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Launch weather: Early look at possible conditions for historic astronaut launch

Could the stars be aligning weather-wise for NASA, SpaceX?

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft launch from Kennedy Space Center LaunchPad 39A for an in-flight about test. (Image: Emilee Speck/WKMG)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft launch from Kennedy Space Center LaunchPad 39A for an in-flight about test. (Image: Emilee Speck/WKMG) (WKMG 2020)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The drought for human space flight from American soil is almost over. The atmosphere and ocean, of course, will play a huge role in determining if the drought ends on May 27 or continues a little while longer. Since there are humans on board this time around, there are more strict guidelines for launch.

A lot of those conditions deal with having clear skies, light winds and relatively calm seas not only off of our coast, but all the way to Ireland. In the event of an emergency, conditions have to be safe for landing anywhere over the flight path over the Atlantic.

As you may imagine, it is kind of hard to the get the weather to behave over such a large area. Early indications, however, point to the weather looking abnormally good across most of the flight path for the launch.

An unseasonably strong area of high pressure looks to develop over much of the North Atlantic early next week. High pressure brings quiet weather to areas under its influence.

Mean Sea Level Pressure. Areas in blue indicate higher pressure. The brighter the blue, the higher the pressure.  High pressure looks to dominate most of the North Atlantic for Wednesday's Launch.
Mean Sea Level Pressure. Areas in blue indicate higher pressure. The brighter the blue, the higher the pressure. High pressure looks to dominate most of the North Atlantic for Wednesday's Launch.

This region of high pressure (blue in the map above) looks to extend from the East Coast of the U.S to the West Coast of Europe. This will not only help to keep skies clear and winds light over the mid and North Atlantic, but it will help tame much of the Atlantic Ocean as well. The area of high pressure looks to be so large, Florida will be partially under its control.

Mean sea level pressure anomaly. The red color indicates high pressure anomalies. The darker the red color is, the more anomalous the high pressure is.
Mean sea level pressure anomaly. The red color indicates high pressure anomalies. The darker the red color is, the more anomalous the high pressure is.

The map above highlights pressure anomalies. The dark red indicates unseasonably strong areas of high pressure. Note how much area of the North Atlantic it covers.

Wave heights are another huge component. As a direct result of this large area of high pressure, most of the Atlantic looks to be relatively gentle.

Wave heights for the Atlantic Ocean
Wave heights for the Atlantic Ocean

Computer forecasts show wave heights off the coast of Florida all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia in the 1-2′ range. The biggest wave heights look to occur on the outer reaches of that high pressure system, just south of Iceland and west of Ireland. Wave heights in this area could be on the order of 4-5′.

The caveats:

Even with weak high pressure over Florida, the sea breeze can still generate. Sea breezes, especially in the summer, can generate thunderstorms. As you may imagine, lightning is a big no go for launch. Still, in May, we typically don’t see the huge storms developing along the sea breeze just yet. It does happen, just not as often as in the middle of summer. That is something that will be watched closely.

Overall, the weather one week out from launch looks positive at this point. It is important to note that this is a large area to forecast for and a subtle change thousands of miles away can change the strength and location of the big weather players involved. The Pinpoint Weather Team will closely monitor any changes as we return to space. Fingers crossed.


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