A helicopter roared to life at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday in the Faculty Lot 12 parking lot between the Baptist Student Ministry and UTA Boulevard. About 10 people wearing gloves and scarves watched as the fruit of their labor, which began about two years ago, was finally lifted.
Dangling from the helicopter was a new weather radar system designed by the Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA). The system is supposed to detect severe weather such as tornados and flash flooding more quickly and precisely than existing systems, CASA deputy director Brenda Philips said.
The system at UTA is part of a partnership between CASA, UTA, the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center and North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Clapping and cheers erupted as the helicopter flew the system to the top of Carlisle Hall. Philips turned and hugged one of her colleagues.
“That was exciting. That was a great way to do the first one,” she said.
The system is the first to operate in an urban area. Systems have already operated in rural parts of Oklahoma for the past 10 years, Philips said. CASA wanted to test out the system in an urban area and chose UTA as the first site in the country to host a system.
Furthermore, the systems previously did not analyze much rainfall, CASA innovation manager Apoorva Bajaj said. With the expertise of the researchers at UTA, they will now analyze rainfall to predict flash flooding, Bajaj said.
"With the additional expertise, we can explore much much more," Bajaj said.
Three more systems will be placed in North Texas before storm season begins, which will be around March, Philips said.
With this system, weather specialists will be able to pinpoint where severe weather will hit more precisely and at least five minutes sooner than with existing systems, Philips said.
“That can really translate to life and death. Tornados can come and go in minutes. This will make a life’s difference,” said Dong-Jun Seo, an associate civil engineering professor who is leading the research team that will mine the data that the system gathers.
Denesh Kumar, computer science graduate student, and Melissa Fernandes, a UTA alumna, saw the helicopter from their Richlyn apartments. Curious, they bundled up in coats and scarves and walked out to join the group of onlookers.
“At first we thought it was part of a movie or something,” Kumar said.
When they learned what the system does, they said their interest was piqued and they stayed out to watch the installation. The students analyze data in their studies.
Eventually, the system may be available for students to analyze data. Seo hopes to use it in UTA classes and faculty research.
“Aside from doing a service to the community, and that’s probably the most important part, this provides us a new opportunity for research,” Seo said.