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GOOD NEWS: Doppler Dave visits with WT Environmental Science group, studying heat dangers in Canyon

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 10:11 PM CDT
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - A trip to Palo Duro Canyon can turn tragic if people are not prepared for dangerous heat.

A group from West Texas A&M is conducting a study to identify the locations within the park that are prone to heat danger and steer people away from heat related risks.

It’s called Summertime Canyon Observations and Research On Heat Extremes or project Scorcher.

“The goal of the study is to better map all the extreme heat we see throughout Palo Duro Canyon, so we know it’s one of the hottest places in Texas and there’s a few stations that have been here for a few years but no one has ever looked at the Canyon at this depth. We have about 25 sensors scattered all around the Canyon from the bottom, north to south ends and to the top of the rims all the way down,” said Erik Crosman, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science, WTAMU.

Heat related illnesses are common to visitors of the Canyon every summer and people have even died from exposure to extreme heat.

The project aims to better understand how and where the heat becomes intense.

“This up here is what’s going to measure our temperature and our humidity and this little contraption we have here just kind of shields it and keeps the temperature reading from being influenced by the sun,” said Jed McInroe, Environmental Science Grad Student.

Along with the fixed or stationary sensors, mobile readings are gathered from around the park with instruments on a vehicle.

“We’re going to be driving around about every hour. It takes about 35 to 45 minutes to drive the complete Canyon, and we’ve got the computer in it that will show the temperature in Celsius and in Fahrenheit as well as the humidity, and that’s what the sensor is for. We like getting data from like 100 sensors because we are driving around the canyon so much. We have the ones stationed on different trails but it will be good to have one that’s constantly moving around,” said Adriana Rademacher, Environmental Science Student.

To better understand the heating of the lower atmosphere, balloons are used to carry instruments vertically to gather data aloft.

“So this one will go up around 500 feet. We’ll leave it maybe about 30 minutes depending on how long we want to get data, and then we will slowly bring it back down and let the air right out of the balloon,” said Adriana.

The study should not only identify specific locations at highest risk of heat related danger, but also assist in extreme temperature forecasting.

“Many of them are along the popular trails, so after the study is done, we’ll know what trails are the hottest at which times of day,” said Erik. “We could help the weather service improve their forecasts of how much hotter is the Canyon than Amarillo. We can give information to the park as far as just general safety of which is the hottest areas to avoid.”

The Palo Duro Canyon can be one of the most dangerous places in the summertime because of the heat, but because of the efforts of project scorcher here, that’ll be better understood and hopefully will help people be more alert and more aware and save some lives.

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