WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Still a mystery

Posted January 7, 2011

Yesterday, we brought you our meteorological mystery, a series of interesting echoes on the DUALDoppler5000.  Our initial suspicion was that it might have been a flock of birds that had been scared into flying off from a resting spot all at once.  A number of you commented, suggesting variations of the same: buzzards from cell phone towers or gulls from the landfill.  All were plausible explanations, but there was nothing that exactly matched the data we saw, so we couldn't draw any hard conclusions.

After scratching our heads, we asked Dr. Sandra Yuter, an NC State meteorology professor and expert in radar and other "remote sensing" tools, to take a look at the data.  After a preliminary assessment, she and some of her graduate students were able to rule some things out, including:

  • Birds ("It is... certainly not vultures")
  • A steam cloud
  • Anomalous propagation (what you might hear referred to on TV as "ground clutter"; although, that's not exactly correct)
  • Second trip echoes (returns from objects beyond a radar's nominal range)
  • Something related to the Shearon-Harris plant

Holly Springs meteorological mystery Holly Springs meteorological mystery

Even with those things ruled out — including the rather popular theories about birds, buzzards, and vultures — the source of these interesting radar returns remains a mystery.  "So far every hypothesis we have come up with is inconsistent with the data," she wrote in an email this afternoon.  She and her group were not giving up on the mystery yet, and neither are we.

If it's not birds, what else might it be?


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  • wattsun Jan 14, 2011

    Similar anomaly happen in NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. night birds fell dead.

  • weathermansam77 Jan 14, 2011

    I was thinking and thought that may have been caused by super refraction, that can usually produce odd returns on the radar. The only other explanation could be birds unless there was some other interference with the radar.

  • wattsun Jan 13, 2011

    made a blog on this.

  • kelindquist0118 Jan 9, 2011

    I have a theory and left you a comment on your previous post. I saw something that you may be interested in! Thanks!

  • marya0909 Jan 9, 2011

    There was a similar radar anomaly in Beebe, AK the night the birds died.


    Scroll down and watch the last video, which zooms in on the unusual activity.

  • n8uad Jan 8, 2011

    Could it be a "tropospheric duct" caught by the radar?

  • Peace Love and Cold Meds Jan 8, 2011

    Looks like your 3 chances for snow were a big ole bust this week. Now if your Armageddon storm doesn't come to pass on Monday it will be 3 complete blunders in a row. I guess that isn't being very accurate is it? Don't you think that maybe you guys should just stop giving your guesses, I mean forecasts, for anything beyond a day or 2? It seems your accuracy rating is horrible for anything other than the day or day before something occurs, so make it easy on yourselves, stop wasting our time with your ridiculous guessing a week away from events. It's simply unreliable.

  • momotwins Jan 7, 2011

    Weird temperature fluxuations/differences in the air above the ground producing rapid development of moisture (fog like)? Just taking a WILD guess. Love the weather and how Mother Nature is so capricious.

  • 1 awesome Dad Jan 7, 2011

    My ex wife drove through there about that time and a cloud seems to follow her wherever she goes

  • timf97 Jan 7, 2011

    anomolies caused by solar flares?!?