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Intense storms from global warming, and a mission to study them

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

by Paul Scott Anderson

More intense storms ahead?

As global warming has progressed, you might have noticed more weird weather, including more intense storms. It appears certain now that climate change does affect localized tropical storms and thunderstorms. Scientists want to know exactly how that’s happening. And they want to know how these storms in turn affect their climate models. So, in November 2021, NASA announced it had selected a new Earth-science mission called INCUS.

How storms affect climate models

So rainfall, winds and lightning are all expected to intensify. And that’s where INCUS comes in. Take, for example, the way air and water vapor are transported up and down in storms. A scientist would speak of it in terms of convective mass flux (CMF). It’s a process that’s still not well understood. Scientists who study storms say that having CMF measurements over a full range of conditions would improve our knowledge of storm intensity. And it would also help them undertand cloud feedbacks, in which storms undergo change due to air temperatures at Earth’s surface. High cloud feedbacks can add uncertainty to climate and weather models.

To understand more about how such storms behave, the INCUS mission will study why convective storms, heavy precipitation and clouds occur exactly when and where they do. Correspondingly, the observations will also address the impact of storms on current models of climate change. Prior to this, the groundwork for these new studies came from the 2017 Earth Science Decadal Survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

By doing this, scientists can better understand how climate change is affecting these storms, both now and in the future. Moreover, this can help improve weather forecasting and the ability to predict extreme weather.

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