MCCLELLAN PARK (CBS13) – It’s the calm before the storm. But as we prepare for more pounding rain, scientists are revving up their engines at Sacramento’s McClellan Park to fly directly into the thick of it.

“To have four airplanes and a ship out here all at once, that’s never been done before,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research meteorologist Allen White.

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A ship sitting off the coast of California as four research planes operate as flying weather labs.

“This is our tail Doppler radar, it measures precipitation intensity,” White said.

They hope to answer the million-dollar question in California: Why are we in a drought?

White flies the Gulfstream 159.

“It flies at about 450 nautical miles an hour,” White said.

The amount of water that river has in it is like ten or twenty the flow of the Mississippi River.

–NOAA Meteorologist Allen White, on atmospheric rivers

He’s joined by a team of scientists from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and NASA. Their mission is the measure the massive “Pineapple Express” storms that flow from Hawaii and pound northern California every winter.

“The amount of water that river has in it is like ten or twenty the flow of the Mississippi River,” White said.

But unlike other federally funded projects, this one studies the mystery of when and where rain hits the state.

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Clayton Eveland is another pilot on the mission.

“Flew over Tahoe Lake; lots of ice, cloud particles,” Eveland said.

Scientists are actually able to capture cloud particles inside this plane.

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They enter these tubes and enter these systems for analysis.

“We’re trying to understand what humans do on the planet [that] changes the climate,” said John Hubee from the Department of Energy.

For now, their focus is the next big storm heading our way.

The next flight takes off at 3 a.m. Sunday.

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The weather project continues through March, but they have a lot more studying to do before we get any real data.