National Weather Service in Raleigh debuts faster Doppler radar

Posted August 19, 2014 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2014 7:42 p.m. EDT

— 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.