Clouds Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

The New York Times just published a story I wrote about the new science of solar forecasting. To track the clouds, scientists have developed new cameras that provide startling images of the sky. Click on the buttons to enjoy this slideshow.

coimbra photo 1

Two scientists at the University of California at San Diego, Carlos Coimbra and Jan Kleissl, are creating hyperlocal forecasts with the help of fisheye cameras pointed at the sky.

coimbra photo 2

These sky cameras, engineered by Coimbra and Kleissl and sometimes called Cloudtrackers, take in about five square miles of sky, depending on the height of the installation. By snapping high-resolution photos every 30 seconds and processing them through a computer algorithm, Coimbra and Kleissl can predict with great accuracy where a cloud will move within the next 3 to 20 minutes.

coimbra photo 3

All of these images are of the sky above the UC San Diego, where Kleissl and Coimbra work. Photos 1, 2, and 3 of this series are taken from an installation on the roof of Engineering Building II. San Diego's ever-changing coastal fog is difficult for the researchers to forecast.

SkyCam photo 1

Images 4, 5 and 6 of this series are taken from an another building on campus, the seven-story home of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology.

SkyCam photo 2

When the clouds are just so, the camera's image of the sky looks strangely like a photo of Earth from space. The spindly weather instruments on the margins appear to me like the sensors attached to a satellite.

SkyCam photo 3

In fact, the equipment you see on the edges are (at 9:00) an Eppley SMT-3 Solar Tracker with several instruments mounted on it, including a pyranometer, a pyrheliometer and a sun-tracking camera. At 10:00 is a spectral shadowband pyranometer. At 11:00 is a microwave antenna that is not involved with cloud research. The structure looming at 3:00 is part of the building's HVAC machinery.

SunCam photo 1

Back on the Engineering II building is a SunCam, developed by Coimbra and Kleissl to track the clouds immediately around the Sun.

SunCam photo 2

The black dot is a saturation spot and indicates the position of the Sun.

SunCam photo 4

Coimbra and Kleissl, who have been working together for only two years, believe that future versions of their forecasting engine will be far more accurate than today's.

Two scientists at the University of California at San Diego, Carlos Coimbra and Jan Kleissl, are creating hyperlocal forecasts with the help of fisheye cameras pointed at the sky.These sky cameras, engineered by Coimbra and Kleissl and sometimes called Cloudtrackers, take in about five square miles of sky, depending on the height of the installation. By snapping high-resolution photos every 30 seconds and processing them through a computer algorithm, Coimbra and Kleissl can predict with great accuracy where a cloud will move within the next 3 to 20 minutes.All of these images are of the sky above the UC San Diego, where Kleissl and Coimbra work. Photos 1, 2, and 3 of this series are taken from an installation on the roof of Engineering Building II. San Diego's ever-changing coastal fog is difficult for the researchers to forecast.Images 4, 5 and 6 of this series are taken from an another building on campus, the seven-story home of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology.When the clouds are just so, the camera's image of the sky looks strangely like a photo of Earth from space. The spindly weather instruments on the margins appear to me like the sensors attached to a satellite.In fact, the equipment you see on the edges are (at 9:00) an Eppley SMT-3 Solar Tracker with several instruments mounted on it, including a pyranometer, a pyrheliometer and a sun-tracking camera. At 10:00 is a spectral shadowband pyranometer. At 11:00 is a microwave antenna that is not involved with cloud research. The structure looming at 3:00 is part of the building's HVAC machinery.Back on the Engineering II building is a SunCam, developed by Coimbra and Kleissl to track the clouds immediately around the Sun.The black dot is a saturation spot and indicates the position of the Sun.Coimbra and Kleissl, who have been working together for only two years, believe that future versions of their forecasting engine will be far more accurate than today's.

All images are credited to Carlos Coimbra and Jan Kleissl at UC San Diego.

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