The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 6, 2012

Ahead of tornado season, improved radar operational

By Adam Smith

— Just ahead of the spring severe weather season, a new radar featuring state-of-the-art technology is now online at Hytop.

The technology, known as dual-polarimetric radar, will allow meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Huntsville to see greater storm detail. NWS meteorologist Christina Crowe said the dual-polarimetric radar was officially launched Jan. 11.

“It’s different from what we had because our old radars could only look at things horizontally,” she said. “A vertical picture gives you a look at what kind of precipitation is going on.”

A single polar system relies on a beam that shoots into a storm. Whatever characteristics are reflected back represents the intensity of the storm.

The dual-polar system gives meteorologists an idea of what kinds of particles are in the cloud, whether they are ice or liquid, how big the particles are and the concentration. The new system can also pick up on debris in a storm, an indicator of a tornado.

“We haven’t had a lot of active weather since (the radar) was activated, but it is something we can use on a daily basis,” Crowe said, adding the radar can send back good quality data from an 85-mile radius.

The Radar Operations Center in Norman, Okla., upgraded several radar sites throughout the Southeast, including Memphis and Atlanta. The total cost for all the upgrades is $50 million, though the cost of the Hytop update was estimated at $225,000.

Though the technology is new to the Huntsville NWS, the University of Alabama in Huntsville operates a dual-polarimetric radar at the Huntsville International Airport. Known as the Advanced Radar for Meteorological and Operational Research, or ARMOR, the radar was upgraded to dual-polarimetry in 2004.

WAFF Doppler

A familiar landmark felled by the April 27 tornadoes was WAFF-48’s Doppler radar on U.S. 72.

The radar, featuring a white protective ball on top of its tower, was demolished by the same EF5 tornado that also destroyed Bethel Church of Christ, located just east of the tower. Pieces of the structure were found several miles away.

On the six-month anniversary of the radar’s destruction, WAFF-48 launched a new Doppler system in the exact same site. A press release called the new system “the strongest, most advanced storm tracking radar system in the state of Alabama.”

“The strength and capabilities of this system set a new standard for weather forecasting in the Tennessee Valley,” said Brad Travis, WAFF-48 chief meteorologist. “Live StormTracker Doppler gives us a wider range of coverage, which allows us to give our viewers even more advanced warning when severe weather threatens north Alabama.  And as we know all too well, having those extra minutes of warning can save your life.”