New sensors, improved alerts will warn drives of dust storms

Posted: Updated:
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: National Weather Service) (Source: National Weather Service)

From sensors to cell phone alerts, Arizona is leading the way in technology to keep people safe during dangerous dust storms. State agencies and members of the National Weather Service met Tuesday to discuss advancements.

The Arizona Department of Transportation shared details of its dust-detection system. More than a dozen sensors will be installed along Interstate 10 as part of its widening project near State Route 87. They will be used to give officials a reading on highway visibility.

ADOT will be able to post emergency messages on electronic signs.

“You’ll know that it’s real and you can trust it,” ADOT spokesman Tom Herrmann said  “It will say, 'Dust ahead, slow down.' At the same time, we will have variable speed limits which will slow drivers down.”

Sensors will be placed every mile but there will be a tighter cluster just south of SR 87.

[RELATED: Dust storm detector will alert drivers to freeway hazards]

“About half of all dust-related crashes are right in that section so we’ll have a sensor every half a mile there,” says Herrmann.

Herrmann says sensors will be installed along the new lanes starting in September with the project expected to be complete a year later.

The launch of an improved dust-storm alert system is only months away.  Starting June 20, dust alerts will look more like flash flood warnings, with a box showing trouble spots.

[RELATED: New dust storm warning system announced]

“As soon as you drive into that polygon, that imaginary line where that is, where the warning is in effect, then your cell phone should alert,” says Ken Drozd with the National Weather Service in Tucson.

Drozd says alerts will no longer be countywide. Further down the road, Drozd says, he expects the NWS to be able to provide milepost numbers identifying dust danger zones.

The Phoenix and Tucson NWS offices will be the first in the nation to use the enhanced system.

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