WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

A meteorological mystery

Posted January 6, 2011

Doppler - Central NC

Around lunchtime today, we observed something very interesting on the DUALDoppler5000.  We were seeing a clear scope until, seemingly out of nowhere, a "pulse" of returns appeared near Holly Springs  The returns expanded outward and dissipated over the course of about half an hour or so.

Seeing this kind of return isn't unusual in and of itself.  The DUALDoppler5000 is powerful enough to see flocks of birds, groups of bugs, and even dust under certain circumstances.  Plus, this is definitely reminiscent of what radar meteorologists (and "radar ornithologists", a very small subgroup of scientists who use weather radars to observe the migration patterns of birds) call roost rings.  However, roost rings are most typically seen at or right after sunrise: The sun comes up over the horizon, and the new sunlight causes the birds to wake up and scatter in all directions.  This is seen on the radar as a return that starts out as a point, then grows to a ring or circle before fading away.

Holly Springs meteorological mystery Holly Springs meteorological mystery

The unusual part about this is the time of day  In the radar data, you can see little in the way of returns until about 12:45pm.  It starts as a point, grows into a blob, and continues to grow before dissipating after about 45 minutes or so.  What's more curious is that after another 15 minutes, it almost appears like the radar echoes are "returning" to the original point.  This is a departure from roost rings — when the birds scatter at sunrise, they go on about their business without all returning to the roosting point.

That said, the best theory I can come up with still revolves around birds.  A large number of them are clustered in this area near Holly Springs — a residential neighborhood behind a cluster of shops off of NC highway 55 — until, around 12:45pm this afternoon, something causes them to scatter.  After an hour or so, they begin to stream back into the original area.

If we run with this "birds theory", there are still some lingering questions:

  • What caused them all to gather in such significant numbers in this area in the first place? 
  • What caused them to scatter all at once?
  • Did they return to the original point, as the radar data would seem to suggest, or is this just an artifact in the data?

This is the best working theory we have here in the WeatherCenter, but, while I'm at a loss at what else it could be, I'm not convinced we're dealing with birds here.

Was anyone in north Holly Springs around lunchtime today?  Did you notice anything out of the ordinary?  Have another theory about what this could be?


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  • MT.Net Jan 10, 2011

    I've asked some bird watchers to weigh in. I'll let you know what they say.

    Kelindquist0118: send me an email offline. I'd like to hear what you saw.

  • kelindquist0118 Jan 9, 2011


    On Thursday I contacted WRAL News citing a strange sound and sight over Cary near Holly Springs. I live in the previously specified area and was outside with my pet cat, when I heard a "swishing" sound about my head. It sounded almost like something cutting through the wind, if that makes any sense. My cat immediately fizzed out and was very frightened. I looked up at the sky and saw what appeared to be an oblong shaped object moving vert fast to the North, towards RTP and RDU airport. It certainly raised the hairs on my arms. I immediately went inside and emailed WRAL about the incident to see if any military or meteorological events were scheduled for that day and time, yet did not receive any answer. Once again, the object was oblong shaped like a torpedo moving very quickly away from me. Feel free to contact me about any additional information, it was a very strange experience and I would sure like to know what it was...but from what I saw - I know it was not birds! Thanks!

  • asherx3lynn Jan 8, 2011

    My boyfriend and I were driving through Fuquay yesterday and did notice a HUGE flock of buzzards. There seemed like thousands of them flying randomly. They looked like they were scattering, not circling anything. It was an erie sight, that's for sure.

  • captusa484483 Jan 7, 2011

    The aerial photo underlay seems to be older and not as current as Google Earth...but maybe some type of methane release from landfill or something happened at landfill to scare up the birds...pretty interesting though.

  • nsj Jan 7, 2011

    Thanks, all, for the comments and thoughts. We have an update to share with you, complete with some expert analysis! http://www.wral.com/weather/blogpost/8900386/

  • ruffin Jan 7, 2011

    Holly Springs resident and I can agree we do have a massive popluation of the turkey vultures (buzzard) birds here, still hard to believe that could make such a showing ont he radar but they are big and lots of them.

  • wattsun Jan 6, 2011

    No way could that have been birds.

  • normandy Jan 6, 2011

    was not there at this time but I am a HSP resident and I see massive flocks of buzzards and seagulls all the time. hdi..son5 is spot on. the landfill off hwy 55 has created this and it will become/is a problem.

  • Hscitizen Jan 6, 2011

    There are THOUSANDS of Turkey Vultures here in Holly Springs that are now living here as a result of the SouthWake Landfill. These birds eat road kill and garbage. They are ugly as all heck, but are natural, "cleaners" so they actually help keep things clean and disease free. They do drop a lot of waste and stain roof tops. They can be seen on the water tower on School Days Lane and they fly to the landfill in huge groups to feed and then back to the water towers or tall posts to sit. According to the experts, they catch the warm air aloft to soar.

    So, it's the buzzards ...even though Wake County contends we would never have these "Vectors" when the landfill opened :)

    We do.. thousands of them and flocks of seaguls in Walmart parking lot.

  • j-lo93 Jan 6, 2011

    hope the birds don't show up dead anywhere~