Key weather relay satellite survives encounter with ZombieSat

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:55 PM GMT on December 16, 2010

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On April 3, 2010, the sun's surface erupted in a magnetic disturbance known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). A chuck of the sun's atmosphere ripped away and hurtled through space towards the Earth, arriving two days later. As Coronal Mass Ejections go, this was a garden-variety one, the kind we see dozens of times per year. However, when the high energy electrons and protons associated with the CME reached Earth's magnetosphere on April 5, an unusually strong solar storm developed, the strongest in three years. While we have no direct proof that this space weather storm was responsible, an Intelsat telecommunications satellite called Galaxy 15, used to relay television programs, suddenly lost contact with ground controllers and began drifting through space. According to scientists at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center whom I met with on a site visit this summer, solar storms have probably knocked out at least a dozen satellites in the fifty years humans have been launching them. Usually, these dead satellites pose no threat to other satellites. But the Galaxy 15 satellite has joined the ranks of the undead and become "ZombieSat". Although no television signals are being bounced off of the satellite, its transponders remain active and are spewing out a high volume of noise in the microwave C-band. As ZombieSat drifted uncontrolled through space this year, interference from the satellite threatened to shut down transmissions from a number of communications satellites in its path. In May, SES World Skies was forced to maneuver their AMC-11 satellite out of the way of ZombieSat to avoid its interference. And yesterday, on December 15, ZombieSat made a close pass by the SES-1 communications satellite. This satellite downlinks the NOAAPORT weather data feed, which supplies nearly all of the weather data used by wunderground, the National Weather Service, and many other users. For a ten hour period yesterday, interference from ZombieSat significantly interfered with the NOAAPORT data feed, causing many data transmission errors.


Figure 1. This is a close-up view of the active region observed by Proba-2's SWAP (Sun Watcher using APS detectors and imaging processing) instrument on 3 April 2010. Magnetic loops are visibly glowing--filled with cooling plasma (though cooling is a relative phrase, its temperature still exceeds a million degrees)--as the Sun's magnetic field knits itself together again in the flare's immediate aftermath. The area around the magnetic loops is darkened due to the Sun's surface reacting to the force of the flare. Image credit: European Space Agency.

Fortunately, little or no weather data was permanently lost during ZombieSat's encounter with SES-1. Much of the credit for this goes to NOAA technicians who devised an alternate satellite data transimission scheme to reduce the amount of interference from ZombieSat. Over the past week, the NOAAPORT data has been routed as usual from the National Weather Service in Washington D.C. to the Primary Master Ground Station located in Hauppauge, NY, via terrestrial communication lines. The Hauppauge ground station has been broadcasting the NOAAPORT feed to a "borrowed" satellite, which bounces the signal to the SES Americom Master Ground Station in Hawaii, which is outside the interference "footprint" of ZombieSat. NOAAPORT then is then uplinked to the SES-1 satellite, and then beamed down to Earth to Weather Underground, the NWS, and the other NOAAPORT subscribers. This way, NOAAPORT has been avoiding seeing interference from ZombieSat during the uplink to the SES-1 satellite. However, the signal is still subject to interference during the downlink process, and ZombieSat may still be able to cause trouble for NOAAPORT over the next few days. By Sunday, ZombieSat will be far enough from SES-1 that NOAA can return NOAAPORT back to its original configuration. Kudos go to NOAA for safely managing to keep NOAAPORT functioning during ZombieSat's passage--had they not acted to re-route the NOAAPORT signal, the U.S. could have seen a significant and potentially dangerous loss of weather data. (However, this did not go off without a hitch--technicians experimenting with adjusting power levels for the NOAAPORT feed during testing of the re-routing scheme accidentally knocked NOAAPORT out for several hours a week ago Sunday.)


Figure 2. Data flow diagram of how weather data gets from the National Weather Service (NWS) and NOAA's Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS) through the NOAA Network Control Facility (NCF) onto the NOAAPORT feed that is relayed off of the SES-1 satellite to NOAAPORT receive ground stations. Image credit: NOAA.

