A flash of lightning, a clap of thunder. Big storms have long inspired awe, fear—and a lot of scientific interest. Now, researchers are getting an unusual new tool to probe severe weather: A retired warplane best known for destroying tanks on the battlefield. In September, the U.S. National Science Foundation announced that it will spend about $13 million to convert an A-10 Thunderbolt jet fighter into a next-generation storm penetrator. The heavily-armored aircraft will lug a suite of high-tech instruments into the hearts of storms to study everything from how hail and lightning form to mysterious bursts of high-energy gamma rays. What are some capabilities this new plane will have that its predecessor didn't? Will it help scientists learn to identify killer storms before they strike? And why, in the age of high-tech satellites and super-sharp radar, do we need to risk a pilot's life flying into a storm at all?
Join us for a live chat about the new storm penetrator and the science it will enable at 3 p.m. EST on Thursday, 17 November, on this page. You can leave your questions in the comment box below before the chat starts.
Bradley F. Smull
Bradley F. Smull is a program director in the Division of Atmospheric & Geospace Sciences at the National Science Foundation. During his research career, Smull logged in excess of 1200 hours as flight scientist aboard NOAA’s P-3 "hurricane hunter" instrumented aircraft in pursuit of improved understanding of severe thunderstorms and other intense weather systems.
Dr. Sonia Lasher-Trapp is an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences at Purdue University. She has participated in 5 field campaigns during her career, primarily using airborne measurements to study the development of precipitation within clouds and factors that modulate its production, including atmospheric aerosol. Such knowledge is needed to improve efforts in weather forecasting and climate prediction.