DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- When NASA recently contacted Dugway Proving Ground to get a likely weather profile for Nov. 17, 2038, the call to its Meteorology Division was well timed. During the past few years, several meteorology employees have been upgrading field instrumentation from analog to digital, or digitizing 36 years of hand-written weather observations.
The work of meteorologists Tim Markle and Dan Ruth, and physical scientist Donny Storwold, will streamline record keeping, and help to infer weather trends in the future.
Markle willingly undertook the most tedious task: entering data from a roomful of paper records from 1950 to 1986 -- a span covering Dugway's reopening after its closure at the end of World War II to when Meteorology began storing data electronically. Meteorological data from tests, and each day's highest and lowest temperature, wind speed and direction were taken from handwritten forms and keystroked into a spreadsheet.
The next step is to transfer the data from the spreadsheet to the Army Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation Meteorological Architecture for Data Archival, a database written 10 years ago by Dugway meteorologist Scott Halvorson. ARMADA is now used by all Army Test and Evaluation ranges for meteorological records. Unfortunately, Markle won't see the value of his diligence at Dugway; he's accepted a position as a government meteorologist in Anchorage.
Ruth and Storwold replaced outdated equipment with modern electronics and computers; it's been laborious but fulfilling. Storwold began working at Dugway in 1987, becoming instrumental in Meteorology abandoning paper and pencil and going to digital. He noticed a wind speed and direction instrument used electronics to mark a tic on a moving roll of paper.
"I saw we were doing everything mechanically, so I said, 'Why don't we take the electronic signal off that?'" Another meteorologist skilled at writing software wrote the instrument's program. "That was our entry into electronic data collection," Storwold said.
"Tim Markle really took it upon himself to compile and digitize everything, which is huge for us," Ruth said. "That's going to allow us to make inferences on the graphical trends."
It's those inferred trends that interest NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Last December, NASA approved further development of the Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR) mission to visit the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet and return to Earth with samples.
If the CAESAR program moves forward, its collector with comet samples will land on Dugway Nov. 17, 2038 between 8 and 9 a.m. During those 60 minutes 20 years from now, Dugway meteorologists have inferred that it will likely be 29 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds from the southeast at 4 to 7 miles per hour.
Decades-old digitized records may reveal fascinating trends, such as whether global warming affects Dugway, and to what extent. The meteorologists noted that summers seem drier, with each day's high climbing while nights are cooler. No study is planned, but if the warm and dry weather associated with summer is extending into the spring and autumn months, then perhaps the testing schedule could be likewise expanded. Or, if a customer requires particular conditions for testing, then studies may infer their most likely time of year.
When the vintage records are finally loaded into ARMADA, who knows what weather trends may be discovered. A single date -- Nov. 17, 2038 -- may be just the first clue to an unrecognized treasure.