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History of Radar

Heinrich Hertz
Heinrich Hertz in Germany calculated that an electric current swinging very rapidly
back and forth in a conducting wire would radiate electromagnetic waves into the
surrounding space (today we would call such a wire an "antenna"). With such a wire
he created (in 1886) and detected such oscillations in his lab, using an electric spark,
in which the current oscillates rapidly (that is how lightning creates its characteristic
crackling noise on the radio!). Today we call such waves "radio waves". At first
however they were "Hertzian waves, " and even today we honor the memory of their
discoverer by measuring frequencies in Hertz (Hz), oscillations per second--and at
radio frequencies, in megahertz (MHz).
Heinrich Hertz
Hertz lived from 1857 to 1894 and was the first to demonstrate experimentally the
production and detection of Maxwell's waves. This discovery of course lead directly to
Heinrich Hertz
In recognition of his work, the unit of frequency of a radio wave - one cycle per
second - is named the hertz, in honor of Heinrich Hertz.
RADAR History
In 1887, a physicist named Heinrich Hertz began experimenting with radio waves in
his laboratory in Germany.

Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt (1892--1973)

Watson-Watt was the Scottish physicist who developed the radar locating of aircraft
in England. He was born in Brechin, Angus, Scotland, educated at St Andrews
University in Scotland, and taught at Dundee University. In 1917, he worked at the
British Meteorological Office, where he designed devices to locate thunderstorms.
Watson-Watt coined the phrase "ionosphere" in 1926. He was appointed as the
director of radio research at the British National Physical Laboratory in 1935, where
he completed his research into aircraft locating devices. Watson-Watt's other
contributions include a cathode-ray direction finder used to study atmospheric
phenomena, research in electromagnetic radiation, and inventions used for flight
- Radar was patented (British patent) in April, 1935.
Christian Andreas Doppler
Doppler RADAR is named after Christian Andreas Doppler. Doppler was an Austrian
physicist who first described in 1842, how the observed frequency of light and sound
waves was affected by the relative motion of the source and the detector. This
phenomenon became known as the Doppler effect.

This is most often demonstrated by the change in the sound wave of a passing train.
The sound of the train whistle will become "higher" in pitch as it approaches and
"lower" in pitch as it moves away. This is explained as follows: the number of sound
waves reaching the ear in a given amount of time (this is called the frequency)
determines the tone, or pitch, perceived. The tone remains the same as long as you
are not moving. As the train moves closer to you the number of sound waves
reaching your ear in a given amount of time increases. Thus, the pitch increases. As
the train moves away from you the opposite happens.
Dr. Robert Rines
Robert Rines is the inventor of high definition radar and the sonogram, a patent
attorney, the founder of the Franklin Pierce Law Center and a chaser of the Loch
Ness monster.
Robert H. Rines
Robert Rines invented high definition radar and the sonogram - National Inventors
Hall of Fame.
Robert Rines
Robert Rines is not only an inventor: he is a major supporter of inventors and
defender of inventors' rights.
Related Information
Luis Walter Alvarez
Luis Alvarez invented a radio distance and direction indicator, a landing system for
aircrafts, radar system for locating planes and co-invented the hydrogen bubble
chamber, used to detect subatomic particles.
John Logie Baird
John Logie Baird is remembered as being an inventor of mechanical television (an
earlier version of television), who also patented inventions related to radar and fiber

©Mary Bellis

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Doppler Radar History

Doppler Radar History

Doppler Effect: How Doppler Radar

Want to know about more about how weather is forecast, or how rain is predicted? There
is a little thing called the Doppler Radar that is being used, this radar uses the Doppler
effect. Lets know more about Doppler effect and Doppler Radars...
Curious to know more about the phenomena called Doppler effect and how it helps us in
many ways possible, here is some information on Doppler effect and Doppler Radars…

What is Doppler effect?

The Doppler effect was named after the scientist who perceived it, this is the famous
Christian Doppler who is now popular thanks to the ever-useful Doppler Radars. But
before we discuss Doppler Radars, lets talk about the Doppler effect.

The Doppler effect is the effect that is produced by a moving source of waves in which
there is an obvious shift upward in the frequency for people or observers towards whom
the source is approaching and an obvious shift downwards in the frequency for people
from whom the source is moving away. You need to know that this shift in effect doesn’t
occur because of the real change in frequency of the source. The effect only changes
because of the change in distance. The Doppler effect can be observed in any type of
wave whether water wave, sound wave or light wave.

Lets simplify the Doppler effect for you. Think of an ambulance or a fire engine truck on
a highway with its siren blaring. While the vehicle was traveling towards you, you could
hear the high pitch of the siren, but suddenly after you pass it by the pitch lowers and
drops. This is the perfect example of the Doppler effect. The very obvious shift in
frequency of a sound wave produced by a source on the move.

How Doppler radar works?

Radar is a device that is used in every aspect of life, though in most cases it will be
invisible to us. The Air Traffic control uses radars to trace places on ground and in the
air. It is also used to guide planes for smooth and safe landings. The Police force also
uses radars to gauge the speed of motorists. The Military uses radars for enemy and
weapon detection. And lets not forget NASA who uses radars to map the planets and
track satellites in the universe.
Radars are most commonly used in detecting and predicting weather conditions. What
information we hear on the use has an actual scientific process behind it. Most weather
radars use the Doppler effect while there are still a few using microwave signals. Doppler
radars are much more accurate than the older style radars. In Doppler radars the signal is
sent out a constant rate. This signal is then shifted according to the Doppler effect as it
returns. The amount of the signal shift depends up on the speed of the target. This signal
is picked up and interpreted with greater accuracy that other radars.

Doppler radars are considered to be the best tool for detection of rainfall in an area. The
way they work is by sending out beams in a circular pattern around the radar. When any
of these beams strikes a raindrop, part of this particular beam will be reflected back to the
radar. The radar then receives the reflected beam and calculates the distance away and its
intensity and from the direction it is moving and the wind velocity. The radar then
translates the distance and intensity on to a graphical map that is displayed on TV (the
kind you see on TV).

The use of Doppler radar applications and live Doppler radars is possible in every
possible activity in life, but in most cases we wont even be aware of the close contact we
have with Doppler radars or Doppler effect.

Radar was initially theorized and investigated in the early 1920's by Dr. A. Hoyt Taylor at the
Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C. Research at a variety of institutions in the U.S.
and the U.K. lead to Robert Wilson-Watt creating the first pulsed radio wave system in 1935.

Radar developed rapidly during the Second World War. During this time, it was noticed that the
radar beam also echoed from precipitation. This proved to be a valuable tool in dictating military

After the war ended, de-classification allowed for a wider range of interested parties to
experiment with radar technology. During the 1950's the original weather service radar was
deployed, primarily for the study of tornadoes.

It has only been in recent years that Doppler radar data has come into widespread everyday use.
This is directly attributable to the advent of computers which are capable of handling the vast
amounts of data now constantly gathered by such systems as the National Weather Service's
NEXRAD system, which consites of 125 WSR-88D doppler radar staions across the country

References and more information:

Radio to Radar National Weather Service

Overview of the WSR-88D Doppler Radar System National Weather Service
General History of Radar -
History of Doppler Weather Radar
Today, the Doppler weather radar is a vital tool for weather forecasting. Read on to know
about the history of the Doppler weather radar.
The Doppler weather radar is a special kind of radar, that is used to locate precipitation
and predict its future movements and intensity. The data obtained from such a radar is
analyzed carefully, to ascertain the nature of storms and their potential to cause calamity.
The Doppler Weather Radar was discovered by the National Severe Storms Laboratory
(NSSL) in the United States.

