The Reporter
Issue 493, 27 October 2003
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Forecasting where and when the rain will fall

 

Clouds - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Leeds researchers are aiming to unlock the secrets of the British weather, bringing forecasters one step closer to that elusive holy grail: the ability to predict exactly where, when and how much rain is going to fall.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know about exactly how rain is formed, so it’s no surprise that the forecasting models don’t always get it right,” said Dr Alan Blyth from environment.

Most rain in the UK is caused by ice crystals growing to such a size that they fall to earth, melting as they enter warmer air. But how and when these crystals form in cumulus clouds still isn’t clear. Some water droplets in clouds will freeze and begin the process at –10C; others need temperatures closer to –40C.

Using the latest equipment, the research team will measure the size and shape of ice crystals in the clouds from a specially equipped NERC aircraft. The plane travels faster than 100 metres a second, yet its ‘cloud particle imager’ can capture pictures of ice crystals just 0.001mm in size.

“The ability to take pictures of such small ice crystals means we can see what’s happening at a very early stage of the process, while the crystals are just starting to form,” said Dr Blyth. Their findings will be fed into the forecasting models to provide more accurate predictions.

The research is a collaboration with the Met Office, UMIST, the University of Hertfordshire and the national centre for atmospheric research in the USA.

 
 


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