NASA's GOES satellites recently tracked a meteorological phenomenon largely unknown to weather forecasters: The location of the thick layers of water vapor in Earth's atmosphere. The results are as beautiful as they are helpful.
NASA's GOES project — the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites — is being used to help not just weather forecasters, but also pilots who fly up near the jet stream. For planes, wetness is badness.
Looking at the top animation, the movement of upper-air water vapor over the Eastern Pacific is shown using satellite air temperature data. High, cold clouds are shown in white, high, cold, clear air (around -28 F/-33 C) is in blue, and lower, warmer, dry air (around -10 F/-23 C) is magenta where clear, dry air penetrates lower in the atmosphere.
The animation below shows the movement of upper-air water vapor over the Atlantic Ocean.
These are shorter, lower resolution versions of the original NASA animations. Go here to see them in their full glory.
NASA explains the significance of the data:
In regions where the air is dry, the colors appear warmer and brighter because we can see deeper into the atmosphere. The edges of these dry slots often contain jet streams and turbulence between the air masses. Identification of jet streams is important for air travel. Jet streams can be helpful and detrimental to pilots, so the airline industry uses these water vapor images to adjust flight routes. A jet stream is a fast-moving horizontal or tubular current of air that primarily flows west to east. For example, airplanes can fly in the same direction as a jet stream and get a push. Conversely, to fly into a jet stream would require more fuel, take longer to travel and may be turbulent.
Another benefit of the animations is that they are also useful wind-tracers of the middle atmosphere over the open oceans, where there are no weather balloons. "Consequently, global 'water vapor winds' are estimated from the movement of these features and used in numerical weather models to improve long-range forecasts," Chesters said. "For instance, the dry slot between Hawaii and Southern California sometimes spins up into a whirlwind that moves ashore and would surprise the southwestern U.S. if NOAA's GOES-West satellite had not detected it."
[ Source: NASA | Image Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project Dennis Chesters ]