The Doppler weather radar uses the principles of Doppler Effect for the purpose of
studying the frequency of waves in the air, to ascertain the movement and direction of
wind and to forecast weather. According to its theory, when the source of the waves
approaches the observer (or radar), the frequency of the waves increases, while during
recession, the frequency of the waves decreases. Thus, by studying the frequencies, the
target location as well as the radial velocity of thunderstorms can be identified.

The history of weather radars dates back to the time of World War II. During this period,
scientists who were working as operators of military radars, detected some sounds of
returned echoes at the time of rainfall or snowfall. After the war, these scientists
continued their research work in their respective countries, to formulate a method to
utilize the echo patterns.

David Atlas from the United States, was one of the first among them who made a weather
radar that could be usable. In Canada, J.S. Marshall, R.H. Douglas and their team made a
major breakthrough by establishing a relation between the radiant energy of the radar
with the rate of falling of rainwater on the ground. Scientists from the United Kingdom
closely studied the characteristics of different types of clouds.

In the 50s and 60s, several weather services across the globe, developed reflectivity
radars, that helped in measuring the location and magnitude of precipitation. In 1964,
NSSL came into being, and started experimenting on the possible uses of the Doppler
Effect on its radar.

In the 70s, weather radars became more standardized, with organized networks.
Simultaneously, devices that could capture radar images were also created. There was an
increase in the number of scanned angles, to obtain a distinct three-dimensional image of
the precipitation. Thunderstorms during this time, could be examined only at Alberta Hail
Project in Canada and NSSL in US.

In May 1973, Union City, Oklahoma, saw a massive devastation due to a tornado. The
total life cycle of this mayhem was recorded by a Dopplerised radar developed by NSSL.
Studies of it's life cycle revealed specific movements of clouds, before the tornado
reached the ground. This revelation persuaded the National Weather Service, to accept
Dopplerised radar as an important tool for weather forecasting.

The period between 1980 to 2000, saw the developed countries depending on radar
networks. In this period, US, Canada, and France switched over from conventional radars
to Doppler weather radars. The biggest advantage of the Doppler radar is that besides
tracking the position and intensity, it also has the ability to track the relative velocity of
the particles in air. The early 2000s saw many advances in the field of computer
technology, that can detect the bad signs of weather much more easily.

Further for better evaluation of the data provided by radars are on. They can make the
predictions even more precise, by targeting locations of thunderstorms as well as their
radial velocity. As a result, it will be possible to save many lives from the mayhem
following a thunderstorm.

By Bidisha Mukherjee
Published: 5/12/2009
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Absorption The atmosphere absorbs some amount of EM energy, mainly by oxygen

and water vapor. It becomes trapped within these parcels long enough to become
unrecognizable to the radar. Absorption, like any form of attenuation, results in lost
power and decreased radar performance. Like scattering, the degree of absorption is
dependent on particle size, particle composition, and wavelength. The longer the
wavelength, the smaller the attenuation due to absorption. Solar Effects Due to
the high sensitivity of the WSR-88D, anomalous returns near sunrise or sunset may
occur. These false returns are generated because the sun radiates energy in the same
region of the electromagnetic spectrum as the WSR-88D. These echoes are
recognized by their continuous, narrow "baseball bat" appearance. Q25. Q26. Q27. Q28.
Q29. Q30. Q31. Q32. REVIEW QUESTIONS What is refraction? What atmospheric
parameter has the greatest impact on refraction and refractivity? What normally
happens to N-units with increasing altitude? If a radar beam is consistently
overshooting targets, which refractive condition might be present ? The phenomenon of
ducting is most likely to occur under what atmospheric condition? What is the cause of
ground clutter? What type of scattering is NOT attenuation? What are the main absorbers
of EM energy in the atmosphere? PRINCIPLES OF DOPPLER RADAR LEARNING
OBJECTIVES: Define Doppler and Doppler shift. Define phase shift and radial velocity.
Recognize the effects of target motion on radial velocity. Define velocity aliasing.
Recognize the effects of velocity aliasing on Doppler radar. Compute Nyquist velocity.
Identify Doppler dilemma. So far, we have discussed basic principles of
electromagnetic energy common to all radar systems. The following text expands
on the theory and principles already discussed and introduces concepts unique to
Doppler radar. Doppler is a means to measure motion. Doppler radars not only detect
and measure the power received from a target, they also measure the motion of the target
toward or away from the radar. Although Doppler radar enjoyed widespread use for
many years, cost made it an impractical tool for weather detection. Only recently has
expense been offset by the technological breakthroughs of the Doppler
meteorological radar, WSR-88D. This shore-based radar has capabilities that far exceed
those of older Doppler systems. These capabilities include a complementary mix
of velocity detection, increased power and sensitivity, and the integration of high tech
computers. This automation provides forecasters with a wealth of information. The WSR-
88D not only can detect target motion and velocity, but can also examine internal storm
circulations as well as detect atmospheric motions in clear air. The WSR-88D
excels in detecting severe weather events, and more important, increases advance
warning time. In addition, the increased sensitivity of the WSR-88D allows various
meteorological boundaries to be identified. These boundaries include synoptic fronts,
gust fronts, drylines, land and sea breeze fronts, and thunderstorm outflows. DOPPLER
SHIFT In 1842, the Austrian physicist Johann Christian Doppler first related motion to
frequency changes in light and sound. Doppler discovered that the shift in frequency
caused by moving sources of sound was directly proportional to the speed of the
source. He then developed mathematical formulas to describe this effect called the
Doppler Shift. While not given much thought, you experience Doppler shifts many
times each day. The change in pitch of a passing train whistle and a speeding
automobile horn demonstrate its effects. When you hear a train or automobile, you can
determine its approximate location and movement. Doppler radar accomplishes much
the same thing, but to a higher degree of accuracy. As a target moves toward a radar,
frequency is increased; if the target is moving away from a radar, the frequency is
reduced. The radar then compares the received signal with the frequency of the
transmitted signal and measures the 2-16

Radar Was An Accident

Radar and penicillin actually have something in common- They were both
discovered by accident

Radar, which stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging was developed for military
purposes during W.W. II.
The British and US Military used Radar to locate ships and airplanes. However,

consistentlyappearing on the radar screen. It turned out, these annoying radar

returns were raindrops.

Well someone saw this hindrance as a wonderful opportunity. In 1957, the US

Government created the WSR-57 (weather surveillance, 1957) which became the
primary radar for the weather service for nearly 40 years.1
Advances in technology helped usher in the WSR-88D, D for Doppler. Also known
as NexRad for "Next Generation Radar", and this is what meteorologists currently
use to help save lives and predict your weather.

The NexRad has 750,000 Watts of power and a 460 Km range. Most notably,
improved radar has allowed meteorologists to see wind fields, determine
precipitation rates and most importantly identify potential tornadic cells.

This is a picture of the very first Doppler radar located in Norman, Oklahoma. This
is where the NSSL or National Severe Storms Laboratory is located, and this odd
looking beast helped lead to developing the WSR-88D, which is in use by your local
National Weather Service.

The expensive radar equipment is protected by the sphere shaped cover. On the
inside it looks similar to this:


To check out the Nexrad WSR-88 Doppler radar nearest you click below:

If you think this is all very cool, but you wanna know how it works, then
click next...
1 The Handy Weather Answer Book

1840-2010 Search other dates

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1842 1842 - The latest weather radar techniques use the Doppler effect-a
phenomenon discovered by Austrian scientist Christian Doppler in 1842,
who noted that the frequency of sound waves from an approaching source
is shifted to a higher frequency and that those receding ...

Show more

From 88 年英文試題 - Related web pages

1973 May 24, 1973 - Another major breakthrough in tornado identification by

Doppler radar occurred on May 24,1973, when a tornado struck Union
City, Oklahoma, only a few miles from NSSL. From the mass of data and
radar pictures this storm provided, the Norman researchers ...

