NASA wrapped up one of its largest hurricane research efforts ever last week after nearly two months of flights that broke new ground in the study of tropical cyclones and delivered data that scientists will now be able to analyze for years to come. While the 2010 hurricane season has been a rather quiet one for coastal dwellers, the churning meteorology of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea seemed to cooperate well with the science goals of Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) experiment. Those goals were designed to answer some of the most fundamental yet still unanswered questions of hurricane science: What ultimately causes hurricanes to form? Why do some tropical depressions become strong hurricanes, while others dissipate? What causes the rapid strengthening often seen in hurricanes?
Mission scientists wanted to capture data on hurricanes as they formed and intensified. Ideally, the NASA planes – the DC-8, WB-57 and Global Hawk – would also fly over systems that were weakening, or that were expected to form into hurricanes yet did not. When the flights had ended, all those goals had been met.
“It was successful beyond my reasonable expectations. It requires cooperation with the weather, and good luck with the aircraft,” said mission scientist Ed Zipser, of the University of Utah. “It’s not so much a logistical challenge as it is a toss of the dice by Mother Nature during our time available. But it takes a good airplane, a skillful crew and good luck with the equipment.”