Signals from cell phone towers may help predict floods

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Signals from cell phone towers could be a novel and reliable way to help predict the intensity of the next big flood, according to a new study.

A model developed by Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers, which analyses cell phone signals, has added a critical component to weather forecasting.

“By monitoring the specific and fluctuating atmospheric moisture around cell phone towers, we can cheaply, effectively and reliably provide a more accurate ‘critical moisture distribution’ level for fine-tuning model predictions of big floods,” said Pinhas Alpert, geophysicist, who heads TAU Porter School for Environmental Education.

Cell phone towers emit radio waves that are diminished by moisture in the air, a factor that can be used to improve model warnings on flood levels.

Furthermore, TAU researchers measured the rainfall distributions and were able to accurately estimate the size of impending floods before they struck.

This was demonstrated in post-analysis of two case-studies of floods in the Judean Desert in Israel, where cell phone towers and flash floods are abundant.

Using real data measurements collected from the towers, the researchers demonstrated how microwave links in a cellular network correlated with surface station humidity measurements. The data provided by cell phone towers is the missing link weather forecasters need to improve the accuracy of flood forecasting.

“Our method provides reliable measurement of moisture fields near the flood zone for the first time,” noted Alpert.

This new tool, he says, can add to the bigger picture of understanding climate change patterns in general, according to a TAU release.

These findings were published in the April edition of Atmospheric Chemistry
and Physics.

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