Show more

From Scanning the Skies - Related web pages ...
1985 1985 - In 1985, in one of the most talked-about television moves in the
city's history, Craig came over to WOOD TV8. For the past 23 years, he's
guided the weather coverage as Chief Meteorologist through the days
before Doppler Radar and the Internet became household names and ...
From MAB Newsletter - Page 2 - Related web pages
1993 Aug 7, 1993 - The Tri-Cities storm may be the worst tornado to strike
Virginia in its recorded weather history. Reports from along the storm's
path point ... Though the weather service has the capability to spot
tornadoes using Doppler radar, the nearest Doppler radar is in Sterling in
Northern ...
web pages ...
1994 Jul 7, 1994 - Most of the equipment for a $3-million Doppler radar
system has been installed at a site on MacDill Air Force Base, 7 miles
south of the airport. ... Tampa is 11th on a list of 47 sites designated by
the FAA to receive Doppler radar systems. Congress authorized $373-
million for the ...
From New radar for airport to arrive within a year - Related web pages ...
1995 Jul 29, 1995 - Doppler radar is supposed to give a better picture of the
weather because it not only tells where and how strong a storm is, but in
what direction and how ... Doppler radar is used by airports to predict
hazardous wind shears, by police to clock speeding motorists and by the
military. ...
web pages ...
1996 Jul 28, 1996 - Because of the political pressure, the FAA now is no longer
talking about two Doppler radar installations. It's talking about only one
to cover both airports. And, in its latest report on the matter last month,
the FAA has revised history and now says that the Roslyn and Bellmore
sites ...
From NY, Where Safety Defers to Politics - Related web pages ...
1998 Jun 15, 1998 - Today, of course, there would be wall-to-wall live shots,
team coverage, aerial photography and probably a week's worth of
advance Doppler-radar warnings from the station's weather team. Candy
would not be necessary. The amazing evolution of television can be seen
through the history ...
INCREDIBLE … - Related web pages ...
1999 May 3, 1999 - Wurman's group used a truck-mounted Doppler radar, one
of the two used in the Doppler On Wheels (DOW) project at the
University of Oklahoma in Norman. (Related: Doppler on Wheels
program). The fastest speed previously measured was 286 mph clocked
by a portable Doppler radar April 26, ...
From Doppler radar measures 318 mph wind in tornado - Related web

2009 Jun 25, 2009 - Mumbai (PTI): High-tech Doppler Weather Radar
(DWR), which would give prior information on climatic conditions and
rainfall, is less likely to be installed here this monsoon by the
Meteorological Department (Met). The Met had decided to install the
radar post July 26, 2005 deluge in ...
From Uncertainty clouds doppler radar installation in Mumbai - Related
web pages

oppler effect
The Doppler effect, named after Christian Andreas Doppler, is the apparent change in
frequency or wavelength of a wave that is perceived by an observer moving relative to
the source of the waves.
See also:
Health & Medicine
Space & Time
Matter & Energy

The siren on a passing emergency vehicle will start out higher than its stationary pitch,
slide down as it passes, and continue lower than its stationary pitch as it recedes from the

For more information about the topic Doppler effect, read the full article at, or see the following related articles:

Breaking wave — In physics, a breaking wave is a wave whose amplitude reaches a

critical level at which some process can suddenly start to occur that causes large ...
> read more

Electromagnetic radiation — Electromagnetic radiation is a propagating wave

in space with electric and magnetic components. These components oscillate at right
angles to each ... > read more

Alpha wave — Alpha waves are electromagnetic oscillations in the frequency

range of 8-12 Hz arising from synchronous and coherent (in phase / constructive) ...
> read more

Seismic wave — A seismic wave is a wave that travels through the Earth, most
often as the result of a tectonic earthquake, sometimes from an explosion. There are ...
> read more
Note: This page refers to an article that is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation
License. It uses material from the article Doppler effect at See the
Wikipedia copyright page for more details.
What does the Doppler effect measure?

Doppler effect change in the wavelength (or frequency) of energy in the form of waves,
e.g., sound or light, as a result of motion of either the source or the receiver of the waves.
If the source of the waves and the receiver are approaching each other (because of the
motion of either or both), the frequency of the waves will increase and the wavelength
will be shortened—sounds will become higher pitched and light will appear bluer. If the
sender and receiver are moving apart, sounds will become lower pitched and light will
appear redder. A common example is the sudden drop in the pitch of a train whistle as the
train passes a stationary listener. The Doppler effect in reflected radio waves is employed
in radar to sense the velocity of the object under surveillance.

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The swell of a moving typhoon has the same Doppler effect as a moving sound source.
Both originate from the variations in an energy flux. In a sound source this is called a
frequency shift. In a typhoon it is a swell wave height change. A distant typhoon may
generate very high waves through the Doppler effect as the typhoon approaches. A
modification λ is proposed for engineering practice.

change in the wavelength (or frequency) of energy in the form of waves, e.g., sound or
light, as a result of motion of either the source or the receiver of the waves; the effect is
named for the Austrian scientist Christian Doppler, who demonstrated the effect for
sound. If the source of the waves and the receiver are approaching each other (because
of the motion of either or both), the frequency of the waves will increase and the
wavelength will be shortened—sounds will become higher pitched and light will appear
bluer. If the sender and receiver are moving apart, sounds will become lower pitched
and light will appear redder. A common example is the sudden drop in the pitch of a
train whistle as the train passes a stationary listener. The Doppler effect in reflected
radio waves is employed in radar to sense the velocity of the object under surveillance.
In astronomy, the Doppler effect for light is used to measure the velocity and rotation of
stars and galaxies along the direction of sight. In the spectrum of nearly every star there
are wavelengths, characteristic of atoms, that lie near but not quite coincident to the
same wavelengths as measured in the laboratory. The small deviations or shifts are
generally due to the relative motion of the celestial object and the earth. Both blue shifts
and red shifts are observed for various objects, indicating relative motion both toward
and away from the earth. Such shifts have been used to measure the orbital velocity of
the earth, to detect binary stars and variable stars, and to detect rotation of other
galaxies. The Doppler effect is responsible for the red shifts of distant galaxies, and also
of quasars, and thus provides the best evidence for the expansion of the universe, as
described by Hubble's law. In addition to observations of visible light, the Doppler
effect for radio waves is utilized by astronomers to determine the velocities of dust
clouds in the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy. These observations provided the first
direct proof that our own galaxy is rotating. The Doppler shift in radar pulses reflected
from the surfaces of Venus and Mercury have been analyzed to obtain new values for
their periods of rotation about their axes.

Understanding weather radar uses radar images from the U.S. National Weather Service network
that The Weather Channel enhances and send to us. This radar network covers almost all
of the USA. (Related: Latest U.S. radar image, links to local images)

Radar works by sending out a beam of energy then measuring how much of that beam is
reflected back and the time needed for the beam to return.

Objects that reflect the beam back to the radar include rain, snow, sleet and even insects.
If more of the beam is sent back, the object is said to have a high reflectivity and is
indicated by a bright color. Objects which return a small part of the beam have a low
reflectivity and are indicated by darker colors.

Television stations usually describe their radars as "Doppler," but the images you see are
almost always "reflectivity" images like those found on

While the NWS radars and some radars operated by television stations have Doppler
capability to show wind direction and speed, the images are extremely complex and are
much more difficult to understand than reflectivity images. (Related: Doppler radar)

Intensity levels

Radar images are color-coded to indicate precipitation intensity. The scale below is used
on the images. The light blue color is the lightest precipitation and the
purple and white are the heaviest. Sometimes radar images indicate virga, or precipitation
that isn't reaching the ground.
Reflectivity not only depends on precipitation intensity, but also the type of precipitation.
Hail and sleet are made of ice and their surfaces easily reflect radio energy. This can
cause light sleet to appear heavy. Snow, on the other hand, can scatter the beam, causing
moderate to heavy snow to appear light.

