Rain today, better forecasts tomorrow: New study improves forecasts

Airport weather station

NEW BERN, CRAVEN COUNTY - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or N.O.A.A., has picked the Coastal Carolina Regional Airport in James City to set up several high-tech weather instruments for an 18 month study.

The study aims to improve the way scientists understand and forecast dangerous storms, especially ones that lead to flooding.

"We wanted to be around for two warm seasons." said Dr. Clark King a meteorologist with N.O.A.A..

Dr. King has been spear-heading the project. He is responsible for installing and ensuring the weather stations go online successfully.

Dr. King has already performed similar studies like the one in North Carolina. Before this, King says much of his work was on the Pacific Coast. The North Carolina study is launching forward to shed new light on how moisture is transported from the coast towards the Appalachian Mountains.

"We have a total of ten stations. This is one of the first we have installed, but we hope to have all of them in by August." said Dr. King.

The station in New Bern is the closest to the coast. King says the instruments are fairly durable and can handle wind. However, in the event of a land falling hurricane,  he thought it best not to have all the equipment directly on the beach.

Dr. King says most of the weather stations are in the upper Catawba river basin in western North Carolina. Not all North Carolina stations are as elaborate as the one now in New Bern.

One of the biggest differences, is the  449 Megahertz Wind Profiler.

The wind profiler at the airport is basically a radar on a flat, raised bed. It shoots three beams in three different directions, including one completely vertically. This tool detects the wind speed and direction at least every 500 feet up to about 29,000 feet. This instrument is unlike a normal weather station, in that a normal weather station usually only detects one wind speed and direction about 30 feet of the ground.

The other most noticiable instrument is the 3 Gigahertz "S-Band" radar, which looks like a drum next to the wind profiler. This device is similar to the Doppler Radars used every day by meteorologists to track storms in our area. However, this radar is being used to point vertically, and get a measure any precipitation falling directly above it.

A GPS device has also been installed. But instead of using it to track location, it is being used to track moisture. Enhanced moisture above the GPS will skew the signal between the GPS and satellites. The more the signal is skewed, the more moisture must be in the atmosphere above the airport.

Along with these, there is a special instrument which can measure each individual raindrop, tracking and recording its size. A sensor to report soil moisture, and a standard weather station to record pressure, temperature, dewpoint, and solar radiation.

Each instrument is running 24-7 so not a single storm will be missed. All the new stations will give scientists big insight into the mystery of storms. Studies like the one Dr. King is currently performing that lead to more accurate forecasts in the future.

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