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Mobile weather stations to help predict Utah mudslides

By Andrew Wittenberg | Posted - May 6th, 2013 @ 11:05pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — After fire season comes the fear of mudslides, but this year Utah has new technology that could help save lives and property.

Four new weather reporting stations are being placed in areas ravaged by wildfires to help predict mudslides. They cost the state $11,000 apiece, but National Weather Service Hydrologist Brian McInerney says they'll be worth their weight in gold.

"There's some of these scars that are out in the middle of Utah away from our radars, and we can't get good information," McInerney said.

He and a group of state officials recently came up with the idea to install the weather stations.

"After the fires (in 2012), we got together to talk about debris flows, post-fire hazards, what's going to happen after the fires," said Brad Bartholomew, Utah's state hazard mitigation officer.

The group decided to purchase four of the mobile stations. They will be put into service this month in Alpine, Saratoga Springs, Fountain Green and Oak City — all areas scorched by wildfires in 2012, and all areas of burn scar which could produce slides with enough rain.


Here's how they work:

After a wildfire, the burn-scarred land has little vegetation to hold up soil and sediment. When a heavy thunderstorm comes through, it can loosen dirt, rock and other debris. As the debris falls down a hill or mountainside, one piece becomes two, two become four, and before you know it there can be a massive debris slide.

The National Weather Service will monitor the four locations around the state, which are all in close proximity to residential areas that could be affected. They will send out warnings when conditions are primed for slides.

The best part of these instruments is they're mobile. So, as the fires and slide threat moves, they can as well.

"They're gonna stay there for maybe a year, maybe longer; then we'll decide where to put them," McInerney said.

Neither McInerney nor Bartholomew is worried about possible damage to the equipment. They said they're more worried about someone shooting the instrumentation than what might happen to it in a slide.


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Andrew Wittenberg

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