Beam blockage

This is caused when objects such as trees, buildings and mountains prevent the radar
beam from reading the precipitation on the other side of them. As a result, the radar
image may show no precipitation over an area where it may actually be raining or

Bow echo

Bow echoes are clusters of thunderstorms that resemble a bow,

where the center of the line extends past the two ends of the
line. This bow shape is a result of strong winds in the upper
levels of the atmosphere that often mix down to the surface.

Ground clutter

Everything radar detects is not always falling from the sky. In this image, it appears that
rain is falling across counties surrounding Dallas, Texas, but its actually not. The black
hole in the center of the green and blue is the actual radar location. Objects other than
those meteorologists are interested in are referred to as "ground clutter." (Related:
Ground clutter)

Hook echo

These are commonly found in a single thunderstorm, in which the reflectivity image
resembles a hook. When this occurs, the thunderstorm is producing a circulation and
possibly a tornado. The rain gets wrapped around this circulation in the shape of a hook.
In this image, a thunderstorm with a hook echo moves across central Oklahoma May 3,
Squall line

An organized line of thunderstorms is known as squall line. These are common during
the spring and are usually triggered along cold fronts. In this picture, a squall line slices
across southern Ohio ahead of a cold front.

Tornado Vortex Signature

Doppler radar can tell when a thunderstorm has Tornado Vortex Signature (TVS). This
indicates where wind directions are changing — known as shear —- within a small area
and there is rotation. There is also a strong possibility that a tornado will form in that
area. A National Weather Service forecaster could issue a tornado warning based on this
radar signature.

The NWS office in Norman, Okla. has TVS images from the May 3, 1999, Oklahoma
City tornado.


Virga is rain that falls out of the clouds but evaporates in a

layer of dry air below the cloud, and never reaches the ground.
The radar is able to pick up the precipitation falling from the
cloud but is unable to see it evaporate close to the ground. A graphic shows how virga can fool weather

Find a

10/28/2005 - Updated 12:26 PM ET

Doppler radar is a key forecasting tool
By Jack Williams, For forecasts, type in a
ZIP code, or the name of
As a hurricane approaches the coast or thunderstorms threaten to a city, a U.S. state, or a
become severe, you're likely to hear about what Doppler radar shows. foreign nation in the box
Doppler refers to the principle the Austrian scientist Christian Doppler
discovered in 1842. Doppler worked out his ideas using sound waves,
long before radio, much less radar, was invented. Go

But the same principle applies to radar's radio waves and to light Today's flight
arriving from distant stars. delays
Forecasts for
The graphics below show the basic principles behind radar and its U.S. cities
Doppler version. Forecasts for
global cities
Source: The USA TODAY Weather Book by Jack Williams

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the National Weather Service installed Doppler radars around
the USA. In addition, some television stations have their own Doppler radars, while others use
images from the NWS radars.

All weather radars send out radio waves from an antenna. Objects in the air, such as raindrops,
snow crystals, hailstones or even insects and dust, scatter or reflect some of the radio waves back
to the antenna. All weather radars, including Doppler, electronically convert the reflected radio
waves into pictures showing the location and intensity of precipitation.

Doppler radars also measure the frequency change in returning radio waves.

Waves reflected by something moving away from the antenna change to a lower frequency, while
waves from an object moving toward the antenna change to a higher frequency.

The computer that's a part of a Doppler radar uses the frequency changes to show directions and
speeds of the winds blowing around the raindrops, insects and other objects that reflected the radio

Scientists and forecasters have learned how to use these pictures of wind motions in storms, or
even in clear air, to more clearly understand what's happening now and what's likely to happen in
the next hour or two.

For more information:

Find a

10/28/2005 - Updated 12:49 PM ET

Mapping the weather
Latest U.S. Doppler radar image
Latest U.S. precipitation forecast
Latest U.S. satellite image

Staying safe
Latest watches and warnings
National thunderstorm forecast
Hazardous weather safety guides

Today's Top Weather Stories

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Doppler Radar: A type of radar that has the capability of detecting motion directly.

3D Hurricane Tracking
Meteorologists Invent Better Way to Monitor Hurricane Strength
September 1, 2007

Meteorologists have developed a new method for analyzing hurricane strength. A series
of mathematical formulas transform data from Doppler radars into a 3-D picture of
storm intensity every 6 minutes. Because of the rapid updates, the technique increases
meteorologists' ability to capture sudden, dangerous changes in hurricanes.

read the full story...

Science Insider

BACKGROUND: Forecasters are testing a new technique called VORTRAC -- Vortex

Objective Radar Tracking and Circulation -- that provides a detailed 3D view of an
approaching hurricane every six minutes and allows them to determine whether the storm
is gathering strength as it nears land. Then they can quickly alert coastal communities if it
suddenly strengthens.

HOW IT WORKS: Developed by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric

Research (NCAR), the technique relies on the existing network of Doppler radars along
the southeast coast to closely monitor hurricanes winds. Each radar can measure winds
blowing toward or away from it, but no single radar could provide a 3D picture of
hurricane winds until now. The NCAR scientists developed a series of mathematical
formulas that combine data from a single radar near the center of a landfalling storm with
general knowledge of Atlantic hurricane structure in order to map the approaching
system's winds in three dimensions. The technique also infers the barometric pressure in
the eye of the hurricane, a very reliable index of its strength. However, because of the
limited range of Doppler radars, VORTRAC works only for hurricanes that are within
about 120 miles of land. In the future, it might be possible to use VORTRAC to help
improve long-range hurricane forecasts by using data from airborne radars to glean
detailed information about a hurricane that is far out to sea.
ABOUT HURRICANES: A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone, a low-pressure
system that usually forms in the tropics and has winds that circulate counterclockwise
near the earth's surface. Storms are considered hurricanes when their wind speeds surpass
74 MPH. Every hurricane arises from the combination of warm water and moist warm
air. Tropical thunderstorms drift out over warm ocean waters and encounter winds
coming in from near the equator. Warm, moist air from the ocean surface rises rapidly,
encounters cooler air, and condensed into water vapor to form storm clouds, releasing
heat in the process. This heat causes the condensation process to continue, so that more
and more warm moist air is drawn into the developing storm, creating a wind pattern that
spirals around the relatively calm center, or eye, of the storm, much like water swirling
down a drain. The winds keep circling and accelerating to form a classic cyclone pattern.

WHAT IS DOPPLER RADAR: Doppler radar uses a well-known effect of light called
the Doppler shift. Just as a train whistle will sound higher as it approaches a platform and
then become lower in pitch as it moves away, light emitted by a moving object is
perceived to increase in frequency (a blue shift) if it is moving toward the observer; if the
object is moving away from us, it will be shifted toward the red end of the spectrum.
Doppler radar sends out radio waves that bounce off objects in the air, such as raindrops
or snow crystals, and then measures how much the frequency changes in returning radio
waves to better determine wind direction and speed.

Hurricane Detection, Tracking, and

A policy statement of the American Meteorological Society as adopted by the Executive
Committee on 23 April 1993


1. Introduction
2. Scientific understanding of tropical cyclones
3. Hurricane-related hazards
4. The state of hurricane tracking and forecasting
5. Prospects and priorities for the next decade

1. Introduction

Our ability to understand and deal effectively with hurricanes is tested annually in the
United States and worldwide. In 1992, three major hurricanes — Andrew, Iniki, and
Omar — caused extensive damage to the United States. As these hurricanes approached
our coastline, the importance and need for accurate forecasting of hurricane movement
and intensity and for improved emergency preparedness planning and response was made
clear to the nation.

