Fall and winter are the rainy seasons in Olympic and helpful mules are packing weather equipment including rain gauges into the backcountry. It’s part of the Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX) which will measure precipitation and help NASA fine-tune new weather satellites.
Satellites observe weather hundreds of miles above earth, no small feat. To verify how accurate they are, NASA will be measuring actual precipitation and weather from the ground and compare the two.
Scientists use mules to transport weather equipment to remote areas of Olympic National Park. The animals can make it into protected wilderness where vehicles can’t reach.
The idea is “to connect the dots between what we’re seeing on the surface and what we’re seeing from space and what we’re seeing in the clouds,” said Walt Petersen, NASA’s deputy project scientist for ground validation.
Olympic seems to be the perfect location for such an undertaking. The park gets Pacific Ocean storms and mountain blizzards. The storms will be monitored with weather radar from the ground and weather balloons, and the mountain snowpack will be measured with new cameras next to snow poles.
“We’re rooting for the rainy weather. We’re excited and we’re a little nervous,” said Robert Houze, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences and principal investigator. “Even after years of preparing, you’re still dependent on nature giving us what we want to look at.”
The experiment will take place from November 2015 through February 2016.