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How New Weather Radar System Likely Saved Lives

Officials say it was to thank for lack of deaths in Hattiesburg last week

Hellen Chmiel, 57, sits in front of the remains of her home in Hattiesburg, Miss., Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, following a Sunday afternoon tornado that caused much damage throughout the South Mississippi college town. Chmiel, who was out of her house when the tornado struck, said the large pine tree in the front yard completely destroyed her bedroom. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis.

FLOWOOD, Miss. (AP) - New technology allowed regional forecasters to quickly confirm the large tornado that tore through Hattiesburg last week and to alert the public, possibly saving lives in the process, officials say.

The Dual-polarization Doppler technology allowed forecasters to see the shape and size of debris inside the tornado. In the past, forecasters have generally relied on visual reports of tornadoes, which are difficult to get at night. The new technology allowed them to issue warnings confirming the tornado and to give residents sufficient time to get to safety.

Dozens of injuries were reported as a result of the tornados that struck south Mississippi Feb. 10, but no fatalities.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham says he believed the Dual-polarization technology was to thank for the lack of deaths.

"There is no other logical explanation as to why we didn't have fatalities in that area," Latham said.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., spoke at a news conference Friday announcing the new Doppler system. He said the conference had been organized before the tornados.

"This represents government at its best: professionals, scientists who are on the front line, getting information to us in the best way possible and the quickest way possible to protect property and save lives," Wicker said.

Wicker said he has relatives in Hattiesburg, and that they were able to get to a secure area of their house thanks to an early warning.

Alan Gerard, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Flowood, said that while forecasters could see heavy winds and rain with the old Doppler technology, they couldn't tell if those storms amounted to tornados touching down on the ground. Storm chasers were often the best sources of confirmation. The new Dual-polarization technology allows forecasters to see the debris inside of the tornado, confirming that it's touching ground and picking up objects as it plows through an area.

National Weather Service offices throughout the country are being updated with the new technology.

RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: Tornado Rips Through Hattiesburg, Miss.

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