Not that anyone has thought a lot about this but me, but "Rita" is short for "margarita" -- probably the closest thing we have to a state drink aside from Bud Light -- but for those of us in Texas, we're likely going to need a few of them before this storm is over.
I am situated in Austin, Texas, a couple of hundred miles from the coast, but have friends and family who are situated much closer to the Texas Gulf Coast. So, I have been keeping a very close eye on the big red radar blob slowly inching its way toward the Texas coast.
I spoke with cousins in Houston earlier today, and they indicated that the gas station near their house was 35 cars deep. They're far inland, and not leaving, although they are concerned about those items their neighbors who fled may not have tied down.
My other cousin who was fleeing Beaumont for Dallas indicated that she made 40 miles in about two hours on the highways. My other cousin is situated among the tall Texas pines of Huntsville. She indicated that due to the winds from Hurricane Alicia, back in 1983, those treetops touched the ground from wind gusts more in the 100 MPH range. Rita is currently spinning at about 200 MPH -- I just hope she loses some of her tequila on the way in to shore.
All these storms this year started me to thinking about learning how local municipalities, states, and the federal government could potentially use technology to try and stave off some of the economic damage and prevent more fatalities moving forward. After Katrina, it became pretty clear that they need all the help they can get.
IBM Research has been working on a project called "Deep Thunder", which attempts to build applications based on customized, focused short-term weather forecasts, all with the express purpose of saving lives, minimizing economic damages, and maximizing the operational response to storms. These forecasts can provide detailed information about temperature, winds, precipitation and other key data points from the surface of the earth to 15 km, and can help industries like agriculture, construction, and others impacted by the weather make proactive decisions in advance of major storms. They do this with super-computing technologies not dissimilar from our computer chess master, Deep Blue.
As I think about the oil refineries along the Houston and Corpus Christi channels, and the hundreds of thousands of people moving a few miles per hour on some of the most spacious freeways in the country, I can't help but think that such applications are going to be increasingly critical to helping municipalities become more on demand responsive in the future.
Check out the Deep Thunder Web page to learn more, and check out the video if you have the time. It makes the seemingly theoretical approach appear to be most practical.