Predicting the future is always a tricky business -- just watch a TV weather report. Weather forecasts have come a long way, but almost every season there's a snowstorm that seems to come out of nowhere, or one that's forecast as 'the big one' that turns out to be a total bust.
In the last ten years, scientists have shown that it is possible to detect falling snow and measure surface snowpack information from the vantage point of space. But there remains much that is unknown about the fluffy white stuff.
"We're still figuring out how to measure snow from space," says Gail Skofronick-Jackson, a specialist in the remote sensing of snow at NASA's Goddard Space Fight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "We're where we were with measuring rain 40 years ago."
[wind howling] Gail: The GPM Core, with its ability to detect falling snow, it's one of the very first times that we've put sensors in space to specifically look at falling snow. And we're at that edge where rain was fifty years ago. So we're still figuring out how to measure snow. Snow is much more difficult than rain. Rain tends to be spherical-like drops but if you've ever been out in a snowfall event and you've looked at your shirt you see that snow comes in all different forms. And the sensors in space are actually sensitive to those shapes. And we're still trying to figure out all of that, and the GPM Core, with its additional frequencies and information on the sensors, is going to be able to provide us, for the first time, a lot more information about falling snow than we've ever done before.