And so the Noctilucent Cloud Season of 2012 begins…

What are these noctilucent clouds? Well, I’m sure you can easily deduce it. That’s right they are ‘night-shining clouds’. And now is the start of the season for them (they only occur in the northern hemisphere between June and August). These simply aren’t your normal clouds though, these are something special.

Noctilucent Clouds

First of all they are the highest clouds in the atmosphere. They occur in an area called the mesosphere (they’re also called polar mesospheric clouds for this reason). The mesosphere sits atop the stratosphere which itself sits atop the troposphere (which is where all other clouds and weather form). So these things are pretty high up, 75 – 85km up in fact.

So why do these things ‘night-shine’? It’s pretty simple really, they occur so high up that if you were where they were you’d be able to see the Sun. So they simply reflect the sunlight they’re seeing down to us.

The problem is is that not a lot is known or understood about these clouds, how they form and so on. The best thing though is that you can help. There’s a lovely little Facebook community who go out and report and photograph sightings. There’s also a very useful forum if you wish to know more.

So become a citizen scientist for the summer and help us learn more about these peculiar clouds!

Thunder Drop: Life Inside a Thunderstorm

Thunderstorm

Those of you who know me know that I’m pretty intrigued by the weather and how it works. The single factor I’m mainly interested in though are cumulonimbus clouds…thunderstorms. As a child I remember kneeling on my bed peering out through the window into the night sky waiting for flashes of lightning and the accompanying thunder. Those flashes, those rumbles didn’t come from a machine or an animal, they came from the deep depths of natures most violent assemblage.

Thankfully over the last few years I’ve managed to learn a great deal about the clouds that form thunderstorms, what happens inside them, how they work and so. They’re a no go area for aircraft and I’m trained to recognise them before they’ve formed in order to let the flight crews know they’re around so they can avoid them.

We all know that thunderstorms produce thunder and lightning bu they a produce a huge arsenal of other phenomena too including: severe torrential downpours, hail (sometimes the size of baseballs), incredible gusts of wind, updrafts and downdrafts (where you can loose a 1,000 or more feet in a few seconds in an airplane) and worst of all tornadoes.

No one’s ever really been able to say what it’s like inside a thunderstorm though. People have been in them, flown through them but they didn’t live to tell the tale. That was until the incredible story of Lt Col William Rankin (aka The Man Who Rode The Thunder) came about in 1959. He was a marine corps aviator flying the supersonic F-8U Crusader. Ahead of him was a thunderstorm. No problem, the aircraft could easily fly over it at 50,000ft (the top of this thunderstorm was about 44,000ft, they can get to 60,000ft though). Then, right atop the thunderstorm, the engine failed…it wouldn’t come back online either. He wasn’t wearing a high altitude pressure suit (the higher you go the less air there is – think of taking a bottle of water on a plane) he had to eject.

The F-8U Crusader

He was immediately subjected to explosive decompression, severe wind and extensive frostbite (it was -50°C up there, then add the wind chill). His mouth, nose, eyes and ears started bleeding, the lower pressure having ruptured capillaries. The gases in his body expanded, his intestines, stomach and other organs expanding perhaps 3 times their normal size. He remarked in his book “I briefly glanced down at my abdomen and it had expanded to a size as if I were pregnant”. Then he went into the thunderstorm where things didn’t get much better.

His parachute was set to automatically open at 10,000ft, but the pressure being lower in a thunderstorm tricked it and it opened at about 15,000ft. It should take him less than 10 minutes to reach the ground. 40 minutes later he landed. The incredible updrafts in the storm kept him aloft for much, much longer. He described the lightning as blue blades several feet thick close enough the touch, he felt the thunder shuddering through every bone in his body, the rain, so intense, almost caused him to drown, and then the hail, the size of baseballs, whacking into him.

He survived to tell the tale. To my knowledge no other human being as ever experienced such an occurrence since.

…the unbelievable torture of a thunderstorm, the fright of it, the terrible physical beating, the twisting and turning and tumbling, the awesomeness of lightning so close it could almost be touched, the vibrating horror of thunder never meant for human ears, the fierce pounding of hail, the drenching of rain so torrential it might just as well have been an ocean suspended in the air…

– Lt Col William Rankin, from his book The Man Who Rode The Thunder

Climate and Weather: Let me put it simply

If you ever plan to irritate me, bring up this subject. For too long I’ve had people coming to me saying ‘look at the weather, what ever happened to climate change?’ People seem to think climate change is a load of tosh because of the weather on a specific day. What are you on about you crazy people?

The fact is we all know the difference. I sat down to watch the news this morning and it finally struck me as to how we all know the difference. A term used repeatedly over the last few years…economic climate. There it is. The economic climate isn’t what’s happening right now, its what has been happening over the last few years and what will continue into the next few. So why oh why do we get so confused over climate change? Perhaps one of you could tell me.

So here it is, pure and simple.

Climate – A long term trend of weather averaged over a statistically signifacnt period of time

Weather – Look out of your window. That’s the weather!

This video, whilst highly amusing, also does a great job at putting the point across.

My View

I’m fairly lucky at work. I regularly get treated to some pretty amazing views, and I take it for granted. Over the years it’s become the norm and I forget how lucky I am.

Here I wanted to show you some of spectacular sunrises and sunsets I get to see, as well as a few others.

Sunset on the Apron

That above one taken just the other evening. Continue reading

Airborne Atmospheric Research

My boss came up into the control tower the other day and said to me ‘The METMAN is coming in for a month at the end of February, we should be able to get fam flights’.

This got me extremely excited, in fact I am yet to calm down! First though, let me explain to you what ‘The METMAN’ is. The METMAN is an airplane. It’s a BAe 146 that is owned by BAe Systems and operated by Directflight. It is a result of a collaboration between the Met Office and the Natural Environment Research Council and it is established as part of the National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences.

What does this mean? Basically it’s an atmospheric research aircraft. It has lots of scientific equipment stuck to different parts of it, it goes flying, takes lots of measurements, and then scientists have loads of fun trying to make sense of it all.

The METMAN

Continue reading

The NEODAAS Image Gallery

I came across this image gallery recently. It is full of astonishing, jaw-dropping, outstanding images of the Earth from space. There are some very famous photos there too like this one from Boxing day!

Snowy Britain

Truly fantastic huh!
Take a look at some more.

This is one of my favourites showing high pressure right over the UK

High Pressure over UK

And another truly gorgeous one.

Fog in the North Sea

That’s fog in the North Sea. Look at the beautiful colours in the sea just off the coast of France though. Algal bloom perhaps?

The image gallery is fully great, great photos. I’ll be sure to post more when they get some through!