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Let it Rain: NASA Satellites Show Slice of Global Precip

Lacy ribbons of precipitation stretch across the planet in a new animation from NASA showing how widespread and yet ephemeral rain can be. A series of satellites known as the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) measure heavy to moderate rain over tropical and subtropical regions every day. From those satellite measurements taken every 3 hours through February 21, NASA has strung them together into a 27-second video. 

The power of the ridiculously resilient ridge off of California can be see as rain storms moving across the Pacific frequently appear to run into a brick wall. The lack of rain over California has sparked early wildfires and increased concern for summer wildfires as well. In contrast, you can see the frequent storms that pummeled the East Coast this winter race across the country. 

Beyond the U.S., rain also swirled around Brazil, but rarely over the eastern part of the country where severe drought has reduced coffee yields and increased worries about a spike in global prices. On the flip side, heavy rains over Indonesia affected more than 130,000 people living in Jakarta in late January.

While the visual is mesmerizing, it's also incomplete. The storms that rolled through the U.K., Germany and other parts of Western Europe this winter are just outside the view of TRMM, which only measures the tropics and subtropics. Luckily, NASA has a plan to deal with that. Last month, NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency launched the centerpiece of a new effort called the Global Precipitation Monitoring Mission. The new mission will provide higher resolution images, improved rain and snowfall estimates, and more frequent observations for the entire globe. That data will, in turn, help provide crucial information in the run up to disasters and improvements in weather forecasting.

Climate change predictions will also get an upgrade as scientists will be able to better monitor how the water cycle is shifting. Precipitation patterns are already shifting around the globe and scientists will be better able to track those changes and improve climate models.