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Scientists explore El Nino by flying right into its heart

Scientists from NOAA and NASA hope to better understand the El Nino event affecting the west coast of North America by flying into it and dropping instruments into the sea.

Scientists hope research will make for more accurate forecasts

This season's El Nino is already stronger than the infamous 1997 El Nino event, as seen by the red and white colours. This image shows El Nino data captured by two different NASA satellites. (NASA)

Late last month, a plane full of scientists flew into the heart of the strongest El Nino event in a generation.

They flew to one of the most remote places on the planet: at sea, a thousand miles south of Hawaii.

They dropped an array of instruments into the Pacific Ocean, and they're hoping those instruments will help them to better understand El Nino's effect on the weather and on climate change.

"It's something new for me … I'm often at my desk. I work on a computer screen. I run models," Marty Hoerling, research meteorologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

"I used to be in the Weather Service as a weather forecaster, a long time ago. This reminds me of those days: the intent eyeball on virtually every cloud and every storm and trying to make sense of it.

Almost two dozen additional flights are planned for February in the operation, run jointly by NOAA and NASA.

Hoerling says one of the goals of the flights is to learn more about rain-bearing clouds and how they affect latitudes north of the El Nino system itself.

"This is where the models used to do weather forecasting or climate prediction have some of their limitations, because we just don't know enough about the structure throughout the entire depth of the atmosphere," he said.

"We think it matters for making a more skillful weather forecast for that big storm that can be triggered by El Nino."

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Scientists exploring El Nino by flying smack dab in the middle of it


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