Hurricanes (typhoons in the western North Pacific) are a member of a class of systems
referred to as tropical cyclones. The term hurricane is applied whenever the surface
winds, rotating about a tropical cyclone center, or "eye," reach a sustained wind speed of
64 kt (74 mph or 33 m/s). Although there are some differences in strength and behavior
of tropical cyclones in the various regions of the tropics, the dynamics of these
disturbances are similar. This statement examines the hurricane problem from a research
and scientific point of view. A separate AMS Policy Statement (Bull. Amer. Meteor.
Soc.,May 1986, p. 537) addresses the hurricane warning system and preparedness efforts

Top of Document

2. Scientific understanding of tropical cyclones

Tropical cyclones form from relatively common tropical weather systems, referred to as
cloud clusters. These groups of loosely organized, deep cumulus clouds occur in a variety
of tropical weather situations, but in the Atlantic the most common pattern for storm
genesis has historically been intensification of tropical waves that regularly move off the
west coast of Africa during the Atlantic hurricane season. Most cloud clusters and
tropical waves, however, do not evolve into tropical cyclones. In this sense, the hurricane
is a rare phenomenon.

The initiation of a vortex with winds of moderate strength (cyclogenesis) can occur very
rapidly, often in less than a day. The climatology of Atlantic tropical cyclogenesis
suggests that formation is favored when a strong convective disturbance occurs in a
region where the air is already "spinning" in a cyclonic (counterclockwise) direction.
Other favorable factors, such as weak vertical wind shear, low-level inflow, and high-
level outflow, have also been identified. Interactions between incipient disturbances and
upper-tropospheric systems often contribute to cyclone development as well. Genesis
almost always occurs over warm tropical waters. The dynamics of the initial stage of the
tropical cyclone's life cycle is not well understood due to the lack of observations in the
regions of storm genesis and the complexity of the interactions between the many scales
of motion involved in formation.

Intensification of the weak circulation into a hurricane can be thought of as the evolution
of a vortex in which the dominant forces are in approximate balance. The balance of
forces near the sea surface is altered by the friction, causing moisture-rich air to move
toward the storm center. Clouds near the center are organized into spiral-rainband
structures by a complex, poorly understood interaction between the physics of the clouds,
the strong rotation in the vortex, and the atmospheric conditions in the environment of the
storm. The strengthening winds extract ever larger amounts of water vapor from the
warm ocean. As this water vapor rises near the center, it cools and condenses; the latent
heat thus released creates a warm central core, and air is drawn toward the center,
contracting the vortex and further spinning up the winds. The reasons that some
disturbances intensify to hurricane, while others do not, are not well understood. Also
unknown are the reasons that some hurricanes become severe while others do not.

Although the small-scale details of the storm may change continuously, and sometimes
rapidly, the tropical cyclone, as a whole, is a stable system that may persist for many days
over the warm tropical ocean. During this time, a tropical cyclone moves in the general
direction of the broad-scale wind patterns in which it is embedded. Tropical cyclones
dissipate rapidly after landfall, due primarily to the loss of the surface moisture source.
The vortex may retain some organization, particularly in the middle troposphere, for
several days after landfall. Storms that move poleward over cold waters tend to weaken at
a slower rate than those storms that move over land. In either case, the circulation center
frequently interacts or combines with a midlatitude weather system and, in the process,
loses its warm core structure. The transformed system can still produce substantial

Top of Document

3. Hurricane-related hazards

In the coastal zone of the United States, extensive damage and loss of life are caused by
the storm surge, heavy rains, strong winds, and hurricane-spawned tornadoes. Usually,
when large loss of life occurs, it is due to the storm surge. The height of the storm surge
varies from 3–5 ft (1–2 m) for weak systems to more than 20 ft (6 m) for strong storms
striking areas with shallow water offshore. The dome of water associated with Hurricane
Andrew reached a height of about 17 ft, the highest level recorded for the southeast
Florida Peninsula, and with Hurricane Hugo (1989) reached a height of nearly 20 ft (6 m)
about 20 miles northeast of Charleston, North Carolina. In the case of Hurricane Hugo,
the surge exceeded 10 ft (3 m) over a distance of nearly 100 miles at the coastline.

In regions with good building codes, wind damage is typically not as catastrophic as
storm surge damage, but affects a much larger area and can lead to large economic loss.
For instance, winds associated with Hurricane Andrew produced over $20 billion of
damage over the southern Florida and Louisiana area. Tornadoes occur in most
hurricanes that strike the United States, but generally account for little of the total storm

Although hurricanes are mainly coastal hazards, the weakening storm circulation, with its
moisture-laden air, can produce extensive flooding hundreds of miles inland long after
the winds have lost hurricane force. Occasionally the damage from inland flooding
exceeds storm surge destruction. Although the deaths from storm surge and wind along
Florida's coast from the remnants of Hurricane Agnes in 1972 were minimal, over 200
deaths were attributed to inland flash flooding over the northeastern United States. Not all
hurricane-related phenomena are detrimental to humankind, however. Hurricane rainfall,
for example, has often benefitted drought-stricken areas.
Top of Document

4. The state of hurricane tracking and forecasting

a. Hurricane tracking

Since tropical cyclones usually form far at sea and spend much of their existence over
remote oceanic areas, detection and monitoring of these storms have traditionally posed
serious problems to the forecaster. The advent of geostationary weather satellites has
largely solved the detection problem and has improved the monitoring problem.
However, the satellites are remote sensors and it is not unusual for position estimates to
have errors of tens of miles or for wind speed estimates to be in error by tens of knots.
Although advancements have been made using microwave imagery, it is still not possible
to determine surface wind field distributions or detailed structural characteristics of
tropical cyclones from present satellites. A combination of observing systems is
necessary to provide the data required for accurate forecasts and warnings.

The principal sources of data in addition to weather satellites are reconnaissance aircraft,
coastal radars, and measurements from ships, buoys, and land stations. Reconnaissance
aircraft can measure details of a storm's structure when a tropical cyclone is within range
of staging areas used by the aircraft. Theses specially instrumented aircraft provided
accurate information on the storm's position and its current state of evolution. Surface
winds can be measured from the aircraft using remote sensing techniques. Despite
advancements of remote sensing capabilities from satellites, measurements from
reconnaissance aircraft will be required for the foreseeable future to maintain the present
level of accuracy for forecasts of landfalling tropical cyclones in the United States.

b. Hurricane track forecasting

The environmental flow in which the tropical cyclone is embedded is the main factor
determining its track. Also important for track and intensity forecasts are the internal
structure of the tropical cyclone and the interaction of this structure with its environment.
Accurate prediction requires detailed measurements on scales that range from the storm's
large-scale environment to its small inner core.

A recent assessment of the role of aircraft reconnaissance on tropical cyclone analysis

and forecasting (Gray et al. 1991 ) concludes that center-fix aircraft reconnaissance is
required for optimum short-range (0–24 h) forecasts of cyclone landfall and storm surge.
Unfortunately, the present reconnaissance aircraft fleet and weather satellite information
cannot provide the full three-dimensional data required for hurricane track forecasting.
Omega dropwindsondes deployed from the aircraft can provide wind, temperature, and
moisture information from flight level to the surface, and have been shown to have a
positive impact on track forecast models. The aircraft are relatively slow, however, and
the information derived from the sondes does not cover the important region above flight
level. The remote-sensing satellite data are limited in accuracy and coverage, particularly
at the critical middle-troposphere levels.
A tropical cyclone forecast involves the prediction of several interrelated quantities, but
the fundamental element of the forecast is the future motion of the storm. Track
prediction serves as the basis for forecasting other storm features, such as winds, rainfall,
and storm surge, and, of course, the areas threatened. Normally, motion forecasts out to
72 h are issued every 6 h. These forecasts are based on guidance, ranging from simple
climatological aids to complex dynamical and statistical–dynamical models. However,
inconsistencies in quality and availability of these guidance products limit their utility.
Thus tropical cyclone forecasting remains rather subjective, and forecaster skill and
experience are important ingredients in the success of the forecast.

