands. IMPACTS will improve snowfall remote sensing interpretation and modeling to significantly advance predictive capabilities.


The IMPACTS airborne instrument suite provides a synergistic range of measurements for snow process studies. It combines advanced radar, lidar, and microwave radiometer remote sensing instruments on the ER-2 with state-of-the-art microphysics probes and dropsonde capabilities on the P-3 to sample US East Coast winter storms. By flying the two aircraft in an approximately vertically stacked coordinated pattern, with flight legs generally orthogonal to the snowband orientation, the instrument suite provides approximately collocated dynamical and microphysical measurements that advance our understanding of processes in winter storms.

IMPACTS collects data from a “satellite-simulating” ER-2 and in-situ measurements from a cloudpenetrating P-3, augmented by ground-based radar and rawinsonde data, multiple NASA and NOAA satellites [including GPM, GOES-16, and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)], and computer simulations. The ER-2 and P-3 provide the flight-altitude and long-endurance capabilities and payload capacity needed for the combined remote sensing and in-situ measurements.

Take a look at our 2020 Field Catalog for information regarding our first Winter Campaign.