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Archive for Sunday, March 4, 2007

On the spot weather

Storm Hawk keeps eye on conditions with GPS and radar

March 4, 2007

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Bonnie was talking about the strange weather she'd just been through in Iowa City.

"We were at the movies. And the power went out, right in the middle of 'The Number 23,'" my daughter said over the phone.

"And a guy yelled out, 'Oh, no! It's 5:18 (p.m.) - that adds up to 23!' "

Bonnie, who had just left the new Jim Carrey film, had gone through an ice storm to her dorm room at the University of Iowa.

I told her about our own weird weather that day in Lawrence: pouring rain in the early morning, a tornado watch in the afternoon and snow flurries in the evening.

And to top it off, the National Weather Service emergency radio broadcasts broke down for a few hours.

Hand-held radar

With weird weather going on in the Midwest last week, I was wondering what might be available that I could carry around that would be sort of like a handheld weather station.

That way, if I was outdoors and if the skies looked ominous I could get a quick report.

I Googled up a fairly cool device - the Storm Hawk.

The Web site showed it was a handheld computer that contains a GPS/weather radar/and a camera. It's affiliated with WeatherData Inc., a Wichita-based weather forecasting service.

But this year, the device is taking on a new look - it's being installed into a Hewlett-Packard pocket PC/phone/GPS device.

The Storm Hawk now comes in an HP IPAQ hw6515 mobile, which has 128 mb of internal memory.

Laura Melton, the company's marketing director, said it provides live radar that is updated every five minutes.

And it has a warning that goes off if you are inside one of the storm warning polygons the National Weather Service draws on its weather radar maps.

"It knows that you're within the polygon because of the GPS function," Melton said. "So as you travel, the information is updated for wherever it is that you are currently, at your current GPS position."

The map display on the handheld can zoom down to a one-mile radius from your position, or broaden the image to cover as much as 250 miles. The maps also show street names. Up to five counties can be loaded into the device.

It also shows lightning strikes on the map, updated every minute. And an alarm sounds if you are within a lightning strike area.

It also has temperature points that show you the exact temperature of where you are standing. It also has the heat index, dewpoint, wind speed, wind direction and humidity.

The cell service already is established when you buy the device. There's a four-step process for setting up the GPS location.

Monthly cost

"We have clients ranging from government to corporate businesses to high schools and school districts to professional sports and universities," Melton said.

The current price for the Storm Hawk, with software, is $995. There also is a $59.95 monthly subscription price for the radar and lightning data; schools and universities can qualify for a reduced rate.

The device also comes with a photo smart 1.3 megapixel camera that supports .jpg and 3gp digital photo and video formats, at high resolution.

This works in conjunction with the Select Warn system, which is used for emergency managers in counties and cities and at TV stations.

Weather reporters can go out in the field and take shots of a wall cloud or a tornado and send it back to the Select Warn system to be displayed on air immediately.

Emergency managers can use Storm Hawk before, during and after a storm to take photos of damage, she said, allowing an emergency management command center to see immediate detailed photos of damage reports on the Select Warn syst em.

"Our largest market is the education market - high schools and universities," she said. "They mainly use it for lightning strikes and for the heat index."

She said they were not getting very many sales to general consumers, although some amateur storm chasers have bought them, along with commercial users and emergency management users.

Storm-chasing tool

Jennifer Schack, 6News chief meteorologist, was watching last Thursday night's storms moving in when I asked her about her own Storm Hawk.

"We're basically taking our radar that we have in the weather department into the field with us," she said.

Schack said it has all the storm reports that the National Weather Service puts out in real time.

"It's a great tool to storm chase safely because you have the radar right there," she said.

23 skidoo

Thinking of the movie Bonnie tried to see, "The Number 23," I started wondering if I could find any weird 23s in the weather we'd been having.

I counted up the letters in the odd, discordant forecast we had for Thursday and Friday:

¢ T-h-u-n-d-e-r-s-t-o-r-m (12 letters).

¢ T-o-r-n-a-d-o (seven).

¢ S-n-o-w (four).

That adds up to 23.

I tried it again with a different combination: rain (4), blowing snow (11), lightning (9), high wind (8). Uh-oh, that adds up to 32 - which is 23 reversed.

Just don't tell Jim Carrey.

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