Monday, June 23, 2008

High-Speed Storm Radars to Track Tornadoes, Fend Off Tragedy

High-Speed Storm Radars to Track Tornadoes, Fend Off Tragedy

Published on: June 16, 2008

When tornadoes start
killing Boy Scouts, the world pays a
ttention. But even as a deadly EF-4 tornado whipped through Little Sioux, Iowa, with 145-mph-plus winds last Wednesday night, federal climate scientists and a group of university researchers were in the early phases of testing high-tech replacements for an aging Doppler radar system. Twisters across the United States in 2008 are headed for a record-setting pace (February's 148 nearly doubled a 37-year-old record); however, by 2013 a new network of satellites could be triangulating microfrequencies from the sky to Wi-Fi for real-time reactions to dangerously shape-shifting weather patterns.

America's current system for detecting tornadoes—about 120 Next Generation Radar, or NEXRAD, devices tracking a storm's direction and velocity—has been the backbone of weather prediction since the early 1990s, but experts say it is deeply flawed. The radars are tilted upward from the Earth half a degree, which may not seem like much—until you factor in the curvature of the Earth. By the time you get 40 or 50 miles out, radar beams are more than one-half mile high, therefore missing the bottom third of the troposphere where severe weather often begins to form. And at 5 to 6 minutes for a complete area scan, NEXRAD simply remains too slow.

The Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) network aims to address both problems, with short-range-satellites targeting the bottom of a storm and refreshing much more often—as in every minute. "CASA radars are gap-filling radars," explains Harold Brooks, a research meteorolgist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is developing the system with four schools across the country. "While the main NEXRAD radars give a really good view of the storm aloft, CASA radars could be set up to probe that area where the NEXRAD radars don't see."

This new rig borrows technology from the U.S. Navy, which for years has been using a similar system to track vessels on the seas. CASA radars, however, will be installed just a few miles away from each other on rooftops, cell towers and other existing infrastructure. The first testbed is a network of four nodes in the middle of Tornado Alley in southwestern Oklahoma; other early sites include Houston and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. CASA officials expects to see at least quasi-operational CASA networks within the next five years to address some well-known gaps in the NEXRAD system, and widespread deployment within the next 15 years.

Aiming for nearby clouds, CASA's low-power nodes send out 10-watt microwave frequencies, which then bounce back before being sent to a processing unit in the bottom of the node over a gigabit Ethernet connection. The information is wirelessly transmitted to a central location over a 2-megabit-per-second DS3 connection. Here, data from all the nodes is collected and run through weather-predicting algorithms, which are growing more sophisticated as this new data is made available—and as new threats speed up research.

The high-speed-transmission approach, dubbed Distributed Collaborative Adaptive Sensing (DCAS), can respond to quickly changing weather conditions in real time. Based on faster and more comprehensive data collection, DCAS processing can refocus the CASA radars on a particularly interesting part of a storm (like an area that looks like it might develop a tornado) without losing track of an entire storm cell. "The system is continuously diagnosing the atmosphere and reallocating resources using wireless Internet as a backbone," says David McLaughlin, an engineering professor from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who directs the CASA team. "At the core, this is a system that is able to focus the resources where and when the need is greatest. We can keep track of evolving hotspots—rotations and things like that—as nature spins them up."

Even with next-generation satellites and other storm-tracking technology in place, human know-how at the eye of the storm will always trump prevention research—and the Iowa Boy Scouts are only the most recent case study in disaster preparedness gone mostly right but still frighteningly sour. Brenda Philips, director of industry, government and end-user partnerships for the CASA team at UMass, is working with emergency responders, sociologists, human factors engineers and others to figure out how the massive data-gathering abilities of the CASA system can be fine-tuned to help would-be survivors take their own action.

"People want to know the tornado is going down their street," she says. "That's what makes people respond to warnings." Under the current NEXRAD Doppler system, a warning could be statewide, leading to false alarms for most of its residents. While the CASA rig and its corresponding data algorithms probably won't be able to predict the exact path of a tornado, they will combine to shrink the warning zone. And even shrinking those locations by a partial form factor could help save more of those at the heart of the storm. Someday, it could even allow isolated campers like the fallen Boy Scouts enough time to drive to underground shelter.


