It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a hurricane? Advancements in Doppler Radar

WNTZ file photo
Monday, June 3, 2013 - 7:00pm

From a flock of birds to a cluster of storms, Doppler radar of the early-1990s was the technology everyone relied on to report rain, hail, and other forms of precipitation. No matter the object, it would report the information back to a computer that illustrated spectrums of the rainbow on a map.

In many ways, Doppler radar saved lives, especially during severe weather. It helped meteorologists track tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and hurricanes, allowing them to issue timely, severe weather warnings. However, at times, during non-severe weather
events, conventional radar seemed to have a tough time deciphering the difference between a flock of birds and rain; until now.

In April 2013, the National Weather Service in New Orleans completed their dual-polarization or dual-pol radar update. “This major upgrade to the radar will help us determine areas of heavy rain,” Ken Graham, meteorologist in-charge of the National Weather Service forecast office in New Orleans, says, “We can see how large and dense particles are, which will greatly improve rainfall estimates.”

Before the improvements, the radar would only send and receive a single beam up-and-down. Now, it sends two; one beam up-and-down and the other side-to-side. This will help meteorologists determine areas of heavy rain, rotating winds, and hail information, especially during severe weather or the next, tropical system.

In the past, tornadoes in an outer rain band of a hurricane or tropical storm was difficult to detect on radar. The dual-pol update will better help pinpoint these threatening spin-ups.

“During a hurricane landfall, there are often dozens of small rotations on radar. Dual-pol will help us see debris lofted by a tornado, thus help us see which ones are strongest,” Ken says.

After diagnosing the rotation on the dual-pol radar, meteorologists at the National Weather Service may issue a tornado warning. This means that safety precautions should be immediately taken for people under the warned area.

“Even with all this technology, it still comes down to each individual being able to get NWS warnings via television, radio, cell phone or the Internet,” Ken says, “NOAA Weather Radio is a great way to receive warnings night and day as the alert will wake you up in the middle of the night. In a tornado event, time is critical as there may only be minutes to take cover.”

Also, NBC33 News has several ways for you to stay updated before, during and after a storm. Download our NBC33 mobile app, “like” our WVLA NBC33 Facebook page, and visit for the latest weather information.



• The NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma spent nearly 30 years researching and developing Dual-Pol technology.
• Researchers estimate the new technology could save the nation about $700million annually by reducing weather related damages.
• Dual-pol radar provides specific information about the location of a tornado, but doesn’t tell us where or when a tornado will form ahead of time.
• Dual-pol radar is be installed in 160 sites- 122 at local weather forecast offices and 38 at NOAA centers and military and aviation sites.
• The first operational dual-pol radar upgrade was at Vance Air Force Base near Enid, Oklahoma. The final upgrade was in June 2013 at the Federal Aviation Administration in Alaska.
• Dual-pol radar sends and receives both horizontal and vertical pulses. 

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