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NOAA image of phased array radar.April 25, 2003 — New state-of-the-art radar technology designed to help future forecasters provide earlier warnings for tornadoes and other types of severe and hazardous weather was unveiled today at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla. (Click NOAA image for larger view of a crane placing the radome over the phased array radar antenna being installed at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla. Please credit "NOAA.")

The new National Weather Radar Testbed provides the meteorological research community with the first full-time phased array radar facility. It will also allow NSSL and other meteorologists to determine if phased array radar will become the next significant technology advancement to improve our nation’s weather services. Researchers have begun the work of adapting the technology currently used to protect Navy battle groups from missile threats for the new purpose of weather detection.

“This is an outstanding example of a partnership between academia, industry, government agencies and the Navy to apply military technology to benefit the nation,” said Jane A. Alexander, executive director for science and technology for the Office of Naval Research. Alexander served as host for the event and recognized partners in the project that include: NSSL, Radar Operations Center, Lockheed Martin, U.S. Navy, Federal Aviation Administration, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and Basic Commerce and Industries.

“NOAA is pleased to be a partner in this endeavor that holds great promise to protect lives and property. NOAA is pleased to partner with the University of Oklahoma and the U.S. Navy on this very valuable effort,” said Scott Rayder, NOAA, chief of staff.

The radar antenna in Norman, provided by a long-term loan from the Navy, is the same technology developed by Lockheed Martin used on Aegis class Navy ships. The heart of the Aegis system is an advanced radar called the AN/SPY-1. This high powered Navy radar is able to perform search, track and missile guidance functions simultaneously with a track capacity of more than 100 targets. The radar has been used by the Navy since the mid-1970s. The NOAA National Weather Service donated additional equipment needed to operate the radar at the test site.

“Weather research and forecasting conducted here in Oklahoma benefits many around the globe,” said Rep. Tom Cole. “Today, another step was taken toward better understanding wind and storm patterns that will hopefully lead toward earlier detection of storms which could possibly save lives. With Norman on the frontlines of this new technology, Oklahoma will continue playing a vital role in the future of weather research."

“The University of Oklahoma is proud to participate in this partnership with the outstanding scientists from NOAA,” said OU President David L. Boren. “Utilization of the phased array radar in weather research will do much to enhance the accuracy of weather forecasts and to save lives in the future. This development of the next generation of radar clearly establishes Norman and the University of Oklahoma as an important national center for meteorological and radar research.”

Also attending the event were Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce and Tourism Kathy Taylor, Lockheed Martin Business Development Director of Missile Defense and Radar Programs Chris Myers, and Chancellor of Oklahoma Higher Education Paul Risser.

"This exciting new project leverages off the work done over many years through a very unique government/industry partnership," said Stan Ozga, director of Radar Programs at Lockheed Martin. "We are very proud to be working with this team and see strong benefits for the U.S. Navy in this program."

The project—from research and development to technology transfer and deployment throughout the U.S.—is expected to take 10 to 15 years. The initial cost of the phased array radar in Norman is approximately $26 million.

"It's exciting to return to my home state,” said Anne Harlan, Director of the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey and native Oklahoman. “We at the FAA are proud to partner with public, private and educational institutions in this new generation of weather and surveillance radars."

Norman is already known as the center for weather radar research and development for the nation. Nearly 30 years ago, NSSL was a major participant in the development of Doppler technology that became the heart of the WSR-88D radar, commonly known as NEXRAD. The deployment of a system of 121 NEXRAD radars across the United States became a cornerstone of the modernization of the NOAA National Weather Service.

Using electronically controlled beams to rapidly scan a volume of the atmosphere, phased array radar reduces the scan time of severe weather from five or six minutes for current WSR-88D technology to less than one minute, producing quicker updates of data and thereby potentially increasing the average lead time for tornado warnings. It will also be able to re-scan areas of severe weather very quickly, potentially increasing forecasters’ warning lead times as storms rapidly transition to severe modes.

The new technology will gather storm information not currently available, such as rapid changes in wind fields, to provide more thorough understanding of storm evolution. Researchers and forecasters can then improve conceptual storm models and use that knowledge to evaluate and improve stormscale computer models.

“Early tests of this type of phased array radar system by the Office of Naval Research and Lockheed Martin have proved promising for sensing severe weather,” said James Kimpel, NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory Director. “This technology could serve both NOAA as a weather radar and the FAA as an aircraft tracking system.”

Construction and installation of the radar is scheduled to be completed this spring, with testing expected to begin in June.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory

NOAA Phased Array Radar

Media Contact:
Keli Tarp, NOAA Weather Partners, Norman, Okla., (405) 366-0451
(Photo courtesy of Keli Tarp, NOAA Weather Partners. Click here for more photos.)