How solar storms damage spacecraft
The region of space where most Earth-orbiting satellites lie, 100 - 23,000 miles above the surface, experiences "space weather"--constant bombardment from high energy particles emitted by the sun. Periodically, the sun erupts in a massive magnetic disturbances known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), when a portion of the sun's atmosphere rips away and hurtles into space. The sun also sends out high-energy particles during solar flares, and when holes open in the sun's outer atmosphere (a coronal "hole"). When these solar particles reach Earth's upper atmosphere, they trigger geomagnetic storms that create the beautiful aurora displays often visible at high latitudes. However, these geomagnetic storms can damage a wide range of electronic systems, including power grids, communications systems, and spacecraft. When high-energy protons and ions hit spacecraft, the ionization tracks left in micro-miniaturized electronics can damage computer memory chips or disrupt circuits. Very energetic electrons can also penetrate deep into satellites bury themselves in insulating materials, such as coaxial cables or electronic boards. A powerful internal electronic discharge like a miniature lightning bolt can occur if the charge grows great enough. Numerous satellite failures have been attributed to this phenomena. Lower energy electrons that cannot penetrate the spacecraft's shielding can also cause problems--if enough electrons accumulate on the surface of the satellite, this "surface charging" can cause a powerful, disruptive discharge. Ionization tracks and discharges due to surface charging can result in the satellite experiencing "phantom commands" that instruct it to perform operations that can cut it off from contact with ground controllers. Such an occurrence is suspected in the sudden loss of communication with the Galaxy 15 spacecraft on April 5.

Damage to spacecraft due to space weather events does not necessarily happen during the peak of the 11-year solar cycle. The most recent sunspot cycle peaked in April 2000, and sunspot numbers steadily decreased through October 2003. In that month, three of the largest sunspot groups in ten years formed on the sun and began launching a series of CMEs and solar flares towards Earth, forcing NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center to issue over 250 solar storm watches, warnings, and alerts over a 3-week period. NASA reported that 24% of their spacecraft either turned off instruments or took other protective acts during the solar storms. Japan's $640 million ADEOS-2 satellite, designed to collect weather and climate change data, failed during the height of the solar storms, and never recovered. Several other satellites permanently lost sensors, including the X-ray sensor on GOES-8 and the AMSU-A1 instrument on NOAA-17. The CHIPS satellite began tumbling through space when its main computer failed (the satellite was recovered after 27 hours), and Japan's DRTS geostationary communications satellite want into safe mode due to a proton barrage from a solar flare. The satellite was recovered ten days later.


Figure 3. The largest solar flare ever recorded was observed on April 2, 2001. It was rated X-22 on a scale that only goes from one to twenty. The flare was more powerful than the flare that accompanied the worst geomagnetic storm in history, the 1859 Carrington event. Fortunately, the 2001 flare was not aimed at the Earth. Image credit: NASA.

Space weather catastrophes
While damage to satellites is a serious concern from geomagnetic storms, my main concern is the possibility of a 1-in-100 year event taking out 30% of the U.S. power grid for a period of years, resulting in a multi-trillion dollar disaster. The possibilities are explored in my 2009 post, A future Space Weather catastrophe: a disturbing possibility.

Top ten weather events of 2010
I'll be on our Internet radio show, The Daily Downpour today at 4pm EST, 1pm PST, to talk about the top ten weather events of 2010. I'll also be discussion the same subject on NPR's Living on Earth radio show on Friday.

Jeff Masters

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1143. hcubed
4:35 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting JFLORIDA:
Poisoning the well (or attempting to poison the well) is a logical fallacy where adverse information about a target is pre-emptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that the target person is about to say.


Sounds like what they use when discussing Watts, doesn't it?
Member Since: May 18, 2007 Posts: 289 Comments: 1639
1142. Neapolitan
3:17 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
NEW BLOG ENTRY
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13459
1141. hydrus
3:16 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting stillwaiting:
smart man nea,amongst a sea of pompassness(new word?)...
--excessive self-esteem or exaggerated dignity; pretentious:
Officials full of pompassness who enjoy giving orders. 2. Full of high-sounding phrases; ...:)
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 20507
1140. stillwaiting
3:11 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
smart man nea,amongst a sea of pompassness(new word?)...
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
1139. bappit
3:10 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
I do think that posts made in good faith are always worthwhile. I'm optimistic in that area despite being a general pessimist. I also think that a lot of people visit the blog who never post, and they can be informed despite the posts of trolls.
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 5955
1138. bappit
2:56 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting JFLORIDA:
bappit since you stand in critical review I would like to see some position of excellence in your posts.

