Huge nationwide Doppler radar upgrade now complete

The National Weather Service has now finished the most significant radar upgrade since Doppler Radar was introduced over 20 years ago.

Dual-Pol Radar has now been installed  in 122 National Weather Service sites around the country along with 37 radars operated by the FAA and Defense Department.

You may recall the radar site in Owensville, which serves the tri-state, was upgraded in early February.

Dual-polarization sends and receives both vertical and horizontal pulses which allows meteorologists to analyze the size and shape of particles in the sky.  Dual-pol also better distinguishes rain, snow, hail, smoke, birds and insects. 

The technology has also proven useful in tornado confirmation by displaying "debris balls" once a tornado has touched down.  Heavy rainfall is also easier to detect which has enhanced flash flood alerts.

The National Weather Service released these examples of how Dual-pol has had real-world benefits:

On Feb. 10, 2013, NWS weather forecasters in Jackson, Miss., used the new radar technology to confirm a powerful tornado (EF-4) was moving across Southern Mississippi's Lamar County toward the populated city of Hattiesburg. Forecasters warned the public using detailed, descriptive language about the tornado's size and path, resulting in no fatalities. On the same day, dual-pol information helped the Jackson forecasters recognize thunderstorms with particularly heavy rainfall rates, enabling them to issue flash flood warnings more than an hour before flash flooding started.

On Nov. 7-8, 2012, NWS meteorologists at the Boston forecast office relied on dual-pol radar information to help locate the rain/snow line as a nor'easter traversed the area. During the afternoon and evening, a storm formed across Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts. Snow fell to the west of the boundary where temperatures dipped into the 30s, while rain fell to the east where temperatures held in the 40s. Using dual-pol information, forecasters were able to accurately track the slow progress of the rain-snow line and provide short term forecasts which helped department of transportation officials focus their snow removal assets and for the media to highlight the hazardous routes to the traveling public.

The NWS forecast office in Phoenix relied on dual-pol technology to successfully warn for a very large dust storm that moved across the metro area during the early evening of July 5, 2011. There were widespread reports of near-zero visibility and winds gusting more than 50 mph. Dual-pol radar data estimated this dust storm reached a peak height of at least 5,000 to 6,000 feet, with a leading edge stretching close to 100 miles and traveling at least 150 miles. Forecasters collaborated with emergency management and media partners, providing details on potential impacts as the dust approached from the southeast.  Dust storm warnings described the large size of the dust area and the potential for widespread low visibilities of less than a quarter mile.  Safety tips in the warnings and updating warning statements helped people in the storm's path make fast and smart decisions.

The Doppler upgrade began in September of 2011 and cost 50 million dollars, or about 225,000 per radar site. 

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