500 dropsondes and counting…or, today will be a 4-star day!March 7, 2016by Katherine McCaffrey (NRC & NOAA)


Ready for my first 7.5 hour flight as onboard scientist on the G-IV — coffee in hand!

500 dropsondes and counting…or, today will be a 4-star day!

March 7, 2016by Katherine McCaffrey (NRC & NOAA)

HONOLULU, Hawaii — As an NRC postdoc at NOAA, I’ve been lucky enough to observe and help with multiple field campaigns outside my area of expertise (which is boundary layer turbulence). After my experiences observing aboard the NOAA P-3 as part of the Calwater 2015 experiment, I jumped at the opportunity to be an onboard scientist on the NOAA G-IV during ENRR. Without a background in tropical convection, I wanted to learn as much as I could beforehand, so I attended nearly every forecast briefing in Boulder, soaking in as much as possible. When I finally arrived in Honolulu, I was excited to get in the air!

Ryan Spackman and the NOAA G-IV crew were on their 17th research flight, so I was happy to bring my fresh energy to the project. My first two flights were “wraps” around convection; the first one included a “sawtooth” feature, where we headed south to make one drop, then north for another, to sample across the center of the low pressure system. Janet Intrieri (my NOAA colleague and the other onboard scientist) and I waited patiently for the data from the northernmost drop to come and when they did, we were all smiles: the exact signature we would expect to see if we really captured the feature! It was incredible to see how well the previous satellite images and forecast models guided us to exactly the right spot for our observations! It was a fantastic team effort — the science team in Boulder, the flight planners in Honolulu, and flight crew pulled it off!

Though I didn’t have specific duties for most of the flights, I was able to prepare and drop a few dropsondes, look over the shoulder of Flight Director Mike Holmes as he helped navigate us around (but right next to) some storm activity to keep us on track for our science, and discuss what we were seeing in the dropsonde data. The daily horoscope readings by the pilots (it certainly was a 4-star day!) and the project chat also provided some laughs along the way:

A little humor always snuck its way into the science!

The non-scientific highlight of the experience was getting to sit in the cockpit’s jump-seat for landing. The Waikiki sunset made for a spectacular end to a successful day of science!

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