NORMAN, Okla., July 10, 2001 -- Officials at the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla. say last week's fire which roared through the agency's "Balloon Barn" equipment storage facility has created a major setback to its research efforts after destroying an estimated $1.8 million worth of high-tech research equipment.
Included among the inventory of destroyed equipment was a $300,000 lightning mapping array system developed and recently built for the agency by atmospheric scientists and engineers at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. (See related story on
"This fire's a major setback to our research and development efforts," said James F. Kimpel, NSSL director. "What we learn through our field campaigns -- basic knowledge of storm structures, testing of new detection and measuring devices, and development of new forecasting techniques -- will be significantly impacted.
"It's hard to find a silver lining," he added. "The good news is that no one was in the building at the time of the fire."
New Mexico Tech's lightning array mapping system was scheduled to be installed in the next few weeks in various locations around Oklahoma and was to be used extensively by researchers at NSSL and the University of Oklahoma.
The state-of-the-art system was expected to provide three- dimensional lightning data over a portion of central Oklahoma and two-dimensional data over most of the rest of the state.
Preliminary research conducted last summer by Tech researchers using a prototype of the lightning array mapping system indicates the lightning data provided by such a system could improve the quality of computer-based forecast models, ultimately improving weather forecasts involving severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
Just days after the July 3 warehouse fire, researchers at NSSL and the University of Oklahoma are already seeking funds for New Mexico Tech to begin building them a replacement system.