National Weather Service in Raleigh debuts faster Doppler radar

Posted August 19, 2014

— Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Raleigh recently got an upgrade to their Doppler radar, giving them more data and quicker updates when the weather turns severe.

The upgrade, called SAILS, or Supplemental Adaptive Intra-Volume Low-Level Scan, allows the meteorologists to get radar images from the lowest part of the storm every 2 minutes instead of every 4.

“More frequent updates of what's going on near the ground gives us a better idea of what's about to hit the ground or impact the ground,” said NWS meteorologist Jonathan Blaes.

Blaes says the radar does more than just show where it’s raining.

“It scans at multiple slices to get a 3D view of precipitation, thunderstorms and other phenomena,” he said.

Seeing what's happening inside a storm gives forecasters an idea of how dangerous it is and can tell them if a tornado is forming.

“The more observations you can get the closer to where people live, that's always helpful,” WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

WRAL’s DUALDoppler5000 radar scans the lowest layer of the atmosphere once every minute. That radar, along with the Weather Service's newly upgraded Doppler radar, gives forecasters a better chance of spotting dangerous storms. That helps them issue better warnings and save more lives.

“More data is always better, and that's what we're excited about,” Fishel said.

The National Weather Service radar upgrade is in place now, ready for the next severe weather season, which typically happens in the fall. Another upgrade is planned within the next year to allow even more frequent updates.

The National Weather Service is working on a new kind of radar system, already used in the military, called Phased Array Radar. It will scan in less than one minute and cost less to operate. It likely will be a decade before those radars are installed, Blaes said.


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  • Eq Videri Aug 20, 2014
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    Do you really think the public just assumes these things? Do you not agree that many TV stations foster the idea that forecasting is all science and no art?

  • Anita Woody Aug 20, 2014

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    You don't usually use a radar except for a very short term forecast - I mean literally short term; minutes and hours. A radar is primarily used for intensity.

  • letsgocanes Aug 20, 2014

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    I think you're reading into it a little much. First of all, this isn't a WRAL radar, this is the NWS radar in Raleigh.

    It also doesn't say anything about forecasting, though more rapid scans means a better look at the storm development when looking back on the data and would definitely help forecasting in the future.

    In a live use scenario this allows faster updates which can definitely give you more up to date locations of a storm and help provide earlier warnings. 5 minutes is an eternity when you're waiting for radar data to refresh during a rapidly evolving storm.

    The problem is that people read these articles and ASSUME it means that suddenly weather forecasts will be better and then get upset when they aren't always right. Weather isn't an exact science by any means, the public will have to learn to deal with that.

  • Eq Videri Aug 20, 2014
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    This story is a fine example of how TV stations create a public impression of forecasting precision that doesn't really exist, which only fuels public frustration when storms don't behave as predicted.

    TV stations compete on "my radar is better / bigger / faster than your radar," and then they're taken aback when the public gets mad about a blown forecast.

    They can't have it both ways.