Berkeley researchers look to clouds for drought clues

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While millions of Californians worry about how long our drought may last, some important clues are literally floating above us. (KGO-TV)

While millions of Californians worry about how long our drought may last, some important clues are literally floating above us. Trouble is, we haven't been able to decode them yet.

"Despite decades of research, there's a lot we don't known about how clouds behave," University of California researcher Dr. David Romps says.

To help unravel those mysteries, Romps and his research partner Rusen Oktem have invented a new way of looking at clouds. They started by placing two cameras, slightly apart, along the coast of south Florida. Left alone, they produce slightly different views of the sky similar to the way each of your eyes work.

"By closing one eye, and then you can close the other eye you will see the same target moving," Oktem explains.

But take those moving targets and blend them together with powerful computers, and you get a stunning 3-D image of clouds as they move through their life cycle. And with all that churning, fluffy detail, the Berkeley team was then able to write a kind of visual recognition software that tracks the shape of clouds at they change.

The results are incredibly precise models of cloud behavior, from lightning, to turbulence, to perhaps the most important, rain.

"The process of making rain is about cloud dynamics, how air moves through clouds and that's what we can measure with these cameras," Romps says.

And while the notion of getting your arms around a cloud may seem a bit fanciful, the Berkeley team believes the data they're gathering will help researchers develop long term models that are far more precise. Helping us plan for the forces that have such a profound effect on our lives.

To learn how much water your city is required to cut back, click here. For water rebate information from Bay Area water suppliers, click here. And click here for tips on how to conserve water. To learn more about how to report water wasters #WhereYouLive, click here.
For full coverage on the drought, click here.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

Related Topics:
weatherdroughtwatercalifornia watercloudyresearchsciencerainBerkeleyUC Berkeley
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