Lightning Safety Awareness Week

June 22-28, 2008

The Nation will celebrate its seventh annual National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 22-28, 2008. NWS staff thank all of the people who are helping to make this year's lightning safety campaign a reality. Lightning Safety Week is held the last full week of June each year.

Please visit the multimedia page to see some of the highlights of last year's campaign, including public service announcements with PGA Tour golfer Rocco Mediate and Vijay Singh, and Soccer Star Siri Mullinix and video clips with some of the other lightning experts who took part in the press conference

Florida Task Force Issues Final Report on Citizens' Claims Handling

The Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution, created during the 2007 Legislative Special Session, issued its third and final report.

In addition to the June 11 submission, the task force will release a supplemental report, sometime before its statutory authority expires in November, after working with Citizens to understand why so many consumers asked to have their claim for damages from the 2004-2005 hurricanes re-opened in 2007. The task force will also examine the results of these requests.

The new study is in direct response to questions raised by the governor and the chief financial officer regarding the need for the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund to issue bonds to raise $625 million to pay claims from the 2004-2005 hurricanes that were just filed or re-opened in 2007.

Citizens is not the only insurer that received and paid new and re-opened claims. Most insurers who wrote coverage in the areas hit by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 are also impacted by the same situation.

Since May 21, 2007, the task force reviewed and monitored Citizens closure of its 2004/2005 hurricane claims; the implementation of procedures to handle future catastrophic events; the implementation of programs relating to the training of insurance agents, consumer services, administration of policies, and claims operations; and the establishment of its Office of the Internal Auditor.

Source: Florida Chief Financial Officer


Ferry sinks off Romblon; fate of 823 passengers unknown

MANILA, Philippines - A ferry carrying 823 people sunk off the coast of Sibuyan Island in the central Philippines after encountering huge wages brought by typhoon "Frank" over the weekend. Police in the town of San Fernando in Romblon province reported that the "MV Princess of Stars" of Sulpicio Lines was found upside down off the coast of the town.

At least four bodies and children's footwear were recovered on the shores of San Fernando town in the province of Romblon. Mayor Nanette Tansingco of San Fernando said police the bodies were recovered on the shore of Mabulo village Sunday morning."This is already a confirmed report," Nanette Tansingco. "I sent a speed boat to check on the report, and they saw the boat submerged with a hole in the hull. They saw the name Princess of the Star and there were at least four bodies there," Tansingco told a radio broadcast.

Navy and coast guard ships battled huge waves and strong winds Sunday to reach the ferry. Rescue vessels aborted an initial attempt Saturday to get to the "Princess of Stars" after it reportedly ran aground near Sibuyan island, but efforts resumed amid stormy weather Sunday, coast guard chief Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said.

Typhoon "Frank" (International Codename: Fengshen) lashed the central Philippines for about four hours Saturday, setting off landslides and floods, knocking out power, and blowing off roofs from houses.

Packing sustained winds of 74 miles per hour and gusts of up to 93 mph, the typhoon shifted course Sunday to the northwest and battered Metro Manila at dawn, chief government forecaster Nathaniel Cruz said.

In southern Maguindanao province, at least 14 people drowned in flash floods Saturday, including 10 who were swept away from riverside homes, said provincial administrator Norie Unas. Five others were missing.

Meanwhile, the 23,824-ton "Princess of Stars" was "dead in the water" after its engine failed around noon Saturday, Tamayo said.

Port captain Nestor Ponteres said the ferry's owner, Sulpicio Lines, had lost radio contact with the ship and the fate of its passengers remained unknown.

"A lot of efforts have been done to send off rescue boats, but we really can't get through the very rough weather," Tamayo said.
A 50-year-old man and his 10-year-old grandson were killed when a landslide buried their hillside shanty in Cotabato city Saturday, Mayor Muslimin Sema said. Authorities recovered the body of a farmer, one of three people reported missing in neighboring Cotabato province.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo directed the defense and local government departments to stand by for relief and rescue missions before she left for the United States late Saturday.

