NOAA’s National Weather Service completes Doppler radar upgrades

Advanced technology proves valuable during severe weather

April 25, 2013

Dual-pol data shows what type of precipitation is falling based on its shape.

Dual-pol data shows what type of precipitation is falling based on its shape.

Download here (Credit: NOAA)

This week, the National Weather Service completed the dual-polarization technology update in Brownsville, Texas – concluding the 122 NWS radar site upgrades throughout the country. This new advanced technology is helping federal weather forecasters more accurately track, assess and warn the public of approaching high-impact weather.

Dual-polarization is the most significant enhancement made to the nation’s federal weather radar system since Doppler technology was first installed in the early 1990s. Dual-pol radar sends and receives both horizontal and vertical pulses, which produces a much more informative picture of the size and shape of the objects in the sky. This provides meteorologists the ability to distinguish between rain, snow, hail and non-weather items like wildfire smoke plumes, birds and insects. Conventional Doppler radar only has a one-dimensional view making it difficult to tell the type of precipitation or object in the sky.

The radar receiving dish inside the protective cover. Dual-pol is both a hardware and software upgrade to the radar.

The radar receiving dish inside the protective cover. Dual-pol is both a hardware and software upgrade to the radar.

Download here (Credit: NOAA)

“This achievement is the result of years of research, development and continued investment that’s helping us become a more weather-ready nation,” said Dr. Louis Uccellini, director, NOAA’s National Weather Service. “It is amazing what we can see with dual-pol technology. This game-changing technology has already helped forecasters issue more accurate and timely warnings to the public and has saved lives.”

Dual-pol is credited with providing improved detection of heavy rainfall, which can increase warning time for flash floods. During winter storms, forecasters use dual-pol information to monitor a transition from snow to sleet and freezing rain, which allows for a more accurate forecast. Dual-pol can also spot airborne debris giving forecasters the ability to confirm a tornado on the ground, even in the dark or when hidden by heavy rain. The new technology has also been used to help detect hazards to aircraft, such as volcanic ash plumes, icing conditions and birds.

“I am committed to supporting the National Weather Service’s critical mission of forecasting and warning about severe weather, and supporting the men and women who work every day to fulfill that mission”, said Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds NOAA, “We owe it to our communities – to the coastal states that depend on accurate hurricane forecasts, and to the interior states that depend on timely tornado warnings – to make sure our weather offices are fit for duty. These new state-of-the-art radars will ensure our forecasters have the tools and technology they need to protect lives and livelihoods.”

Dual-polarization is the most significant enhancement made to the nation’s Next Generation Weather Radar network, NEXRAD, since Doppler radar was first installed in the early 1990s.

Dual-polarization is the most significant enhancement made to the nation’s Next Generation Weather Radar network, NEXRAD, since Doppler radar was first installed in the early 1990s.

Download here (Credit: NOAA)

The National Weather Service has used dual-pol to develop 14 new radar products that have improved the speed, understanding, and accuracy of the information it provides about extreme weather. Forecasters now have more confidence to accurately assess weather events and be more descriptive in weather warnings, which helps improve public response to the warnings.

The nationwide dual-pol upgrade began in Sept. 2011 and the public has been benefiting from the new technology every day since. Here are a few successes:

In addition to the 122 NWS-owned radars, the full nationwide radar network includes another 37 radar sites owned by the FAA and Defense Department, which will be completely upgraded to dual-pol technology this summer. NOAA’s NEXRAD radar program is a tri-agency effort with NOAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the United States Air Force.

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