UNT to install advanced weather radar system today

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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An advanced radar system planned for North Texas won't be ready for this year's severe storm season, but a piece of the network will be put in place today at the University of North Texas in Denton.

UNT educators plan to integrate the new technology into research on emergency-management operations and a class that will look at commercial applications for the faster and more precise radar.

Scientists, meteorologists and emergency managers say the radar will provide five minutes or more of early warning when tornadoes, flash floods, hailstorms or severe storms move across the region.

Officials had hoped to have four of the radar units operational this spring, but funding delays have slowed progress, said Brenda Phillips, a co-leader of the project developed by the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

"We're still waiting for FEMA funding for the next two radars in Addison and Fort Worth," Phillips said Wednesday.

Installation at those sites is scheduled for this summer followed by four in the Dallas area.

"Eight radars should be operational by storm season next year," she said.

A beta version of the CASA network proved itself during a four-year run in rural southwestern Oklahoma, Phillips said, noting that Dallas-Fort Worth's large population and highly volatile weather made it an ideal urban test ground for the next phase.

The first of the $500,000 radar units was placed atop a University of Texas at Arlington building in October, and the second will be installed at UNT today.

Pinpoint warnings

The CASA radar makes once-a-minute scans of storms instead of the usual once every five minutes. It also provides higher-resolution images and multiple overlapping views of storms, Phillips said.

The radar will allow meteorologists to issue pinpoint warnings for weather threats down to the neighborhood level, officials say.

The near-ground radar system with a range of 25 miles will supplement the weather service's current NEXRAD Doppler radar network, said Tom Bradshaw, meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service's Fort Worth office.

"We haven't been able to utilize it yet because it's not in our computer system, so we can't overlay it," Bradshaw said.

"The real advantage is having multiple radars that are overlapping and getting different views. Having the UNT radar will be a significant step in the right direction. Once we get the third and fourth radars, that's when we'll go to town with this new data."

Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, the 10-year, $40 million project is made up of a consortium of universities, government agencies and industry partners, Phillips said. The North Central Texas Council of Governments has been a key partner in coordinating the process, she said.

CASA is providing the $4 million cost of the initial eight radars. Each installation costs $35,000 to $45,000, and hosts provide power, Internet connections and maintenance. Local governments will cover the first year's operational costs of $500,000 with those cost expected to be reduced in the second year, she said.

The eight radars will cover the core population area of DFW, but 14 more will be needed to cover the 16-county footprint of the council of governments, Phillips said. Local governments will have to find funding for the additional units, she said.

The northwest Fort Worth radar will be on Boat Club Road on the site of a 1920s-era water tower that is going to be demolished, said Juan Ortiz, the city's emergency management coordinator.

"This network will allow us to make better decisions and save lives and protect property," he said.

The radar is also affording unique research opportunities for North Texas universities.

UTA's civil engineering department will be studying "where hydrology meets meteorology," using the data to study flash flooding in urban environments.

At UNT, two very different academic branches will be incorporating the data into research and classes.

The College of Public Affairs and Community Service will be researching the use of the data by emergency managers and how the media will get out the message about more precise weather warnings, said Nicole Basham, associate dean.

The college graduates 50 to 100 students annually with bachelor's degrees in emergency management, she said.

"We've done warnings the same for a long time. How do we change that process to make people safer? How do we integrate this into how we train emergency managers and meteorologists down the road?" Basham said.

The Murphy Center for Entrepreneurship, which has a subgrant with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will be researching commercial applications of the data, director Tony Mendes said.

"We're looking at business opportunities for the data. We're creating a class that is basically a technology commercialization class," he said.

"I think there might be applications for things like apps for phones" that give parents accurate estimates of storm conditions that could affect their kids' schools, Mendes said.

Steve Campbell,

817-390-7981

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