LAB'S storm-tracking equipment being replaced

Tuesday, August 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Despite a setback caused by a mysterious fire, the National Severe Storms Laboratory is moving ahead with plans to improve its tracking of major weather disturbances, officials said Monday.

On July 3, flames destroyed vital weather research equipment owned by the NSSL. Total damage was estimated at $2.1 million, said Kevin Kelleher, deputy director,

On Monday, James F. Kimpel, NSSL director, announced that the agency's parent organizations, Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Administration, will provide almost $1.2 million to replace lost equipment.

``This will allow us to continue our vital work to improve our basic knowledge of storm structure, test new detection and measuring devices and develop new forecasting techniques, ultimately improving forecasts and saving lives,'' Kimpel said.

The cause of the fire has not been determined and remains under investigation, said Bob Sirpless, Norman fire marshal.

Kelleher said his agency had not received any information from the investigation.

The NSSL is getting $500,000 immediately, allowing the agency to begin the process of rebuilding a new mobile Doppler radar, called a SMART-Radar, a mobile laboratory, four mobile mesonets and an upper air sounding system.

Additional funding of more than $600,000 is expected after Oct. 1 to rebuild a lightning detection system, mobile ballooning equipment and other devices.

The SMART-Radar was near completion when the fire occurred. A second SMART-Radar was not in the building and is currently being used by Texas A&M scientists on a NASA project to study hurricanes as they move over land.

Kelleher said the two mobile radar units will eventually be used together to improve the mapping of storms. ``This allows us to measure the wind at different angles,'' he said.

The lighting detection system had just arrived at the NSSL the morning of the blaze. Kelleher said the system, developed at New Mexico Tech, is unique because it measures lighting strikes that do not hit the grounds, as well as ones that do.