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NASA Releases Blizzard of Precipitation Data

Have you been itching to see the most detailed collection of precipitation data ever pulled together? (Join the club.) Well, you’re in luck. NASA has just released a vast trove of snow, rain, hail and more liquid measurements from a satellite launched earlier this year.

In late February, NASA and an international cohort of space programs launched the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory (or GPM for short), the centerpiece of a constellation of satellites watching precipitation around the world. For six months, NASA’s latest eye in the sky has been quietly collecting data and beaming it back home. After some calibration and quality checks, the data is now available to the public.

NASA released a visualization on Thursday to show what that data reveals about the range of precipitation that falls around the globe. The analysis of a mid-March winter storm shows the range of precipitation that fell over a 547-mile swath of the the Eastern Seaboard and where the shifts from rain to frozen precipitation occur not just on the ground but in the clouds themselves. That’s a key piece of information that’s generally eluded scientists up until now.

"The melting layer is one part of the precipitation process that scientists don’t know well because it is in such a narrow part of the cloud and changes quickly. Understanding the small scale details within the melting layer helps us better understand the precipitation process," Gail Skofronick-Jackson, one of GPM’s project scientists, said in a press release.

While the new data in its raw form may read like Latin to most, scientists are able to scour it for just these types of data points for important clues. In a warming world where heavy precipitation events are expected to increase, a better understanding of what’s going on in the clouds will likely help improve those climate model estimates of just what we can expect in the coming decades.  

In the more immediate future, the data that GPM is sending back to home will help provide near-real time updates on major storms whether they be of the snow or tropical (or mixed) variety. It could also help improve weather forecasts, something everyone can appreciate.

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