UND researchers to fly into the eye of the storm for US navy study

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For two weeks, researchers will be flying into thunderstorms to collect data.

By U2B Staff 

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Students and researchers from the University of North Dakota (UND) will be heading to Cape Canaveral in Florida this month to conduct key weather research for the US Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center. 

The Cape Experiment 2019 or CapeEx19 is a partnership between the university and the Fargo-based Weather Modification International (WMI). With a US$1 million contract from the US Navy, researchers will be combining aircraft measurements and observations with the Navy’s Mid-Course Doppler Radar (MCR) to develop better cloud models.

“This is a great example of a public-private partnership,” says David Delene, professor of atmospheric sciences at UND.

“We both take the strengths of what we can do to conduct a project that’s difficult to do individually. UND provides the scientific understanding, and WMI provides the ability to operate the aircraft safely and effectively while utilizing state of the art aircraft probes.”

CapeEx19, he adds, represents a historic opportunity for the school, both in the project’s sophisticated level of research, as well as the partnerships it creates.


For two weeks, the UND team, along with personnel from WMI, will spend between 20 and 30 hours of flying in thunderstorms and using cutting-edge probes to take measurements at the tops and centers of the storms. 

They will use WMI’s Cessna Citation II Research Aircraft for the flight, a jet that was university-owned until 2016. According to a release on the project, the aircraft is able to reach the heights necessary for the probes to take the measurements.

For the mission, Delene says the probes will be measuring essential atmospheric state parameters such as cloud size, concentration, habits and total water content. The probes in use include the Cloud Droplet Probe, Cloud Imaging Probe, Precipitation Imaging Probe and the Particle Habit and Imaging and Polar Scattering Probe which will measure the number and size of cloud particles. 

The Nevzorov Probe and Hot Wire Probe, meanwhile, will measure cloud liquid and total water content.

The probes will be measuring parameters such as cloud size, concentration, habits and total water content. Source: Jay Dantinne/Unsplash

Delene says the US Navy has a keen interest in modeling clouds on a global scale. The Navy’s MCR system is said to be one of the most advanced radars on the planet. UND’s research on the data collected during the flights this month will help the Navy understand the system’s abilities and limitations in weather monitoring and forecasting.

UND says CapeEx19 expands on the work of research projects conducted by the university, WMI and the US Navy from 2010 and 2015, and presents a great opportunity for its students to get involved.


“We’ll have several graduate students involved that will fly on the plane, run the data systems and make sure instruments are performing correctly during flights,” Delene said.

“They’ll also process the data right after the flights and examine them. After the field work for the project is over, it’s going to form the basis of multiple thesis projects.”

WMI president Neil Brackin sang praises of UND as WMI’s partner in the space, calling CapeEx19 the “start of a new era”. The project, he said, was a great opportunity to leverage the combined strengths of UND and WMI.

“For us, it’s a great channel for developing operational programs within the government, military and commercial sectors, helping us build our brand as the leading commercial operator within the field of atmospheric sciences.”

“This is a significant project with a lot of measurements, and a lot of top-notch scientists, that highlights what we can do at the University of North Dakota, in terms of airborne research,” Delene said.  

“This public-private partnership is the start of a new era, which is already leading to multiple joint projects, and hopefully many more significant opportunities in the future.”