I'm watching right now the most real of "reality TV". A local Phoenix TV station is live-streaming video from a sister station in Oklahoma City on their website. I was alerted by a Twitter message that there were tornado warnings in Oklahoma (ok, yes, I'm a weather geek). What strikes me is that they are using some incredible technology to save lives and provide up-to-the second data on exactly where a series of huge tornadoes are. A true system-of-systems that didn't exist 10 years ago (maybe even 5!). The engineer in me watches with intrigue and wonder about what's going on 'behind the scenes'.
I'm fascinated by both the intensity and urgency of Mother Nature, as well as the teaming of technology made possible by my fellow engineers and scientists. It's incredible the amount of information the TV meteorologist has at his fingertips that only a few years ago was nonexistent or unavailable. Graphics, radar, live video, audio, instant communications to millions of people.
The main weapon of defense today: live Doppler radar, in "velocity" mode, superimposed on a map of the Oklahoma City area. The radar is "smart"--it's automatically highlighting areas that are exhibiting the strong signature of a tornado. He's then drawing 'forecast' lines from there, and the system automatically calculates arrival times to various places of interest (mostly schools since they are usually well known in the areas affected). I am amazed at how he and his colleagues can quickly pan and zoom around the area, instantly pinpointing the path of these storms. It's also amazing in the fact that they are instantly reaching millions of people in real time, giving them valuable minutes to take cover. And it's not just one tornado -- right now they are calling out two, and tracking a couple more suspicious areas. Incredible. This radar is a 'system of systems' -- antennas, processors, transmitters, and data distribution systems that make sense of the electromagnetic reflections coming from these storms. What's even more amazing is the variety of modes he can take advantage of to analyze the storms and clearly identify the 'tell tale' signs of circulation.
When I was a child, I lived in an area like this. In most cases we never new a storm was coming until the sirens went off or a house exploded -- I am amazed how far this technology has advanced. Thankful too for the advance, even though there will most definitely be loss of life, the extra warning time (some of these places are getting 10 to 20 minutes!!) will assuredly save countless others.
They are also taking advantage of another 'system of systems' - the telecommunications network. They have some "storm chasers" out in the field, following the storms on the ground. They are communicating with the weather center in real time, with live video using the cellular data network and satellite communications. It's incredible the amount of information pouring into the weather center. All of this data is being interpreted, real time, by the broadcaster. The TV station then instantly transmits his voice to the population affected -- and even to me -- IN PHOENIX -- using another system-of-systems, the Internet.
Isn't technology cool????