Unless I've missed it in my time away from the internets, no one yet knows exactly what happened to Air France flight 447 over the Atlantic Ocean six weeks ago. But whatever went wrong, the problems were almost certainly related to the plane's having flown into the middle of a powerful thunderstorm. (As discussed here, here, here, and here, and illustrated by this match of the plane's route to reconstructed weather data.)

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Why did the pilots find themselves (and their passengers) there? Mainly because NEXRAD-style displays like the one above simply don't exist in real time for weather over the oceans. They depend on readings from ground-based radar stations, which obviously are scarce in the open seas. As one correspondent pointed out in a previous post, "You know what we (meteorologists) call the oceanic regions? The big blue data void."

Comes now NASA with a research project designed to "provide aircraft with updates about severe storms and turbulence as they fly across remote ocean regions." Further details here. Sounds good to me. For an idea of what the planes are hoping to avoid, via NASA here is an astronaut's view of a thunderstorm near Brazil.


Airline safety usually advances, as in this case, in a learning-from-the-latest-disaster fashion. Sounds like a good project to me.