National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast errors, the distance between a forecast and the
subsequent observed position of the storm center, for the decade 1982–1991 averaged 54
(100), 104 (193), 206 (383), and 309 (573) n mi (km) for the 12-, 24-, 48-, and the 72-h
forecasts, respectively. Using a combination of climatology and persistence as a basis for
comparison, track forecast skill exists at time intervals out to 72 h, with the 48-h forecast
showing the highest level of skill. Forecast errors show large spatial variation, averaging
up to 30% greater than the mean in the central Atlantic, and up to 30% less than the mean
over the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. These differences arise from better data
availability in the latter areas, as well as from the different characteristics of hurricane
motion within these areas.

A recent study shows that NHC 24-h forecast errors have declined about 14% over the
past 20 years. This decline can be attributed to various factors, especially the improved
ability, beginning in the early 1960s, to monitor and track these storms with satellite
imagery. Recent improvements in dynamical and statistical–dynamical models used as
forecast guidance have also contributed to decreased errors.

Consistent with current forecast accuracy, it is necessary to issue hurricane warnings for
rather large coastal areas. Warnings issued 24 h before hurricane landfall average 300 n
mi (560 km) in length. Normally, the swath of damage encompasses about one-third of
the warned area, so the ratio of affected area to warned area is about one to three. In other
words, approximately two-thirds of the area is, in effect, "overwarned." Such
overwarning is not only costly, but also results in a loss of credibility in the warnings.
The National Weather Service's Hurricane Probability Program was implemented as an
attempt to quantify the uncertainty implicit in hurricane forecasts.

c. Forecasting hurricane intensity and coastal hazards

Numerical models can predict the storm surge inundation associated with a given
hurricane with a reasonable degree of accuracy provided that the forecast of the
hurricane's track and intensity are adequate. However, in view of the inherent inaccuracy
in track forecasting, overwarning of storm surge flooding remains a problem.

Considerable improvement is needed in the understanding and prediction of tropical

cyclone intensity changes. Present operational forecasts are only slightly better than
objective forecasts that are based on persistence and climatology. Mean NHC absolute
errors of maximum hurricane wind speed, most often based on satellite estimates for the
decade 1981–1990, are 8.2 (4.2), 11.4 (5.9), 15.6 (8.0), and 19.1 (9.8) kt (m s-1) for the
12-, 24-, 48-, and 72-h forecasts, respectively. These errors are deceptively low, however,
since they are heavily weighted toward the average condition where intensity changes are
gradual and persistence forecasts work well. They do not reflect the occasional large
misses that can occur with rapid strengthening or weakening of a storm. The inability to
anticipate these changes for a storm that is less than 24 h from landfall is of great

There is little skill in the prediction of hurricane-related rainfall. Areas of heavy rainfall
can be monitored, however, from conventional radars along the United States coast. The
prediction problem is complicated by terrain effects and uncertainties arising from the
forecast of the track. Although in situ estimates by research aircraft of the precipitation
distribution in a hurricane are becoming available, rainfall prediction remains rather
subjective. Estimates of rainfall based on satellite imagery and numerical models appear
to offer promising avenues for improvement.

Top of Document

5. Prospects and priorities for the next decade

Despite reductions in track forecast errors from objective dynamical and statistical–
dynamical models in recent years, operational hurricane forecast errors have not
decreased enough to solve the forecast problem. To achieve smaller errors, the models
that provide objective guidance to the forecasters must become more reliable, and more
data are needed. Until such improvements can be effected, forecasting methods will
continue to be subjective; disaster preparedness officials and the public should be kept
aware of current limitations in forecast accuracy.

The reliability and interpretation of the output from the dynamical forecast models is
clouded by uncertainties in specifying their initial conditions. Therefore, obtaining an
improved initial analysis should be a high priority. These improvements must come about
primarily through increased data availability, but also through better analysis
methodologies. Additional reliable data should be acquired in the hurricane and its
environment throughout the depth of the troposphere. Reconnaissance aircraft with
upgraded instrumentation is also an important component for improved data coverage in
the hurricane core. Simulation experiments should be designed, as well, to determine the
observations that are optimal for improved initialization of track forecast models. In the
absence of true observations, interjection of synthetic data to represent a hurricane-like
disturbance in the dynamical model initial conditions is an alternative strategy being
pursued by several forecast centers. Improved representation of tropical cyclones in the
numerical forecast models has recently become feasible because the analysis centers have
begun distributing basic quantitative information on storm positions and intensity.

Global models provide boundary conditions for dynamical hurricane models with limited
domains, and have sufficiently high resolution to provide competitive forecasts of
hurricane tracks out to 72 h. The improved performance of 48- and 72-h forecasts during
the past few years indicates that these models are getting better, but still perform
relatively poorly in the data-sparse tropical oceanic areas where hurricanes form and
move. Improvements needed included better representations for some physical processes,
such as cumulus convection and air–sea interaction, which are of particular importance in
the tropics. It is encouraging that the latest high-resolution hurricane-prediction models
allow improved representation of the hurricane's inner core structure. These new models
show promise for the ability to predict trends in the storm intensity since they can resolve
mesoscale features (eye, eyewall, spiral bands) that are important for these changes.
However, the forecast ability of the models will be limited by the sparsity of available
data. Further observational studies are needed as well to improve our conceptual models
of the physical processes through which tropical cyclones vary in intensity.

The continued advancement in computer technology, and progress in dynamical

modeling and associated initial analysis methodology, has moved well beyond the ability
of the available data to describe the initial state to the accuracy and resolution required by
these models. For us to realize the potential of existing models and those on the near
horizon, major improvements in the data available for the inner core of the tropical
cyclone and its near and far environment throughout the troposphere are required. Such
data acquisition seems possible with current technology using midsize jet aircraft
providing in situ and remote sensing capabilities for use in the tropical cyclone and its
near environment, coupled with improved satellite remote-sensing capabilities and
perhaps unmanned aircraft providing in situ data. These data would be supplemented by
coastal land-based Doppler radars. A potential for substantial improvements in tropical
cyclone track and intensity forecasts would seem to be within reach if a substantially
greater data coverage could be made available to the more advanced models on a regular

We must also guard against any deterioration of our observing platform network. For
example, the importance of meteorological satellites in hurricane detection and
monitoring must not be underestimated. The current GOES weather satellite
configuration is limited to one aging satellite that must support many operational needs.
Replacement satellites may not be ready until the mid-1990s, resulting in a chancy
reliance on the current satellite and contingency plans.

The primary goal of both research and operational groups is to minimize loss of life from
hurricanes. Unfortunately, evacuation times for some communities now exceed what can
reasonably be expected from present and projected forecast abilities. Thus, a concerted
scientific effort to improve forecasts must be combined with community development
and preparedness programs to reduce evacuation times. The hurricane problem is
complex and difficult, but is not insurmountable.

Gray, W. M., C. J. Neumann, and T. L. Tsui, 1991: Assessment of the role of aircraft
reconnaissance on tropical cyclone anlysis and forecasting. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 72,

Top of Document Policy Statement Home Page AMS Home Page

© 1996 American Meteorological Society

Hurricane Detection
It is human nature to prevent bad things occur. However, up to now, scientists
cannot find a way to prevent hurricanes...the only thing we can do is to detect
hurricanes, plot the path and minimize the possible damages. Using our bare eyes
can't detect hurricanes--therefore, getting information about hurricanes needs
special equipment.

