September 2, 2010

Riding the “A-Train” to Hurricane Preparation

by Heather Falconer

The ‘A-Train’, courtesy of NASA.gov

As the East Coast of the US battens down hatches in preparation of Hurricane Earl’s landfall, we thought we’d take a moment to give kudos to the system that helps us know not only that a hurricane is coming, but the strength and projected rainfall, as well.

The A-Train consists of a series of satellites that orbit the earth in a direct line, following one another by a matter of a few minutes. Why bother having one satellite follow another? Each satellite collects different information, and by compiling the data from each one, scientists can learn very specific information about the behavior of a storm. For example, the satellite Aqua has instruments that collect atmospheric and oceanic measurements, including rainfall rates, temperatures at the top of clouds, and air pressure. Another satellite in the train, Cloudsat, actually gives a horizontal view of clouds and storms to show their structure and composition, which lets scientists make educated guesses on their possible effect.

By analyzing the data collected in each of these satellites, NASA can tell whether a storm is getting stronger or weakening, as well as the route it will most likely take. Other satellites in the NASA system record similar information, helping to put together a comprehensive database of measurement.Very important information for those of us living down here on earth.

As we listen to weather reports over the next 48 to 72 hours, we can rest assured that the most up-to-date information is being made available. For more on the A-Train, visit the NASA website.

Heather Falconer

Written by

Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.