The hits just keep coming for CASA. The Engineering Center for “Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere,” a radar network designed to generate geographically specific, real-time information on severe weather storms, recently inspired a very informative feature article in an unlikely place: on the Dell website.
As the Dell article explained, “Over the past three years, a coalition of public and private institutions [has] come together in Dallas-Fort Worth to support infrastructure improvements that will greatly improve the area’s overall emergency response, with benefits to both local communities and private industry, including the potential for reducing flight delays at DFW International Airport. The magic bullet? An improved radar network precise enough to track the movement of a tornados, hail, and heavy rainfall street-by-street.
The Dell article noted that CASA was designed by researchers at UMass Amherst in collaboration with Colorado State and Oklahoma Universities.
“The project is partially funded by the National Science Foundation,” the Dell article said. “Set lower and closer together than National Weather Service (NWS) radar, CASA can predict and track hazards like tornadoes and flash floods with unprecedented accuracy. The system made national headlines in 2011 when it helped move emergency response crews in Oklahoma out of the path of a dangerous storm. CASA opened a test lab in Dallas-Fort Worth three years ago, and seven of its radars are now deployed throughout the metroplex.”
By providing a more accurate rainfall rate, CASA can also help predict flash floods, said Brenda Phillips, a Senior Research Fellow at UMass-Amherst and co-director of the CASA project. That’s an especially important consideration in Dallas-Fort Worth, where urban flash flooding is common.
With more granular tornado and flood observations, said the Dell article, severe weather becomes less disruptive to the city’s infrastructure. Fewer people need to take shelter or avoid flooded roads, fewer businesses need to be shut down. And, of course, fewer flights need to be grounded. “We’re starting to see [NWS] using CASA data in their warnings,” Phillips said.
The CASA radar system also raised a storm of good publicity during the holiday season of 2015, when officials in Ellis County, Texas, credited the recently installed CASA radar system with being at least partially responsible for saving lives and greatly reducing injuries during the very dangerous tornado that touched down in the Ellis County town of Midlothian, south of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, during the December 26 tornado outbreak.
As Ellis County Judge Carol Bush said at a press conference immediately following the tornado, “With the CASA radar system in the Midlothian area, it gives a lot of advanced notice, and we were able to communicate that to the community. And I think that has really assisted in seeing a decrease in injuries.”
NWS forecasters in the Fort Worth office, who also have access to CASA data, were able to see the development of the tornado – the “hook” or curly cue that indicates a tornado is happening – on the CASA radar and used that information in their warning communications to emergency managers, media, and other public safety personnel.
“Using CASA data, you could track the path of the tornado down streets and through neighborhoods,” said Philips. “This is an exciting result for us. By analyzing these types of events, we’ll learn how to make warnings better for everyone involved in tornado response, from the NWS and emergency managers to even the public’s decision to take shelter.” (July 2016