NASA Researchers on the Snow Patrol

The sky is gray. It's cold. Three forecast models predicted snow. It's 9:20 pm. Gail Skofronick-Jackson looks out the window of the operations trailer where she and her colleagues are running the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission's Cold-season Precipitation Experiment (GCPEx). The DC-8 research plane circles overhead, ready to measure the snowfall.

There's nothing. The sky is still gray. It's still cold. The operations trailer sits in the middle of a field in Egbert, Ontario, Canada where it's surrounded by an acre of scientific instruments, all still, waiting.

It's 10:20 pm. The sky is a darker shade of gray. The night is colder. The science team has blank screens showing no active falling snow and a big case of boredom. There's still nothing. They send the DC-8 back to its hanger and pack it in.

"If the models and forecasts were correct we wouldn't be out here," says Skofronick-Jackson. She's the GPM Deputy Project Scientist and a specialist in the remote sensing of snow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. In running GCPEx, she and the team are attempting to simulate the snow measurements that will be made by the GPM satellite mission that launches 2014. They do that by gathering snow data with instruments on the ground and aboard aircraft that fly through and over snowstorms.

But to collect data on snow, it has to snow.

Even without high-tech NASA instruments, snow is challenging to measure. Ground measurements are plagued by blowing snow and inconsistent methods, and snow tends to be geographically spotty.

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