Jun 23 2008
By Michelle Rupe Eubanks
UNA The University of North Alabama stands to gain $500,000 to begin work on an analysis of weather phenomena and disaster recovery if the money is approved by the U. S. Senate.
The request was submitted by UNA to Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and has been approved by the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, of which Shelby is a ranking member.
If approved, it could allow for a new means of tracking and collecting information on storms and severe weather, including tornadoes, which have a history of hitting the Shoals during the months of April, May and November.
Priscilla Holland, assistant vice president for academic support services, academic affairs and provost, helped the Department of Geography submit the grant request in 2007.
"This type of technology would allow us to follow trends as they develop," she said. "It takes awhile to gather that information as it is now because there is no collection format. These types of weather phenomena are never a pure science, so we need more information to make any kind of prediction about future patterns."
At the core of the technology are the remote sensing capabilities it would allow meteorologists. The end result would be improved weather warning systems for those who might live in the path of a tornado, flash flood or other weather event.
Although the National Weather Service did not help write the grant proposal with UNA, Mike Coyne, a meteorologist with the organization, is optimistic at the possible applications for the technology.
"What we try to get across in a warning is, if you are in an area under the warning, you need to take action," he said. "The more pertinent we can make it to the affected areas, the better the warnings would be."
Although it's much better than it was just 20 years ago, forecasting technology still only offers a snapshot of where a storm may be tracking, Coyne said, giving meteorologists no way of knowing how many people may live in mobile homes in the regions or if there is a nursing home that could be in the path of a tornado.
"Another way this could be important would be in places like Southern Texas where there is a large Spanish-speaking population," he said. "If we knew that going in, we'd know to have first responders who spoke Spanish to the area to render aid."