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Predicting Hope

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Predicting Hope

By Jenna Smith

It was the worst rain in decades, delivering more than 10 times the rainfall than normal. The catastrophic rains wreaked havoc and took homes and lives in Jorge Salazar-Cerreno’s native country of Peru.

Salazar-Cerreno, an assistant professor at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and member of the Advanced Radar Research Center, was heartbroken by the devastation. All he could think about was his family and friends back home who were either homeless or grieving their loved ones. The unusually powerful, heavy rains driven by an El Niño flooded Peru along the Pacific coast, leaving more than 90 people dead and 700,000 homeless and wreaked havoc on the country’s infrastructure. The destruction was exacerbated by flashfloods and mudslides.

Flooding devastation

The self-declared proud Peruvian was eager to use his engineering expertise to help prevent another natural disaster from causing mass destruction. He asked the question, “How can Peru effectively prepare for disastrous climate events in the future?” He believes advanced radar technology may be part of the answer.

In addition to teaching engineering students, Salazar-Cerreno is an active member in the ARRC, specializing in advanced weather radar design. More specifically, he conducts research around antennas for dual-polarized phased array radar applications. He also leads the Phased Array Antenna Research and Development Group, a research group within the ARRC he created that specializes in the development of next-generation phased array radars.

“The advanced radar technology gives faster updates with significantly more informative and accurate data,” Salazar-Cerreno explained. “If we could work with Peru to install the radars, we could improve weather decision making and warnings.”

OU with IGP Peruvian Team
Jorge Salazar (third from right) and Boon Leng Cheong (third from left), from ECE/ARRC, work with the IGP Team from Peru during radar installation in January 2018

Reaching Across Boarders Establishing Foreign Relationships
Peru primarily relies on satellite systems to monitor weather and climate conditions. Satellites from space use digital still and video images to track objects such as clouds, dust storms and wildfires. However, satellites can’t show rainfall because they have low-resolution images and can’t provide actual measurements of rainfall rate. On the other hand, radars have high-resolution and can display views that a satellite camera may not reveal, such as the direction, speed and physical characteristics of different types of precipitation including rain, sleet and snow.

“Satellites are beneficial, but they don’t capture the whole picture,” Salazar-Cerreno explained. “Radar networks in addition to satellites can lead to better warning alerts and preparation.”

The Andean nation hasn’t explored the use of radars because of cost and the country’s longstanding reliance on satellites. Salazar-Cerreno connected with a friend working in the Peruvian government to help him setup an educational workshop for public officials and scientific industry leaders about the advantages of weather radars. Salazar-Cerreno and five other OU faculty members presented a week-long workshop over the purpose and need of radars, how they use data to prepare for severe weather and why they are can be cost-efficient in the long run.

The workshop was a success, convincing the Peruvian government that radars could effectively prepare the country for another deadly weather event. Salazar-Cerreno looked to Robert Palmer, executive director of the ARRC, to facilitate and establish a partnership with the Peruvian government.

“I had heard about the heavy rainfall, but I didn’t realize the scope of devastation until I spoke to Jorge,” Palmer explained. “I am glad we had the opportunity to use our expertise and technology to help others prepare for severe weather events.”

The ARRC has a long history of working with foreign governments, such as France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and several other countries. “As the largest academic research center in the country focused on radar technology, I knew we could be a tremendous resource that could possibly save lives in Peru,” Palmer said. 

Partnering with Government Officials
Through a collaboration with OU, the Geophysics Institute of Peru and the Jicamarca Radio Observatory tested Peru’s first weather radar in Santiago de Tunes, a small community located near Lima. The ARRC deployed the PX1000, a transportable, polarimetric radar to one region during the rainy season for three months. After gathering significant meteorological data, Peruvian officials decided to develop their own radar with assistance from the ARRC. Eventually, Salazar-Cerreno would like to see a whole network of radars in the country.

“Peru needs at least dozens of radars to create a nationwide network to effectively detect another future deadly disaster,” said Salazar-Cerreno. “A solid network of radars can give enough time to prepare and prevent major fatalities.”

The successful outreach efforts in Peru reinforces Salazar-Cerreno’s long term goal that the ARRC will continue to be recognized as one of the most prestigious radar programs in the United States. “The prominence would attract more skilled, dynamic researchers from across the globe who could connect and help their own communities prepare for natural disasters with advanced radar systems.”

ARRC
Advanced Radar Research Center

The ARCC is the largest academic research center in the country focused on radar technology. It encompasses all aspects of radar development, from designing the systems to building and testing radars and working with the industry to optimize use and production.

The PX1000 radar that was used in Peru uses polarimetric technology, which has the capability to capture precise characteristics of rain, snow, hail, etc. For example, polarimetric radar can determine the actual size and shape of raindrops, which directly impacts the accuracy of rainfall rate estimates.  The latter is important for prediction of flash flooding events.