Developing an Inexpensive Dust Detection and Alert System

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015: 5:00 PM
131C (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Ken R. Waters, NOAA/NWS, Phoenix, AZ; and D. Leins

Dust storms occur in Arizona year-round and present a very serious safety hazard, particularly for motorists. Each year fatalities and injuries occur due to blinding dust reducing visibility, sometimes with little or no notice. Detection of these hazards is difficult due to limitations with satellite imagery, radar coverage, and sparse surface data reporting stations. In particular, some dust storm events are very small scale, making it nearly impossible to detect before accidents occur. These small scale events are the most dangerous and are the most likely to result in fatalities.

Exploration of new low-cost technologies has led to development of an innovative dust sensor system that can be used to detect high levels of dust and transmit alerts to the Internet. Air quality particulate sensors are used to optically measure particle densities. Data values are analyzed and then alerts are produced which can then be used by meteorologists at the National Weather Service to consider issuance of dust storm warnings, as well as by responders such as highway safety and transportation agencies to begin immediate proactive safety measures.

Such a prototype system has already been developed and tested with excellent results. Over six months' worth of data has been collected at 30-second intervals for one system. That location experienced four major dust storms during the 2014 monsoon season and all were recorded with excellent responses, even as much as a 100x increase in dust detection values over only a few minutes.

The next step will be to produce several more of these systems and deploy them in the field with particular emphasis on targeting locations that are close to the most accident-prone areas. This presentation will examine the concept, show examples of actual dust storm events collected, and map out future actions to build these systems into an operational dust storm detection network.