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New technology may predict mudslides quicker

December 7, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
New Doppler technology with a polarized radar beam may provide more accurate rainfall predictions and mudslides.It's the first big storm of the season and David Jorgensen is on the job monitoring the rainfall with a new type of technology.

"We've had perhaps about three-quarters of an inch of rain here at the airport and about an inch up in the burn area," said Jorgensen.

He's working out of a device called the SMART-R which was driven in from the National Weather Lab in Oklahoma. It combines Doppler technology with a rare, polarized radar beam to provide more accurate rainfall predictions.

It was turned on Monday morning for this week's storms.

"The goal here is to improve the threshold that the weather service uses to warn people about debris flows," Jorgensen said.

With over 250 square miles of bare hillsides thanks to the station fire, a more efficient mudslide warning system is in high demand. Researchers are hoping this device will able to predict large debris flows an hour before it happens rather than a few minutes before.

"We can improve the accuracy of the rainfall measurements quite a bit because we can discriminate ice from water, hail from water, and we can discriminate big drops from small drops much more accurately," Jorgensen said.

And on Monday, there's been good news.

"I think the intensity is not quite enough to produce a significant flow. That's my interpretation of the data we've collected today," Jorgensen explained.

But the rain is not over yet, which means Jorgensen and his mobile weather unit aren't going back to Oklahoma anytime soon.

"Actually there's a storm coming Wednesday night and another one coming in next weekend, and we'll be here continuously running the radar as long as rain is forecasted," said Jorgensen.

The new Doppler system will be at the Burbank Airport until February tracking all the storms in Southern California. Researchers are hoping that in about a decade, this technology will become so common that it will be placed on every cell phone tower in the area to track every single type of weather situation.


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