New satel­lite tracks re­gion’s wild­fires

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Bill Hanna Fort Worth Star-Tele­gram

When wild­fires scorched more than 1 mil­lion acres in early March across parts of the Texas Pan­han­dle, Ok­la­homa and Kansas, fore­cast­ers used a new weather satel­lite to see the in­fer­nos de­vel­op­ing, al­most in real time.

When a line of se­vere thun­der­storms pro­duced five tor­na­does in the Hous­ton area on Feb. 14, the same satel­lite could see light­ning strikes in­ten­si­fy­ing in­side the storms. Such in­for­ma­tion could be help­ful the next time a strong line of storms fires up.

“This high-res­o­lu­tion data is go­ing to give us a lot of in­sight into the sever­ity of these storms,” said Tom Brad­shaw, me­te­o­rol­o­gist in charge at the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice of­fice in Fort Worth, who added that light­ning is one clue to the intensity of a storm.

The GOES 16 (short for Geo­sta­tion­ary Op­er­a­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Satel­lite) was launched in Novem­ber and sits more than 22,000 miles up.

The satel­lite is still in a test­ing phase and is not con­sid­ered op­er­a­tional, but it is pro­vid­ing stun­ning images.

Wild­fires show as black spots on the satel­lite’s in­frared images. In re­mote ar­eas, the satel­lite may de­tect them be­fore any­body on the ground. The satel­lite should see fires of 50 acres or more, Brad­shaw said.

“What we’re able to do now is de­tect fires pretty shortly af­ter they start,” he said. “The char­ac­ter­is­tics of how fires show up on in­frared satel­lite data are pretty dis­tinct.”

For North Texas, the satel­lite could help with se­vere storms and large wild­fires, such as the Pos­sum King­dom wild­fire that charred 170,000 acres in Palo Pinto, Young and Stephens coun­ties in 2011.

For its fifth year run­ning, Austin-Travis County EMS has turned down­town Austin into its own mini-city dur­ing the South by South­west mu­sic fes­ti­val, set­ting up spe­cial sta­tions and pro­to­cols to re­spond to emergencies in the fes­ti­val’s most mu­sic-pop­ping dis­tricts.

Be­tween 3 p.m. Tues­day and 3 a.m. Satur­day, medics re­sponded to 147 in­ci­dents in the ar­eas be­tween First and Sev­enth Streets, Lavaca Street and In­ter­state 35, East Fifth and Sixth streets and the Rainey Street dis­trict. They re­ceived the most calls — 51 — on Fri­day night, which was St. Patrick’s Day and also the first week­end night of the mu­sic fes­ti­val.

Most in­ci­dents were re­ported in the Sixth Street area, be­tween Bra­zos Street and In­ter­state 35, data shows.

Ac­cord­ing to EMS Com­man­der Mike Be­na­vides, the down­town mu­sic dis­tricts were “ge­ofenced,” mean­ing of­fi­cials set up an elec­tronic grid to au­to­mat­i­cally route calls from those ar­eas to a spe­cial dis­patcher.

It’s the fifth year EMS has used the spe­cial sys­tem.

Last year, there were 151 re­ported med­i­cal in­ci­dents dur­ing SXSW.

A teenager was se­ri­ously in­jured Satur­day when she was par­tially thrown from her car and then pinned be­neath it as it crashed down an em­bank­ment near McKin­ney Falls State Park.

Her in­juries are not ex­pected to be life-threat­en­ing, Austin/Travis County Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices spokesman Michael Be­na­vides said. She was taken to the South Austin Med­i­cal Cen­ter for treat­ment.

BO RADER/ WI­CHITA EA­GLE

Fire­fight­ers from across Kansas and Ok­la­homa bat­tle a wild­fire near Pro­tec­tion, Kansas, on March 6. Weather fore­cast­ers used a new weather satel­lite to watch this and other in­fer­nos in the re­gion de­velop, al­most in real time.

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