It's called Dual Polarization and it's considered the biggest upgrade to radar technology since the National Weather Service started using doppler radar over 20 years ago.
The enhancement is expected to help save property and lives.
This year's leap day tornado severely damaged the cities of Harrisburg and Ridgway, Illinois. Although tornado warnings were issued before the storm hit, meteorologists at the National Weather Service didn't know for sure whether a tornado was on the ground until spotter reports started coming in.
A new doppler upgrade may soon change that.
"Yeah, I think it really is a big milestone," said Pat Spoden with the National Weather Service in Paducah.
That milestone is a $50 million investment by the National Weather Service in dual polarization radar at 160 sites around the country.
The difference between conventional doppler technology and dual pol is how the radar beam is sent.
"Right now, we send out a beam and it goes out horizontally," Spoden said. "What we're going to do now is not only send it horizontally, but vertically."
One of the benefits of looking at a storm in two dimensions is the detection of tornado debris.
While dual pol does not help forecast when or where a tornado will strike, it will give meteorologists a clearer sign if a tornado has actually touched down.
"If a tornado picks up debris, we're actually going to be able to see some of that. So even if we don't have spotter out there, because, say, it's happening in the middle of the night, we'll be able to have more faith that what we're seeing is actually a tornado on the ground," Spoden said.
Only National Weather Service Radars are being upgraded to dual polarization.
But 14 news will continue to operate our two doppler radars and use the new data from the National Weather Service to supplement our first alert severe weather coverage.
Dual pol detects the size of particles, helping to differentiate between rain, snow, hail, ice pellets or even swarms of insects and birds on radar.
This will help forecasters during Winter months detect more precise rain, snow and sleet boundaries. Dual polarization can also estimate the amount of rain reaching the ground, which should improve flash flood warnings.
The National Weather Service estimates dual pol will save about $700 million annually in the US by reducing weather-related damage.
"I think it's going to be a nice addition, because it's truly an addition," Spoden said. "We're not taking anything away, we're just adding."
Copyright 2012 WFIE. All rights reserved.
1115 Mt. Auburn Road
Public File Contact: