The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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CASA Installs Its First Weather Radar in Texas

The UMass Amherst News Office reports that on October 28 Deputy Director Brenda Philips of the College of Engineering’s Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) program joined engineer Eric Lyons and CASA Innovation Manager Apoorva Bajaj while the first CASA weather radar unit was installed by helicopter atop a building at the University of Texas Arlington (UTA). Philips said, “This represents a great technical and organizational milestone for the project.” Over the next several months, CASA will see three more of its radar units installed at partner institutions in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, with support from the North Texas Council of Governments, local elected officials, Dallas and Fort Worth Emergency Management, the National Weather Service, the UTA, and others.

Philips, an economist, is leading the development of the Dallas-Fort Worth urban demonstration network as a platform for research and technology transfer. “This is exciting because the fourth largest metroplex in the country is investing in the CASA concept and the idea of regional deployment of radars,” Philips said.

CASA’s many advantages were amply demonstrated over the past four years in rural Oklahoma, where the radars were tested in actual severe storms. CASA technology uses radar units the size of a microwave oven with a 36-inch dish attached, compared to huge Doppler radars now in wide use, which must be mounted atop 150-foot towers.

CASA’s smaller, nimbler, X-band radar units can be deployed on rooftops and cell phone towers and are most effective when networked in groups of three or four. Having detected a storm, they conduct “smart” scans focused on areas of greatest concern to give a precise location. A CASA network provides data five to 10 times more detailed than current radar systems and track storms at near-ground level, where they can be followed more closely and accurately than has ever been possible before.

By contrast, current Doppler radars are so widely spaced and mounted so high they can’t “see” ground conditions in certain areas.

Philips explained that “Through a recently awarded NSF Partnership for Innovation grant, we're also establishing a research collaboration with UTA and CASA academic partner Colorado State University around flash flooding. We plan to work with the emergency management community and private industry in the new location in the Dallas area to define CASA’s benefits on their terms.”

In addition, as a result of the Dallas-Fort Worth test bed, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department faculty member Michael Zink will conduct research there through an NSF/US IGNITE grant on high capacity communication networks.

The test bed will soon expand to include a set of precision barometers built by Paroscientific Inc. and will then be extended to include wind profilers and other sensors. The project is expected to serve as a prototype for a national scale “network of networks,” which enables a multitude of users and sensor providers to exchange observational data across a common infrastructure.

CASA was developed with support from the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center program and at UMass Amherst is supported by the Jerome M. Paros Fund for Measurement and Environmental Sciences Research. Raytheon, Vaisala, EWR Weather Radar, ITT Exelis, and the National Weather Service are also partners. Its developers hope to see regional deployments of the system in cities and towns across the country in the near future. (November 2012)