Logan-based Campbell Scientific has developed mobile weather monitoring systems that are being used around the state and in Cache Valley to predict major weather events, in hopes of saving lives and property.
The National Weather Service has already purchased four of the systems, and officials with the agency say their implementation is more important than ever because early June is still flooding and landslide season.
This particular device tells officials how much rain an area is getting and how fast the rain is coming down, which could trigger a movement in the soil. The other device that predicts landslides is stuck into the ground and monitors the actual movement of the soil. Many times, weather officials will integrate these two devices.
“We’re trying to get the best possible equipment to these burn scars, and the state purchased these through a grant,” said Brian McInerney of the National Weather Service. “We suggested Campbell Scientific because they put out really good products. (The monitoring systems are equipped to read) wind speed and direction, temperature, relative humidity and precipitation. We warn for flash floods and debris flow. We can share all of the data with the community that sits below the burn scar.”
Burn scars come when wildfires leave an area completely scorched and unable to grow plants again for a long period of time. According to the National Weather Service website, debris flow is created as water runs downhill through burned areas, creating major erosion and picking up large amounts of ash, sand, silt, rocks and burned vegetation. The force of the rushing water and debris can damage or destroy culverts, bridges, roadways, and buildings even miles away from the burned area.
According to McInerney, the monitoring systems will be put into service in Alpine, Saratoga Springs, Fountain Green and Oak City. These areas were all victims of wildfires last year, and have a burn scar that could produce debris flow.
“The nice thing about it is, they’re portable, so if Cache Valley does have a large wildfire that affects one of the towns, then we have the ability to take the station elsewhere,” McInerney said. “There are a lot of weather stations out there that are monitoring conditions. The ones (from Campbell Scientific) that are positioned now are such that if there is a debris flow, we could have loss of life.”
None of the monitoring systems that were purchased by the National Weather Service are being used in Cache County, but some local farmers are using these systems to anticipate weather changes, and there is one monitoring landslide conditions on Highway 89.
Campbell Scientific engineers said the monitoring systems are critical in the four locations that the National Weather Service has placed them in. The mobile stations are ideal for any area concerned with flash flooding and doesn’t have ability to work with radar or satellites.
“When you’ve got a system in place that will tell you things are changing and they’re changing at a different rate than what you’re used to seeing, that’s when you know you need to do something,” said Shaun Dustin, market manager for the structural, industrial and geotechnical group at Campbell Scientific. “That’s when you know it’s time to start moving the trucks and telling people to get out of the way.”
Dustin said the systems Campbell Scientific has developed with these technology advances are even more important to help predict the nature of a landslide — how fast it is moving and even when it might actually move and harm people.
“A landslide doesn’t move very fast, until it decides to move. It will creep and creep and then, once it starts to move faster, that’s when it’s really important,” Dustin said. “You’ll see fence posts are tilted, and its not that old. What that tells us, over the last five to six years, that thing has moved enough. That gives you an idea at how quickly these things move.
“The reason it’s important to monitor (a potential landslide) all the time is as long as its moving at a slow, controlled pace, you’re not that worried about it; when it starts to move a little bit faster, then you have something to think about,” Dustin added. “Figuring out how fast to save the data and how to look at the data can protect people’s lives.”
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