As a person accused of being a "flake" perhaps I should have been paying more attention to your demonstrated continuity and excellence. Especially in climate as you are indirectly claiming expertise above others there. Also in climate as you have chosen to make one liners as your sole contribution.

Lets see how intelligent you are.

You seem to have a lot of courage when addressing individuals here and, not unfortunately, directly addressing the issues.

From the direction of your attacks I take it you disagree with the climate posts - please post your specific and referenced arguments.

Thank you.

You misapprehend my post. I am referring to bogus "peer reviewed" articles. I thought I was agreeing with you.
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 5955
1137. Neapolitan
2:50 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
I see there have been a few on this morning complaining again about the ongoing back-and-forth between those aligned with the science behind the AGW theory and those who support contrarian conspiracy theories and the like. It's just my opinion, but as this is, after all, a weather site, discussions about global warming--often intitiated by one of Dr. Masters' own posts--are at least as relevant as, say, page after page of embedded 70s/80s rock videos, discussions about NFL and college football, or marathon TV/movie trivia sessions.

As to charges that the GW conversations here are pointless as nobody will likely change their mind based on what they read here, I'd have to say those charges are probably true. But while I can't speak for others, I can tell you this: changing anyone's mind isn't my goal. I usually only post AGW scientific facts in response to those who post some debunked piece of junk data, or some outright lie that's been repeatedly and heavily crticized by scientists. And I do that not to sway opinion of the theory; frankly, the theory is solid and no baseless bits of crackpot denialism will cause anyone with intellectual honesty to dismiss it as some have. No, I do it simply so casual visitors to this site don't arrive here and get the impression that pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo is the law of the land. IOW, I'm doing my part to keep alive the flame of truth, and I plan to keep at it as long as the site is up and I'm still allowed to post.

This last paragraph is a repost of mine from last night: it's important--vitally important--for people to go outside their comfort zone in their personal pursuit of scientific truth. If you're a person who only watches Fox, try tuning your television to MSNBC or CNN every so often. If you normally visit only WattsUpWithThat.com or GlobalWarmingHoax.com or AlGoreLied.com, try also spending a little time on wesbites that provide actual unbiased information such as the myriad NOAA/NASA climate science websites, or those of various universities. If you generally spend time talking only to those whose views on science or politics agree with yours, try participating in free conversations with those whose opinions differ from yours. Open your mind; expand your intellectual horizons; familiarize yourself with information that makes you uncomfortable; challenge others; challenge yourself. You'll be a better person for it, and the world will be a better place.

;-)
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13459
1136. Minnemike
2:46 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting bappit:

Do you have any better ideas to contribute? Apparently not.
calusakat has nothing to contribute other than defamation, a broken record, and blows to his/her own credibility per post. but other blowhards who think they've nailed the coffin must love the stuff!
Member Since: July 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1320
1135. bappit
2:44 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:
I love how some people that want to stop climate change, want the most money spent on research on how we can change the climate... lol just shows how much of it is really about money and power

Facts please. Opportunists are inevitable--something to do with having a free society. Prove that that is all the global warming research amounts to.
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 5955
1134. bappit
2:42 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting cat5hurricane:
Global warming is nothing more than left political propoganda, motivated primarilary by $$. Afterall, didn't Al Gore play a small role in spearheading GW? I remember clear as day all the talk about the coming of the next ice age and ensuing global cooling in the wake of the harsh winters of the 1970's and 1980's. This seems no different.

Give it 15 years and this will all go away until something even more trendy comes to the surface.

Have any proof for your assertions? Please, no anecdotes or hearsay.
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 5955
1133. bappit
2:39 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting calusakat:


So...the day the theory was proposed, that was the day global warming began?

I think you misinterpreted the AGW Talking Points on that particular theory and its effects.

Maybe you have misprints in your copy as well?



Do you have any better ideas to contribute? Apparently not.
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 5955
1131. calusakat
2:34 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting MichaelSTL:


15 years... you lost that bet already...

The global warming hypothesis originated in 1896 when Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, developed the theory that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would cause global temperatures to rise by trapping excess heat in the earth’s atmosphere.


2010-1896 = 114 years. Yes, global warming is more than a century old now! "Only" 99 years longer than your 15 years! And even older if you go back to the first measurements of infrared absorption by gasses like water vapor and CO2, albeit before any connection was made between burning fossil fuels and atmospheric CO2 levels and subsequent warming.


