Atmospheric humidity can strongly influence radio signals by scattering them in all directions, weakening and making it much harder to detect on the receiving end. A team of researchers from the University of Tel Aviv has now found a new, promising way of exploiting this phenomenon to accurately predict the intensity of imminent floods and other natural catastrophes.

By monitoring the attenuation of signals received across a grid of cellphone towers located near the cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv over two periods of one month each, a team led by Prof. Pinhas Alpert, currently working with NASA to develop models describing global warming weather patterns, managed to demonstrate the accuracy of their system.

The areas were an ideal choice to test the technology for the abundance of both cellphone towers and sudden, often unpredictable floods. Analyzing the data provided to them by two cellular providers, the team confirmed the accuracy of the system and now plans to export this technology the American grid.

"By monitoring the specific and fluctuating atmospheric moisture around cellphone towers throughout America, we can cheaply, effectively and reliably provide a more accurate 'critical moisture distribution' level for fine-tuning model predictions of big floods," Alpert said.

As Alpert pointed out, the method is also accurate because it provides for the very first time a reliable measurement of moisture fields near the zone where a flood is about to occur, an aspect that can provide a very important data to help understand climate change patterns as a whole. The resolution of the measurements is not limited to the number of towers, because communications between base stations and handsets are also being tracked and provide a considerable number of data points to base the predictions on.

The technology is quite inexpensive to implement since it merely analyzes data from towers that are already in place; what's more, cellphone providers already gather the necessary data on a regular basis to try and prevent communication quality from deteriorating too much after humidity in the air reaches a critical level.