Scientists get close up view of Scottish storm

Thursday 15th Dec 2011 by theWeather Club

On the 8th of December while many were suffering under the onslaught of the most disruptive, violent cyclone that Scotland has experienced in decades, a team of scientists climbed into a small airplane and flew into the heart of the storm. While being buffeted about by the storms internal forces they carried out comprehensive observations and data recordings of temperature, humidity and wind speed as well as the microphysical properties of clouds and their interaction with the ocean surface.

Led by the Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC) National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), the team included scientists from the Universities of Manchester, Reading, Leeds and East Anglia and the Met Office. The snappily named DIAMET project – a merciful acronym for Diabatic influences on mesoscale structures in extratropical storms – involves flying a dedicated research aircraft directly into these powerful storms to obtain the data they need to help predict extremely stormy weather.

Project leader Professor Geraint Vaughan explained why collecting this data is so important. "In extreme storms the condensation and evaporation of water are thought to play a crucial role in storm development, as these processes release - or take in - heat when clouds are formed, raindrops evaporate or moisture leaves the sea surface... These diabatic processes transfer energy within the weather system, changing the way it develops and the location and strength of the peak winds or heaviest rainfall. For example, evaporation of falling raindrops is thought to accelerate the downward movement of very high winds in the so-called sting jets that form in particularly ferocious storms and are not yet fully understood."

While meteorologists are much better at predicting the path and strength of major storms, each storm system contains small pockets of very violent weather that are extremely difficult to forecast. Professor Vaughan says, "We have gathered some really exciting measurements and look forward to using these to improve the forecasting of future storms involving strong winds and extremely heavy rainfall. The challenge is to do this on the scale of counties rather than countries, so that people can be better prepared for the storms."

So the next time you are caught out in one of the weather's more violent phenomena, take a quick look towards the clouds as they sweep by. You might just catch a glimpse of a band of hardy souls, dedicated to help you be better prepared next time nature unleashes her fury nearby.