New radar developments help meteorologists read storms in the dark of night

In the midst of Severe Weather Awareness Week March 7-11, meteorologists are excited about new developments in storm tracking technology that will allow weather predictions to be more accurate than ever.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Jared Maples told The Heartlander that new instruments such as the Tornado Debris Signature and dual-polarized Doppler radar allow meteorologists to more accurately read and predict deadly storms’ paths, especially at night.

Maples said the updated technology also will allow meteorologists to give the public a quicker notice of storms even in the darkest of night skies. 

Dual-polarization radar sends out two quick pulses to measure consistency of shapes and sizes of targets. Once measurements are received, the statistics are sent through computer systems and transferred into a graphic image to give meteorologists a better look at what’s incoming. 

Graphic data being fed into the system is broken down into shapes, sizes, direction and speed. This helps meteorologists understand the exact motion within a storm. Thanks to the new technology, the intensity of the storm can now be measured by how high materials are being lifted into the atmosphere.

Velocities of materials within a storm are normally seen with a red or green hue. The two colors tell meteorologists if activity is going toward the radar or away from it, while also reading the magnitude of velocity.

The dual-polarization system also gives meteorologists indications of the weight of objects within a storm. According to Maples, rain drops of similar shapes and sizes give higher correlation, while lofted objects such as wood and hail present different colors and correlation. 

Discovering lofted items such as wood could indicate when a tornado is happening. Then, meteorologists can compare velocities on their radar to discover where active rotation is happening to pinpoint the tornado’s location.

Maples said putting out an accurate warning is a priority, rather than having storm chasers on the ground potentially risking their lives and often delivering incorrect information with unintended consequences.

“When you do put out those warnings, you are stopping baseball games with 45,000 or 50,000 people in the stands,” he said of inaccurate weather warnings. “People are taking shelter and stopping games altogether. It has a financial impact, so that is a concern as well.”

Additionally, Maples said flawed warnings can cause airplanes to ground and ports to halt, causing even larger issues for regional areas. 

Both satellites are now operational with a third new satellite coming soon for increased accuracy. As the new technology gets put to use, Missourians can expect less of a need for storm chasers risking their lives to give notice of dangerous weather. 

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