Advanced Tornado Technology Could Reduce Deaths : NPR
Tornadoes have killed at least 530 people in the U.S. this year, the highest death toll since 1950.
But researchers say they are working on new detection and forecasting technologies that could help reduce tornado deaths in the future.
One of those technologies got put to the test on May 24 when a tornado touched down near Chickasha, Okla., and began heading northeast at near freeway speed.
The National Weather Service was tracking the twister with radar, which uses bursts of radio waves to gauge the shape, power and direction of a storm. And data from Weather Service radar showed the tornado would cross the southern part of Newcastle about 25 miles up Interstate 44. So officials in Newcastle sent emergency crews to that part of the city.
But by chance, the storm was also being tracked by a separate, experimental radar system designed to give more precise information. And as the tornado approached Newcastle, the city’s emergency manager was studying data from that system.
"Based on that data, he could see that the tornado was actually taking a turn to the north," says Brenda Philips, who works for a group called CASA (Collaborative Adapting Sensing of the Atmosphere) that developed the new radar system.
So the emergency manager moved the first responders north, which allowed them to move into the affected areas more quickly, Philips says.
It was a big success for CASA, which was founded by several universities specifically to improve weather radar systems. The group receives funding from the National Science Foundation.
The CASA radars did a better job than traditional radars because they were able to provide a fresh image of the storm every minute, says Michael Zink, from the electrical and computer engineering department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.