The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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CASA established


The Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, or CASA, was initially funded with a $17-million grant from the NSF over five years, an additional $5 million over five years from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, plus more than $35 million in industry funding and in-kind donations.

As the 2003 College of Engineering Annual Report described the new research center:

With current weather warning systems, those in the destructive path of a tornado or flash flood receive, on average, just 12 minutes of advance warning – and that’s if the warning is accurate , as it is only 20 percent of the time. CASA, a partnership between UMass and three other universities, expects to increase the warning time considerably and with far greater accuracy.

Today’s weather-sensing technology uses single, large radars responsible for observing wide swaths of the upper atmosphere – a less than optimal approach to weather sensing, according to Professor David McLaughlin, director of CASA and a faculty member in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. “The single-sensor approach is fundamentally limited in its ability to observe the lower troposphere, which is where weather events are born and where they impact us,” he added. The CASA approach will instead employ a large number of networked sensors that collaborate with each other and with users.

Today’s long-range sensors are also extremely large, averaging 24 feet across and three stories high. The sensors in development through CASA are just three feet by three feet with electronics that are about the size of a personal computer. The sensors can be place on existing cellular towers.

The first CASA test bed will cover 20 percent of Oklahoma and will be operational by mid-2005, according to McLaughlin. The Oklahoma test bed will be in a region populated by a million people and that “gets hit with about 22 tornadoes per year,” McLaughlin said.