May 25, 2011--
Colorado State University professor Chandra Chandrasekar is leading a test of a sophisticated network of radars in Oklahoma's "tornado alley" to improve early warning systems for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, possibly saving thousands of lives yearly.
The radars are in or near Chickasha, Lawton and Cyril and Springs, Okla., but Colorado State faculty and students monitor the radars 24 hours a day, seven days a week from computers in the College of Engineering Department.
The new earlier warning system designed by Colorado State University electrical engineer V. "Chandra" Chandrasekar will be tested this summer in Dallas-Fort Worth, reported in The Denver Post.
Now many tornadoes are not detected because they form below the radar, and they are designed to only send images every five minutes.
The white-domed radar units are designed like civil defense sirens mounted atop cell phone towers and are designed to operate in clusters of six to 10 and increasing the average to 12-minute lead time by sending images every minute. The radar has a smaller footprint than most weather-sensing radars because it observes closer to the ground, reconfiguring itself to optimize for tornado observations. It has already detected tornadoes in the test bed, Chandrasekar said. The system improves resolution by five to 10 times, enabling better vision of approaching storms.
Dallas-is expected to pay $1.5 million to $5 million over five years for a phased installation, said Molly Thoerner, director of emergency preparedness for the North Central Texas Regional Council of Governments, reported in The Denver Post.
"Hopefully, this will help us become more prepared and take preparedness more seriously. People would have more confidence in the information they're getting," she said. "Ten minutes could mean life or death."
Chandrasekar and University of Massachusetts Amherst resource economist Brenda Philips developed the system and tested it over five years in McClain County, Okla.
Nine Years to Develop and Test
The research and development stage began back in 2003 when Colorado State teamed with universities across the nation in the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, or CASA, to develop a network of radar systems. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is the lead institution.
The radars system in the Oklahoma test bed is the result of a multidisciplinary collaborative effort among all of CASA's partners: Colorado State, UMass, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Puerto Rico.
"These new radar networks look down low," said V. "Chandra" Chandrasekar, Colorado State electrical and computer engineering professor, “The goal is that national and international agencies will adopt this new low-cost technology. Ultimately, weather forecasters will be able to use the network to direct resources to regions where threats exist. That's when we'll know we've been successful."
CASA's radar project consists of three test beds: the first in Oklahoma's tornado alley, the second in Houston to monitor and predict floods more accurately and the third in Puerto Rico to improve monitoring of floods produced by thunderstorms and hurricanes over complex terrain. The second test bed also will strive to improve the monitoring of air pollution and air transport of chemicals.
In addition to individual university contributions, CASA funding included a $17 million grant from the National Science Foundation, $5 million from the commonwealth of Massachusetts and nearly $6 million from corporations and other in-kind donations. CASA's industry partners include Raytheon, IBM, Vaisala, Vieux and Associates, EWR Weather Radar Systems and DeTect Inc. Government partners include the National Weather Service, the National Severe Storms Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy.