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NOAA image of phased array radar.Oct. 2, 2003 ó NOAA is one of the partners in the development of ground-breaking new sensing technology that could improve forecasts and warnings of tornadoes and flash floods. The new technology will be at the heart of a new $40 million research center based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst funded in part with a five-year, $17 million grant from the National Science Foundation, called the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere or CASA. (Click NOAA image for larger view of a crane placing the radome over the phased array radar antenna being installed at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla. Please credit "NOAA.")

Current forecasting and warning technology uses data from high-power, long-range radars that have helped meteorologists improve forecasts significantly in the past 10 years. However, the radars have limited ability to observe the lower part of the atmosphere because of the Earth's curvature. This means, for example, that today's sensors cannot detect the full vertical rotation of most tornadoes.

NOAA radar reflectivity image of the Oklahoma City/Twin Lakes Doppler radar taken on May 8, 2003, showing the hook echo of an F4 tornado as it hit the General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. CASA will develop low-cost, dense networks of radars that operate at short range, communicate with one another and adjust their sensing strategies in direct response to the evolving weather and changing user needs. These radars are just three-feet by three-feet with electronics that are about the size of a personal computer, and can be placed on existing cellular towers. A new generation of meteorological software will use this radar data to support emergency managers and government and private industry organizations that need weather data for making critical decisions. (Click NOAA radar reflectivity image for larger view of the Oklahoma City/Twin Lakes Doppler radar taken on May 8, 2003, showing the hook echo of an F4 tornado as it hit the General Motors plant in Oklahoma City. With more than 30 minutes warning from the NOAA National Weather Service Norman, Okla., forecast office, officials were able to gather all 1,200 employees in a shelter before the tornado hit. No injuries were reported at the plant. Please credit "NOAA.")

The NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, considered a leader in the research and development of Doppler weather radar for many years, will collaborate in the development and testing of the CASA radars. At the same time, NOAA researchers are involved in an effort to adapt phased array radar technology to weather detection.

"Our phased array radar research is complementary to the CASA program," said NSSL director James Kimpel. "We will contribute our expertise to the design of the CASA radars, their field testing in conjunction with that of the PAR, the development of algorithms for detecting hazardous weather, and the use of CASA data to initialize forecast models."

The NOAA National Weather Service supports the development of the CASA system because of its potential to improve forecasts and warnings of deadly weather phenomena including tornadoes and flash floods.

"CASA's technology will contribute to our integrated observing system strategy for the nation," commented Jack Hayes, director of the NOAA National Weather Service Office of Science and Technology. "CASA's sensors would capture crucial boundary layer information, better define weather activity, and contribute to a more accurate forecast. These forecasts would significantly extend tornado warning lead times giving the public a greater window of safety."

In addition, the CASA radars could track low-level winds that transport pollutants throughout the atmosphere.

The first field test of CASA will be in mid-2005 in Oklahoma and will cover roughly 20 percent of the state—a region that experiences approximately 22 tornadoes per year. The second test will be in Houston, where CASA will deploy a system to predict floods more accurately. A third test, in Puerto Rico, will improve monitoring of hurricanes as they approach land.

The NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory and NOAA National Weather Service are partners in a multi-disciplinary team led by UMass Amherst that includes the University of Oklahoma, Colorado State University and the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez. CASA's industry partners include Raytheon, IBM, M/A-COM, Vaisala, Vieux and Associates, OneNet, Telephonics and The Weather Channel. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is an additional government partner.

UMass and its partners will operate CASA aided by $40 million in funding over a five-year period. This funding includes a $17 million grant from the NSF, the independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, $5 million from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, contributions from academic partners, plus nearly $6 million from corporations and in-kind donations.

CASA is one of four new centers created as a result of a recent proposal competition in which more than 100 teams competed for the prestigious Engineering Research Center designation. The NSF currently funds 24 engineering research centers nationwide. The ERCs advance knowledge and develop new technologies to transform U.S. industry. The center fosters collaboration among researchers from many disciplines and provides an education and research environment that prepares a new generation of engineering leaders.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nationís coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Phased Array Radar Technology

NOAA Unveils New Experimental Radar Technology

NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory

NOAA National Weather Service

Media Contact:
Keli Tarp, NOAA Weather Partners, (405) 366-0451