Gleaning Clues on Sunny Days From the Clouds
CARLOS F. COIMBRA knew from the outset that he would have to crack the code of clouds. As an engineering professor new to the University of California’s campus in Merced, he led a successful drive to get 15 percent of the school’s power from an array of solar panels.
But clouds, wandering and capricious, had foiled his efforts on two occasions by casting sudden shadows, forcing the school to rely on conventional power instead. To neutralize the clouds, he would have to track them.
So Professor Coimbra, a Brazilian-born expert in fluid mechanics with a flair for computer modeling, tried a new kind of forecast. The campus would make better use of sun power if he could figure out exactly when a puffy drifter would arrive overhead. He wrote a computer algorithm to project how clouds move and change shape as they move across the sky — one of the most complex and chaotic phenomena on earth, influenced by an endless set of variables.