The leading wave of a flash flood can sometimes appear in a dry river bed in Israel with no warning whatsoever - sometimes proving fatal to hikers in the area.
Now researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a way to predict such life-threatening flash floods through the use of cell phone technology. The method grew out of the research done for a doctoral dissertation by Noam David in the university's geophysics and planetary science department.
Noam David's proposal was featured in the American magazine "Popular Science" this week, and the magazine dubbed David's work the invention of the year in the field of safety, and it will be featured in next month's issue of the publication.
The invention is based on the principle that the transmission of cell phone signals is affected by the amount of rain falling between transmission towers, making it possible to measure the location and strength of the rain. In the future, it is suggested that the rainfall in remote desert areas could be measured by monitoring the disruptions in the signal strength.
Flash floods occur in dry river beds in Israel from water that accumulates on distant and much higher ground. Flooding in the Negev is even sometimes caused by rain in the Sinai Peninsula, and flooding in the Judean Desert can be the result of precipitation in the Hebron hills.
To their peril, hikers enjoying good weather are therefore sometimes not aware of the potential risks that may await them as the result of precipitation a great distance away.
Wireless phone networks have transmission facilities that cover wide areas, including flood-prone regions, which up to now have not been accessible for monitoring rainfall in a precise manner.
"Cell phone companies store reception data," David explained, and "when the technology is applied [to the threat of flooding], it will be possible to make sure that from the moment rain is identified, based on the companies' data, in a sensitive or dangerous place like the Judean Desert, it will be possible to pass this information along to everyone who has a cell phone who is in the danger zone."
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