Technology developed in Utah is set to turn the state into mission control for global weather prediction. This technology will aid first-responders, government officials, and those in the path of tornadoes, hurricanes or heat waves with the best information possible to predict severe weather and save lives.
Many parts of the world face unprecedented severe weather events and the Sounding Tracking Observatory for Regional Meteorology (STORM) weather sensor developed by a Utah State University (USU) research team will enable meteorologists to better predict these events and atmospheric instability in a substantially faster and significantly more detailed way.
The first STORM sensor, set to launch in 2016 and currently being built in Logan, Utah, will soon sit across the Asia-Pacific region roughly 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. The innovative sensors represent collaboration between USU, the Advanced Weather Systems Foundation (AWS), and industry partners GeoMetWatch and Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company Limited (AsiaSat).
“This first STORM sensor will be able to see two-thirds of the earth’s population,” said Scott Jensen, director of USU’s AWS. “This gives STORM the opportunity to predict monsoons and other types of severe weather affecting most of the world’s population.”
STORM’s technology will have broad implications for the weather prediction field and the development and deployment of STORM will strengthen Utah’s existing reputation as a pioneer in the space industry. Moreover, STORM will propel the state to new heights as a global leader in weather prediction as USU will be the ground station and the sole-proprietor of all the weather data produced.
The project originally gained momentum based on technology built by the USU Space Dynamics Laboratory in 2006 for NASA and the U.S Navy. The original devise was called the Geosynchronous Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer (GIFTS) and was later canceled due to funding. The STORM project expanded on GIFTS technology through support from the Utah Science and Technology Research initiative (USTAR).
USTAR funding provided a catalyst for the initial design and trade study to establish details associated with final instrument design and pricing requirements. Additionally, the funds were used for valuable market research and customer engagement activities necessary for project evaluation and progress, especially for a project of this magnitude.
“STORM represents a perfect example of what USTAR was designed to do,” said Ted McAleer, executive director of USTAR. “The project represents the commercialization of technology developed at one of our state’s research institutions that is being deployed in a big way to the marketplace. Which, in turn, will grow Utah’s economy and reputation as a leader in innovation.”
This collaboration between USU, USTAR and industry partners could lead to six STORM sensors with the goal of being deployed by the early 2020’s. The sensors will create a new GeoMetWatch satellite constellation and will eventually be able to simultaneously monitor weather across the entire Earth’s surface.
“STORM will provide more than 3,000 times the data per image than any other existing weather-sensor technology available today,” said Jensen. “STORM can better predict a severe weather event eight hours ahead of current technologies, for a tornado that is a significant amount of time to warn people.”
The weather and atmospheric data produced by STORM will enable meteorologists to provide higher quality daily forecast and predict severe weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes. For example, STORM will significantly better predict the direction and impact of a hurricane. Current technology gives a possible 300 mile range for first-responders, government officials, and those in the path a hurricane to prepare. STORM will narrow and enhance that range to within 25 to 50 miles.
Not only will local weather forecasts be on more accurate using STORM, but the technology will also, and more importantly, significantly increase the amount of warning time a location will receive when a severe weather event is headed that direction.
“The weather data provided by STORM has the potential to save lives by increasing warning time to enabling earlier evacuations,” said Jensen. “Our goal is to make severe weather forecasts more accurate and dependable so people can rely on these forecasts to make good decisions when a severe warning hits.”