- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

RUTHERFORDTON, N.C. (AP) - NASA has placed two radars on land in Rutherford County for a science field campaign to study rainfall in the Smoky Mountains.

The campaign that began on May 1 will continue until June 15.

“We have set up rain gauges and radars across the area to learn more about how weather and rain systems behave in the mountains,” said David Wolff, research scientist field support office with NASA located in Wallops Island, Va.

“The specific reason we are in North Carolina is to provide support for validation of the first, post-launch GPM ground-validation field campaign referred to as the Integrated Precipitation & Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx) which is being sponsored by NASA, Duke University (Dr. Ana Barros), and NOAA,” Wolff said.

The field office, located off Lambs Grill Road is collecting data in conjunction with a satellite launched in February by NASA and the Japanese Exploration Agency. At that time Japan launched a $1.2 billion satellite mission to measure global rain and snowfall in an effort to help to supply scientists and forecaster data that can help predict the range of weather disasters across the county.

Several pieces of equipment, including two NASA satellite radars are set up in the field. The most visible from far distances is the 60-ton NASA radar.

Wolff talked about the decision to locate the field campaign in Rutherford County.

“We spent about two weeks traveling the area southwest of the Pigeon River basin and south of the Catawba River basin, where NASA, NOAA and Duke University have already placed a large array of ground-based precipitation measuring instruments,” Wolff said. “We needed to find a site that was at a high enough elevation to see above the intervening foothills and did not have too many trees close to the site so that we could get an unobstructed view. I believe we found 13 possible sites, and the one we chose, after talking with the landowner, Charles Hanna, III satisfied our requirements and also had sufficient commercial power.”

Visitors to a recent open house had an opportunity to catch a glimpse of NASA’s high-altitude ER-2 aircraft that carries three radars and a radiometer to measure rainfall from 65,000 feet.

Inside the trailers are dozens of computers, maps and other instruments used during the campaign. Scientists at the computers all day receiving the information.

If the weather cooperates, the science team expects to end the six-week campaign with detailed and scientific data to improve their understanding of both the fundamental sciences of mountain rainfall and how to best estimate rainfall using satellite observations over these remote and rugged regions, Wolff explained.

At the scene, team members were hoping the severe thunderstorms and rain would come through.

“We want rain,” Wolff said.

He said NPOL radar is basically known as a transportable radar, as it must be set in place to operate. These days, mobile radars are the ones that can be deployed on the back of a truck and can jet from place to place in real-time, Wolff explained.

NPOL in its current form in Rutherford County has previously documented weather conditions in Oklahoma and Iowa.

“In these campaigns, we hope to better understand the horizontal, vertical and temporal structure of various precipitation regimes, ranging from severe weather, rain, snow, etc. and of course this data is used to provide input to satellite precipitation estimate algorithm developers,” Wolff said.

NPOL first arrived in Rutherford County on April 17 and C.F. Reece & Sons in Rutherfordton, helped erect the equipment. It took about 10 days set up. It will take about five days to pack up the containers and ship them back home to NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.

C.F. Reece will return to the site to help with the process.

“This was very exciting,” said Eddie McGinnis of C.F. Reece. “It is interesting.”

Once the campaign is completed, scientists will use what they learn to improve weather predictions and flood warnings.

Team members will take a break after the summer and are scheduled to travel to Seattle, Washington, in 2015-16 to measure winter weather there.

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Information from: The Daily Courier, http://thedigitalcourier.com

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