Officials said neck-deep flood waters had risen further with a high tide, forcing the evacuation of 5,000 people in Sultan Kudarat township in southern Shariff Kabunsuan province, near Cotabato city.

Officials ordered the evacuation of more than 117,000 people from areas prone to floods and landslides in central Albay province. But many returned home by midday Saturday after the typhoon missed the area.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council reported flooding, landslides and power outages caused by toppled power pylons in many areas in the southern and central Philippines. More than 100 domestic flights were canceled because of the typhoon.

The M/V Princess of the Star sent a distress signal late on Saturday from the area after becoming stranded when Typhoon Fengshen swept across the country.

GMANews.TV with reports from the Associated Press



On June 9th, the crew of the APL-owned container ship Hyundai Japan braved 25 knot winds and 15 foot waves to rescue a German family of four, including a five-year old and 18-month old, from the clutches of the Atlantic Ocean 1,600 miles from New York City.

The Hyundai Japan, a Singapore flagged vessel and participant in the Amver system on long term charter from APL to Hyundai, overheard a distress call from the family aboard their 35 foot sailboat Dally On. The family was sailing from Antigua to the Azores when their boat was demasted and lost its rudder in a severe storm.

“They were in dire straits, so I said ‘I’m coming,’” explained Captain Parvez Guard, a 28-year veteran of APL and captain of the massive container ship.

While it took three tries, Captain Guard was able to bring his 980-foot ship alongside the stricken sailboat. Thirty-seven-year-old crewmember Anthony Gomez-Stalin then scrambled down a pilot’s ladder from the APL ship to the yacht. He snatched the 18-month old infant in his arm and carried her up the ladder to safety. The other family members followed one-after-the-other until all four were aboard the APL vessel safe and unhurt. Within an hour of receiving the first distress call the survivors were safely aboard the Hyundai Japan and Captain Guard was steaming towards New York harbor.

United States Coast Guard representatives were on hand as the Hyundai Japan pulled into port and gave a special commendation to Captain Guard and his crew for their efforts. “The crew acted in such a way as to ensure no call for help goes unanswered,” said Coast Guard Captain John Healey in presenting the commendation to APL. “On behalf of the United States Coast Guard we thank you for your outstanding seamanship and unwavering commitment to safety of life at sea."

Amver, sponsored by the United States Coast Guard, is a unique, computer-based, and voluntary global ship reporting system used worldwide by search and rescue authorities to arrange for assistance to persons in distress at sea. With Amver, rescue coordinators can identify participating ships in the area of distress and divert the best-suited ship or ships to respond. Prior to sailing, participating ships send a sail plan to the Amver computer center. Vessels then report every 48 hours until arriving at their port of call.

This data is able to project the position of each ship at any point during its voyage. In an emergency, any rescue coordination center can request this data to determine the relative position of Amver ships near the distress location. On any given day there are over 3,200 ships available to carry out search and rescue services. To learn more about this unique worldwide search and rescue system, visit

About APL
APL is a global container shipping business offering more than 60 weekly services and nearly 300 calls at more than 90 ports in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. It combines world-class intermodal operations with leading-edge IT and e-commerce. APL is a unit of Singapore-based Neptune Orient Lines, a global shipping, terminals and logistics company. APL Web site:

Maltese-flagged container ship fire extinguished

A fire onboard a container ship travelling in the North Pacific has been extinguished, the Coast Guard said on Friday.

The fire was reported from the 781-foot Maltese-flagged India Lotus early on Friday, as it was travelling 700 miles south of Dutch Harbour, according to Petty Officer Russ Tippets.

The Coast Guard had dispatched a C-130 plane from Kodiak and the Cutter Mellon. The crew of the India Lotus, a vessel owned by the Israeli company Ofer Brothers, said they no longer needed assistance.

Tippets said there were 32 people on board the ship and there were no reports of injuries.