So...the day the theory was proposed, that was the day global warming began?

I think you misinterpreted the AGW Talking Points on that particular theory and its effects.

Maybe you have misprints in your copy as well?


Member Since: October 10, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 716
1124. scott39
2:03 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
I wonder if GW had anything to do with Blockbuster having a meltdown in 2010? Dont bother renewing your membership.
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6732
1122. scott39
1:58 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting MichaelSTL:
Also, for all of the cold weather, Arctic ice is indeed melting faster, but because all of the cold air is being dumped out of the Arctic:



Also:


Why Europe's severe cold winter weather may continue

US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data shows that the NAO has been in its so called negative phase for 14 consecutive months up to and including November 2010. It is almost certain to be negative for December making an unprecedented 15 month run. Previously the longest continuous periods were for nine month across the northern hemisphere winter of 1968-69 and for six months across the winter of 1962-63.


There's that magic word again, used a lot this year to describe weather patterns: "unprecedented".
How long do you think we have?
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6732
1117. calusakat
1:42 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting FatPenguin:


The use of "sheeple" is very telling.

Remind me again how CO2 is NOT a heat trapping gas? I've forgotten.

Until CO2 defies the laws of nature and doesn't trap heat, then AGW is a valid theory. There is no argument. The ONLY way to disprove AGW is to prove CO2 has zero effect on the climate. It's really that simple.


Wow they really don't teach like they used and you are living proof.

There are three types of people on this earth.

Wolves, Sheeple and Sheep Dogs.

Sheeple are like you, sans any ability or interest in the real truth. If CNN or MSNBC says it...it has got to be true. Don't ask question. Sit in front of that TV and 'pass me another beer, dear'. Not that you drink beer, necessarily...but sheeple all the same.

The we have people like atmoaggie and pensacoladoug, to name only two who try their darnedest to education the sheeple so that they, the sheeple, might be able to, one day, think for themselves.

Finally there are the Wolves. They are the movers and shakers who devise the constructs, (dressing up as sheeple) which they then use to convince the sheeple to do as they, the wolves say.

One great construct is the AGW Talking Points booklet. Nevermind that the laws of physics and mathematics are being subverted, that data is being altered, if NOAA and NASA say it, AGW sheeple swallow it hook line and sinker.

Ridiculing and slandering anyone who has the temerity to dispute any part of the AGW construct, along the way.

Yes, Virginia, AGW is a lie.


Member Since: October 10, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 716
1116. scott39
1:41 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
I think all the HOT AIR TALK about Global Warming is causing the ice to melt faster, and will destroy the Earth in 200 Billion years instead of 300 Billion! Thanks Alot!
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6732
1114. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
1:35 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting scott39:
Looks like it will be windy and cold on the N Gulf Coast for Christmas day. I remember the days leading up to Christmas in the early 80's. Coldest I can recall. Single digits and pipes busting all over the neighborhood.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1112. scott39
1:29 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Looks like it will be windy and cold on the N Gulf Coast for Christmas day. I remember the days leading up to Christmas in the early 80's. Coldest I can recall. Single digits and pipes busting all over the neighborhood.
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6732
1109. IKE
1:24 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
i believe something is happening and i agree with your stance on the subject but to convince the masses well thats a bigger problem than GW in itself


Ditto those thoughts.

And if that's where the planet is headed...along with all of the other problems...then, I'm not sure I want to be around to see that anyway.

Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2011. May all of your dreams come true.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1108. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
1:19 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
i believe something is happening and i agree with your stance on the subject but to convince the masses well thats a bigger problem than GW in itself
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1104. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
1:11 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
hey cat5 ya pony
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1103. tkeith
1:09 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
New Orleans lost it's oldest and most respected Meteorologist Sunday. Nash Roberts died at the age of 92.
Member Since: November 1, 2004 Posts: 25 Comments: 8923
1100. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
1:05 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
JF ya ever here of the saying
you can lead the horse to water but you will never make him/her drink

that applies to GW/AGW
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1098. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
12:58 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
01C/TS/O
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1097. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
12:55 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
TPPZ01 PGTW 201154

A. TROPICAL STORM 01C (OMEKA)

B. 20/1130Z

C. 20.9N

D. 177.5W

E. SIX/GOES11

F. T2.5/3.0/W0.5/24HRS STT: D0.5/06HRS

G. IR/EIR

H. REMARKS: 47A/PBO PTLY XPSD LLCC/ANMTN. CNVCTN WRAP OF .40 ON
LOG10 SPIRAL YIELDS A DT OF 2.5. PT AND MET AGREE. DBO DT.

