Storm hunters with the
NASA Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes (TCSP) experiment in
Costa Rica have documented the near-complete lifecycle of a
tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean.
Tropical Storm Gert, though short-lived and modest in terms of
intensity, developed from a tropical wave near the Yucatan coast on
July 22, intensified to tropical storm status on July 24, and made
landfall that night over Mexico's northeast coast, where it quickly
dissipated. During its genesis, intensification and landfall,
NASA's ER-2 high-altitude weather plane, and the National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) P3 Orion
aircraft flew five back-to-back missions, enabling near-continuous
study of the poorly understood process of tropical cyclogenesis, or
the birth of hurricanes.
Tropical cyclogenesis often occurs irregularly, with key
atmospheric events happening in fits and starts. The phenomenon
rarely occurs close enough to Mexican and U.S. coastal radars to
document. The three consecutive NASA ER-2 flights and five NOAA P3
flights to study Gert are expected to help clarify the mechanisms
involved in formation and maturity of a tropical cyclone, and are
expected to deliver detailed, comprehensive datasets.
NASA's ER-2 flew over the eastern coast of Mexico the night of
July 24, investigating the steep mountains' impact on Gert as the
storm made landfall. Mountainous terrain is known to greatly
enhance rainfall produced by moist tropical airflow, often leading
to freshwater flooding -- the number one killer during tropical
cyclone landfall in the western hemisphere. The ER-2 datasets,
combined with satellite images and data collected by the network of
Mexican weather radars, should reveal the detailed structure of
Gert's rain bands, their intensity and how they were influenced by
specific features of the landscape.
The TCSP mission is testimony to the successful cooperation
between NASA and NOAA. Together, these agencies have investigated
nearly a dozen tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean since 1998,
part of NASA's Convection and Moisture Experiment (CAMEX) mission.
TCSP, conducted from Costa Rica throughout July 2005, carries on
this tradition. TCSP participants include NOAA, five NASA centers,
10 American universities and partner agencies in Costa Rica.