Saturday, September 02, 2017

Shelby Scorse: Pilot and storm chaser

Shelby B. Scorse

Shelby B. Scorse started flying before some kids get their driver’s license. The 20-year-old University of North Dakota senior grew up in Lunenburg and took to the skies at a young age with her father, pilot Jeff A. Scorse. Ms. Scorse’s childhood reading was not of fairy tales but of adventurous pilots who helped nurture her innate desire to explore and learn.

Recently, she combined her love of flying with her love of weather research, flying planes this summer directly into storms to alter weather patterns as part of the North Dakota Cloud Modification Project.

By “seeding” clouds, Ms. Scorse says that pilots are able to increase rainfall by 10 percent and decrease hail by 45 percent, on average.

What got you interested in flying and how old were you when you got your pilot’s license?

“I became interested in flying from a collection of different things. My dad has his pilot certificate, which was a source of inspiration. I remember loving to fly with him when I was much younger and that may have been what initially made me think of becoming a pilot. I also had read a few books with characters who were pilots and that sparked my interest further. To top it off, I had never wanted a traditional desk job – and having my office be the cockpit of an aircraft sounded pretty amazing.

“While going through my pilot training, I found that there were many people and organizations that were supportive and wanted to help me achieve my goals. The Fitchburg Pilots Association, Boeing Flight Services, the Experimental Aircraft Association, Women in Aviation International and many individuals offered either financial assistance or their expertise. With this help and support, I earned my private pilot certificate when I was 18, right before I started college.”

Why are you interested in weather research? 

“I became interested in weather research and weather-related flying jobs while taking meteorology classes at the University of North Dakota. I had great professors and more than one of them had been involved with a weather modification project before. The University of North Dakota, working with the North Dakota State Water Commission, has a pilot internship program for the North Dakota Cloud Modification Project that I heard about around this same time. This project was where I was able to work this past summer.”

How close do you fly to storms and why?

“In order to apply the cloud seeding material to the clouds or storms, we fly close enough to find the cell’s inflow. The material is released into the inflow and carried into the cell where it is able to work effectively. For most of the clouds that we seeded, we flew directly under the bases of the cloud to find this inflow. For larger storms, we would tuck the plane along either a shelf cloud or under the flat bases along the sides of the storm. Occasionally, and in certain aircraft, we would ‘top seed’ instead. This involved flying directly though the feeder cells of a large storm and dropping the seeding material into the clouds itself.”

Is it risky?

“Flying around thunderstorms can absolutely be risky, especially if not properly trained. It is not something pilots normally do. A couple of times, I was momentarily worried, but we had a great team of meteorologists on the ground talking to us keeping us out of anything that could have been dangerous. Some planes do get hit by lightning, but we didn’t this summer. Planes deal with it and the static goes off of the wings and it is fine.

“Also, all of the pilots on the project receive instruction and all intern pilots are paired with a qualified weather modification instructor. While flying, we were constantly in contact with an amazing team of meteorologists that would watch our aircraft’s track overlaid on a radar display and alert us to any danger. As a pilot crew, we would constantly be discussing our options and always had safety in mind.”

What did your team learn over the summer? 

“This summer was an absolutely amazing experience. Over the course of the summer, our team of pilots and meteorologists learned how to better communicate and how to do our jobs more effectively and safely. With each mission, we got a better idea of which parts of the storms had inflow and which didn’t. We also got better at working as a team and were able to have a lot of fun each and every time that we got to fly.”

What do you want to do after you graduate from the University of North Dakota?

“I would love to do something in the weather research field, but I will probably end up flying corporate. There are not a lot of weather-research jobs.”

Original article and photo gallery ➤

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