I. ADDITIONAL POSITIONS:
20/0643Z 20.6N 178.6W SSMS
20/0756Z 20.5N 178.1W SSMS
20/0918Z 20.5N 177.7W MMHS


UEHARA
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1096. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
12:54 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
WTPN51 PGTW 201000
WARNING ATCP MIL 01C NEP 101220103400

2010122006 01C OMEKA 001 01 065 07 SATL 060
T000 205N 1787W 045 R034 045 NE QD 045 SE QD 045 SW QD 045 NW QD
T012 220N 1765W 040
T024 249N 1750W 035
T036 287N 1744W 030
T048 334N 1748W 020
AMP
NNNN
SUBJ: TROPICAL STORM 01C (OMEKA) WARNING NR 001
1. TROPICAL STORM 01C (OMEKA) WARNING NR 001
01 ACTIVE TROPICAL CYCLONE IN EASTPAC
MAX SUSTAINED WINDS BASED ON ONE-MINUTE AVERAGE
WIND RADII VALID OVER OPEN WATER ONLY
---
WARNING POSITION:
200600Z --- NEAR 20.5N 178.7W
MOVEMENT PAST SIX HOURS - 065 DEGREES AT 07 KTS
POSITION ACCURATE TO WITHIN 060 NM
POSITION BASED ON CENTER LOCATED BY SATELLITE
PRESENT WIND DISTRIBUTION:
MAX SUSTAINED WINDS - 045 KT, GUSTS 055 KT
WIND RADII VALID OVER OPEN WATER ONLY
RADIUS OF 034 KT WINDS - 045 NM NORTHEAST QUADRANT
045 NM SOUTHEAST QUADRANT
045 NM SOUTHWEST QUADRANT
045 NM NORTHWEST QUADRANT
REPEAT POSIT: 20.5N 178.7W
---
FORECASTS:
12 HRS, VALID AT:
201800Z --- 22.0N 176.5W
MAX SUSTAINED WINDS - 040 KT, GUSTS 050 KT
WIND RADII VALID OVER OPEN WATER ONLY
VECTOR TO 24 HR POSIT: 025 DEG/ 16 KTS
---
24 HRS, VALID AT:
210600Z --- 24.9N 175.0W
MAX SUSTAINED WINDS - 035 KT, GUSTS 045 KT
WIND RADII VALID OVER OPEN WATER ONLY
VECTOR TO 36 HR POSIT: 010 DEG/ 19 KTS
---
36 HRS, VALID AT:
211800Z --- 28.7N 174.4W
MAX SUSTAINED WINDS - 030 KT, GUSTS 040 KT
WIND RADII VALID OVER OPEN WATER ONLY
VECTOR TO 48 HR POSIT: 355 DEG/ 24 KTS
---
EXTENDED OUTLOOK:
48 HRS, VALID AT:
220600Z --- 33.4N 174.8W
MAX SUSTAINED WINDS - 020 KT, GUSTS 030 KT
WIND RADII VALID OVER OPEN WATER ONLY
---
REMARKS:
201000Z POSITION NEAR 21.0N 178.0W.
MAXIMUM SIGNIFICANT WAVE HEIGHT AT 200600Z IS 18 FEET.
NEXT WARNINGS AT 201600Z, 202200Z, 210400Z AND 211000Z.
//
BT
#0001
NNNN
0110121712 264N1777W 30
0110121718 250N1780W 30
0110121800 242N1785W 30
0110121806 238N1786W 30
0110121812 236N1787W 30
0110121818 230N1798W 30
0110121900 222N1794E 30
0110121906 216N1791E 30
0110121912 201N1799W 30
0110121918 201N1798W 30
0110122000 202N1794W 45
0110122006 205N1787W 45

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1095. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
12:53 PM GMT on December 20, 2010
Current Central/Eastern Pacific Tropical Systems


Tropical Storm 01C (Omeka) Warning #01
Issued


Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1093. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
12:51 PM GMT on December 20, 2010


2010 Storms
All Active Year


Atlantic

East Pacific

Central Pacific
01C.OMEKA

West Pacific

Indian Ocean

Southern Hemisphere
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.