Weather forecasters and meteorologists have 2 ways to detect hurricanes: direct

and indirect methods.

Direct dimensions and speed measurements:

--Aircrafts fly near the hurricane to collect information. Some planes even fly right
into the eye of the storm.
--Ships measure the heat of the sea around the storm. Hurricanes often get stronger
when moving toward warmer water. Ships near the hurricane also collect

Indirect observational methods:

--Satellites take pictures of the Earth from space. The pictures are taken over a long
time, showing the direction and speed of the storm. The colours on satellite pictures
of storms help meteorologists to measure temperature and rainfall in different parts
of the hurricane and to estimate its strength and course.
--Doppler radar converts its detection into pictures showing the location and intensity
of precipitation and the wind motions in storms

Once a hurricane has been spotted, it is given a name. See naming hurricanes. It is
important that people who live in the path of a hurricane get as much warning as
possible. People need time to prepare for the hurricane, such as move animals in
from farms, cover up their windows, or even get away from the area.

Hurricane Detection (cont.)

Below are some pictures relating to hurricane detection:

These are called reconnaissance aircrafts.

Left: ASOS Sensor in Salinas, CA (SNS) Right: ASOS on NWS Headquarters roof in
Silver Spring, MD
*** ASOS stands for The Automated Surface Observing Systems in USA. Click here for
more information.

How Does Doppler Radar Work?

By Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Guide

See More About:

• doppler effect
• electromagnetic radiation
• weather

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Question: How Does Doppler Radar Work?

Answer: There are actually two answers to this question, depending on which form of
Doppler radar is being spoken of. True Doppler radar is what is used by police officer
"radar guns" to determine the speed of a motor vehicle. Another form is the Pulse-
Doppler radar which is used to track the speed of weather precipitation.

Doppler Radar - Police Radar Gun

Doppler radar works by sending a beam of electromagnetic radiation waves, tuned to a
precise frequency, at a moving object. (You can use Doppler radar on a stationary object,
of course, but it's fairly uninteresting.)

When the electromagnetic radiation wave hits the moving object, it "bounces" back
toward the source, which also contains a receiver as well as the original transmitter.
However, since the wave reflected off of the moving object, the wave is shifted as
outlined by the relativistic Doppler effect.

Since the electromagnetic radiation was at a precise frequency when sent out and is at a
new frequency upon its return, this can be used to calculate the velocity, v, of the target
(which acts as a intermediary source).

Pulse-Doppler Radar - Weather Doppler Radar

When watching the weather, it is this system which allows for the swirling depictions of
weather patterns and, more importantly, detailed analysis of their movement.

The Pulse-Doppler radar system allows not only the determination of linear velocity, as
in the case of the radar gun, but also allows for the calculation of radial velocities. It does
this by sending pulses instead of beams of radiation. The shift not only in frequency, but
also in carrier cycles, allows one to determine these radial velocities.

In order to achieve this, careful control of the radar system is required. The system has to
be in a coherent state which allows for stability of the phases of the radiation pulses. One
drawback to this is that there is a maximum speed above which the Pulse-Doppler system
cannot measure radial velocity.

To understand this, consider a situation where the measurement causes the phase of the
pulse to shift by 400 degrees. Mathematically, this is identical to a shift of 40 degrees,
because it has gone through an entire cycle (a full 360 degrees). Speeds causing shifts
such as this are called the "blind speed." It is a function of the pulsed repetition frequency
of the signal, so by altering this signal meteorologists can prevent this to some degree.

Are there any other radar images available besides the current four?
How does the radar work?
Is every thing I see on the images an accurate picture of my
What are the different types of radar images?
How often are the images updated?
What is Clear Air Mode?
What is Precipitation Mode?
What do the colors mean in the reflectivity products?
What is the difference between base and composite
What is UTC Time? Are there any other radar images available besides the current four
The National Weather Service has a central collection of WSR-88D radar products in
process. While we currently only display four of those products (Base Reflectivity,
Composite Reflectivity, One-Hour Precipitation, and Storm Total Precipitation) through
these local radar pages, you can receive all products through a "multicast" flow or via
standard anonymous FTP from the Gateway file servers. Information on the other
products and the type of computer equipment you need to receive the products can be
found at the Radar Product Central Collection/Distribution Service webpage.

How does the radar work?

NEXRAD (Next Generation Radar) obtains weather information (precipitation and
wind) based upon returned energy. The radar emits a burst of energy (green). If the
energy strikes an object (rain drop, bug, bird, etc), the energy is scattered in all directions
(blue). A small fraction of that scattered energy is directed back
toward the radar.

This reflected signal is then received by the radar during its

listening period. Computers analyze the strength of the returned
pulse, time it took to travel to the object and back, and phase shift
of the pulse. This process of emitting a signal, listening for any
returned signal, then emitting the next signal, takes place very fast,
up to around 1300 times each second.
NEXRAD spends the vast amount of time "listening" for returning signals it sent. When
the time of all the pulses each hour are totaled (the time the radar is actually
transmitting), the radar is "on" for about 7 seconds each hour. The remaining 59 minutes
and 53 seconds are spent listening for any returned signals.

The ability to detect the "shift in the phase" of the pulse of energy makes NEXRAD a
Doppler radar. The phase of the returning signal typically changes based upon the motion
of the raindrops (or bugs, dust, etc.). This Doppler effect was named after the Austrian
physicist, Christian Doppler, who discovered it. You have most likely experienced the
"Doppler effect" around trains.

As a train passes your location, you may have noticed the pitch in the train's whistle
changing from high to low. As the train approaches, the sound waves that make up the
whistle are compressed making the pitch higher than if the train was stationary. Likewise,
as the train moves away from you, the sound waves are stretched, lowering the pitch of
the whistle. The faster the train moves, the greater the change in the whistle's pitch as it
passes your location.

The same effect takes place in the atmosphere as a pulse of energy from NEXRAD
strikes an object and is reflected back toward the radar. The radar's computers measure
the phase change of the reflected pulse of energy which then convert that change to a
velocity of the object, either toward or from the radar. Information on the movement of
objects either toward or away from the radar can be used to estimate the speed of the
wind. This ability to "see" the wind is what enables the National Weather Service to
detect the formation of tornados which, in turn, allows us to issue tornado warnings with
more advanced notice.

Is everything I see on the images an accurate picture of my weather?

Weather surveillance radars such as the WSR-88D can detect most precipitation within
approximately 80 nautical miles (nm) of the radar, and intense rain or snow within
approximately 140 nm. However, light rain, light snow, or drizzle from shallow cloud
weather systems are not necessarily detected.

Echoes from surface targets appear in almost all radar reflectivity images. In the
immediate area of the radar, "ground clutter" generally appears within a radius of 20 nm.
This appears as a roughly circular region with echoes that show little spatial continuity. It
results from radio energy reflected back to the radar from outside the central radar beam,
from the earth's surface or buildings.

Under highly stable atmospheric conditions (typically on calm, clear nights), the radar
beam can be refracted almost directly into the ground at some distance from the radar,
resulting in an area of intense-looking echoes. This "anomalous propagation"
phenomenon (commonly known as AP) is much less common than ground clutter.
Certain sites situated at low elevations on coastlines regularly detect "sea return", a
phenomenon similar to ground clutter except that the echoes come from ocean waves.

