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Someday soon, tornado warnings may be issued by a national radar system developed by one of CSU's own electrical and computer engineering professors.
V. "Chandra" Chandrasekar has spent the past several years leading a test of a sophisticated network of radars in Oklahoma's "tornado alley" to improve early warning systems for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, possibly saving thousands of lives each year.
Radars in the Oklahoma test bed are still detecting tornadoes – like the one that traveled through Chickasha 40 miles southwest of Oklahoma City last May. A similar test system was also installed this past summer in a major metropolitan area – Dallas-Fort Worth – for the first time.
Chandra and his team built the series of small radars in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Puerto Rico. In Oklahoma, the radars have been tested in or near Chickasha, Lawton, Cyril and Rush Springs, but Colorado State faculty and students have monitored the radars 24 hours a day, seven days a week from computers in the College of Engineering.
Chandra has been a key CSU player in the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, or CASA – an Engineering Research Center that is developing the network. He is the leader of the sensing thrust of the project and also the research director for CASA. He is the co-principal investigator for the CSU-CHILL National Radar facility as well as a member of the remote sensing research team at NASA.
In 2003, Colorado State teamed with universities across the nation in the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, or CASA, to develop a network of radar systems. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is the lead institution.
An average 800 tornadoes are reported across the United States every year, leading to more than 1,500 injuries and at least 80 deaths, according to the National Weather Service. This radar would help emergency agencies identify tornadoes earlier to improve public safety.
"These new radar networks look down low," Chandra said. "The goal is that national and international agencies will adopt this new low-cost technology. Ultimately, we want weather forecasters to be able to use the network to direct resources to regions where threats exist. That's when we'll know we've been successful."
The first set of radars created from the CASA partnership, called IP1, is being used for severe weather detection in Oklahoma's so-called tornado alley, which is east of the line between Oklahoma City and Norman. The region experiences about 22 tornadoes per year.
The radar has a smaller footprint than most weather-sensing radars and observes closer to the ground, reconfiguring itself to optimize for tornado observations.
The first radar set for IP1 was designed by researchers, faculty and students from Colorado State, U Mass and the University of Oklahoma and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagez. The low-power radars are highly reliable, less expensive, adaptive and can operate collaboratively in a system of similar radars. The system is adaptive in that it can zoom in on particular regions and adapt to changing weather conditions; for example, to detect and record different types of precipitation.
Chandra says that these new series of radars to detect tornadoes and floods have proven themselves to be highly beneficial in the Oklahoma heartland. He’s publishing his first results and also spending the next six months setting up the first test in a major metropolitan area. Meanwhile, Chandra is consulting with groups and agencies from several large European cities who are in various stages of deploying their own series of similar radar systems.