On September 26th, 2016, the Hampton University Center for Atmospheric Research and Education (HU-CARE) program installed a direct broadcast antenna on top of the Hampton Harbour Center in downtown Hampton, VA. Funded by a 5 million dollar award from NASA, this antenna enables scientists to instantly predict severe weather within a 2,000 mile radius of Hampton Roads, as well as provide HU student researchers access to advanced satellite data.
The purpose of the antenna is to generate an early warning signal to the Hampton Roads area and to better prepare the community for hurricanes, tornadoes, and other severe weather situations. The preparations for a hurricane can cost up to one million dollars per mile, making the antenna vital for saving both lives and money for the area. Dr. Pat McCormick, a Hampton University co-director for the Center of Atmospheric Sciences, mentions the destruction of severe weather and how the new antenna can decrease weather related chaos in Hampton Roads. “It’s quite a new thing for us to have, and we are happy to have (the antenna) right on the coast where we do see the severe storms creep in… this is going to be super for Hampton Roads, Hampton University students, and faculty.”
Dr. McCormick attended the antenna installation along with other scientists and HU-CARE interns who watched in awe as a power crane lifted the three-piece antenna system to the roof of the building. Each piece was meticulously installed by a small contracted team. The first piece, a stand, was placed and bolted to support the second piece, the actual antenna, which is elevated at 180 degrees and can track flying satellites at a full 360 degrees from sunrise to sundown and communicate information instantly to the scientists and researchers on Earth. Finally, an iconic four-hundred pound fiber-glass mega dome was installed over the antenna as a source of protection from high gusting winds and severe weather.
“The purpose of the dome is to prevent the wind from wagging the dish around and turning it into a frisbee during a hurricane…something that we have to worry about here,” said Dr. William Moore, a planetary scientist and Principal Investigator for the HU-CARE project award.
Student research involvement is also a goal for NASA and the HU-CARE program. Up to a month’s worth of the information tracked by the antenna will be accessible to students involved in atmospheric research at Hampton University at any given time.
Dr. James M. Russell III, a co-director for HU’s Center for Atmospheric Sciences, works with STEM graduate students. Currently, the center has student researchers at NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but aims to offer even more courses and opportunities involving the atmospheric research in the near future. The HU-CARE program is collaborating with the National Weather Service in Whitfield, Virginia and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to share information received from the antenna and to contribute to more accurate research.
“We want to know how many people we can get involved (with the research)”, said Dr. Jim Russell, who believes the information collected could be used for Master’s or even PHD dissertation work.
Anyone interested in using the atmospheric data for a research project is encouraged to contact Dr. Bill Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org. This data is meant to be used, and students are encouraged to take advantage of the unique opportunity this antenna provides to the Hampton Roads Community.