Returns from aerial targets are also rather common. Echoes from migrating birds
regularly appear during nighttime hours between late February and late May, and again
from August through early November. Return from insects is sometimes apparent during
July and August. The apparent intensity and areal coverage of these features is partly
dependent on radio propagation conditions, but they usually appear within 30 nm of the
radar and produce reflectivities of <30 dBZ (decibels of Z).
However, during the peaks of the bird migration seasons, in April and early September,
extensive areas of the south-central U.S. may be covered by such echoes. Finally, aircraft
often appear as "point targets" far from the radar, particularly in composite reflectivity

The radar is also limited close in by its inability to scan directly overhead. Therefore,
close to the radar, data are not available due to the radar's maximum tilt elevation of
19.5°. This area is commonly referred to as the radar's "Cone of Silence".

Though surface echoes appear in the base and composite reflectivity images, special
automated error checking generally removes their effects from precipitation accumulation
products. The national reflectivity mosaic product is also automatically edited to detect
and remove most nonprecipitation features. Even with limited experience, users of
unedited products can differentiate precipitation from other echoes, if they are aware of
the general meteorological situation.

What are the different types of radar images?

Base Reflectivity
This is a display of echo intensity (reflectivity) measured in dBZ (decibels of Z,
where Z represents the energy reflected back to the radar). "Reflectivity" is the
amount of transmitted power returned to the radar receiver. Base Reflectivity
images are available at several different elevation angles (tilts) of the antenna and
are used to detect precipitation, evaluate storm structure, locate atmospheric
boundaries and determine hail potential.

The base reflectivity image currently available on this website is from the lowest
"tilt" angle (0.5°). This means the radar's antenna is tilted 0.5° above the horizon.

The maximum range of the "short range" (S Rng) base reflectivity product is
124 nm (about 143 miles) from the radar location. This view will not display
echoes that are more distant than 124 nm, even though precipitation may be
occurring at greater distances. To determine if precipitation is occurring at greater
distances, select the "long range" (L Rng) view (out to 248 nm/286 mi), select
an adjacent radar, or link to the National Reflectivity Mosaic.
Composite Reflectivity
This display is of maximum echo intensity (reflectivity) from any elevation angle
at every range from the radar. This product is used to reveal the highest
reflectivity in all echoes. When compared with Base Reflectivity, the Composite
Reflectivity can reveal important storm structure features and intensity trends of

The maximum range of the "long range" (L Rng) composite reflectivity product
is 248 nm (about 286 miles) from the radar location. The "blocky" appearance of
this product is due to its lower spatial resolution on a 2.2 * 2.2 nm grid. It has
one-fourth the resolution of the Base Reflectivity and one-half the resolution of
the Precipitation products.

Although the Composite Reflectivity product is able to display maximum echo

intensities 248 nm from the radar, the beam of the radar at this distance is at a
very high altitude in the atmosphere. Thus, only the most intense convective
storms and tropical systems will be detected at the longer distances.

Because of this fact, special care must be taken interpreting this product. While
the radar image may not indicate precipitation it's quite possible that the radar
beam is overshooting precipitation at lower levels, especially at greater distances.
To determine if precipitation is occurring at greater distances link to an adjacent
radar or link to the National Reflectivity Mosaic.

For a higher resolution (1.1 * 1.1 nm grid) composite reflectivity image, select
the short range (S Rng) view. The image is less "blocky" as compared to the long
range image. However, the maximum range is reduced to 124 nm (about 143
miles) from the radar location.
One-hour Precipitation
This is an image of estimated one-hour precipitation accumulation on a 1.1 nm by
1 degree grid. This product is used to assess rainfall intensities for flash flood
warnings, urban flood statements and special weather statements. The maximum
range of this product is 124 nm (about 143 miles) from the radar location. This
product will not display accumulated precipitation more distant than 124 nm, even
though precipitation may be occurring at greater distances. To determine
accumulated precipitation at greater distances you should link to an adjacent
Storm Total Precipitation
This image is of estimated accumulated rainfall, continuously updated, since the
last one-hour break in precipitation. This product is used to locate flood potential
over urban or rural areas, estimate total basin runoff and provide rainfall
accumulations for the duration of the event.

The maximum range of this product is 124 nm (about 143 miles) from the radar
location. This product will not display accumulated precipitation more distant
than 124 nm, even though precipitation may be occurring at greater distances. To
determine accumulated precipitation at greater distances link to an adjacent radar.

How often are the images updated?

Image updates are based upon the operation mode of the radar at the time the image is
generated. The WSR-88D Doppler radar is operated in one of two modes -- clear air
mode or precipitation mode. In clear air mode, images are updated every 10 minutes. In
precipitation mode, images are updated every four to six minutes. The collection of radar
data, repeated at regular time intervals, is referred to as a volume scan.

Clear Air Mode

In this mode, the radar is in its most sensitive operation. This mode has the slowest
antenna rotation rate which permits the radar to sample a given volume of the atmosphere
longer. This increased sampling increases the radar's sensitivity and ability to detect
smaller objects in the atmosphere than in precipitation mode. A lot of what you will see
in clear air mode will be airborne dust and particulate matter. Also, snow does not reflect
energy sent from the radar very well. Therefore, clear air mode will occasionally be used
for the detection of light snow.

The radar continuously scans the atmosphere by completing volume coverage patterns
(VCP). A VCP consists of the radar making several 360° scans of the atmosphere,
sampling a set of increasing elevation angles. There are two clear mode VCPs.

In clear air mode, the radar begins a volume scan at the 0.5° elevation angle (i.e., the
radar antenna is angled 0.5° above the ground). Once it makes two full sweeps (a
surveillance/reflectivity sweep and a Doppler/velocity sweep) at the 0.5° elevation angle,
it increases to 1.5° and makes two more 360° rotations. For one of the clear air mode
VCPs, two full sweeps are also made at 2.5°. Otherwise, at the higher elevations (2.5°,
3.5°, and 4.5°) a single sweep is made (reflectivity and velocity data are collected

This process is repeated at 2.5°, 3.5°, and 4.5°. Then the radar returns to the 0.5°
elevation angle to begin the next volume scan which will repeat the same sequence of
elevation angles. In clear air mode, the complete scan of the atmosphere takes about 10
minutes at 5 different elevation angles.

Precipitation Mode
When precipitation is occurring, the radar does not need to be as sensitive as in clear air
mode as rain provides plenty of returning signals. At the same time, meteorologists want
to see higher in the atmosphere when precipitation is occurring to analyze the vertical
structure of the storms. This is when the meteorologists switch the radar to precipitation
mode using one of two volume coverage patterns.

Both precipitation VCP's begin like the clear air mode mentioned above with the same
evaluations scans as in the clear air mode. The difference is the radar continues looking
higher in the atmosphere, up to 19.5° to complete the volume scan. The time it takes to
complete the entire volume scan is also less. In the slower VCP, the radar completes the
volume scan of nine different elevations in six minutes. In the faster VCP, the radar
completes 14 different elevation scans in five minutes.

Differences in the quality of radar images between the two precipitation mode VCPs are
relatively minor. Therefore, during severe weather, the faster VCP is almost always used
as it provides the meteorologists with the quickest updates and most elevation slices
through the storms.

In summary, when the radar is in clear air mode, radar images will be updated
approximately every ten minutes. In precipitation mode, the updates will occur around
five to six minutes apart.

What do the colors mean in the reflectivity products?

The colors are the different echo intensities (reflectivity) measured in dBZ
(decibels of Z) during each elevation scan. "Reflectivity" is the amount of
transmitted power returned to the radar receiver. Reflectivity (designated by
the letter Z) covers a wide range of signals (from very weak to very strong).
So, a more convenient number for calculations and comparison, a decibel (or
logarithmic) scale (dBZ), is used.

The dBZ values increase as the strength of the signal returned to the radar
increases. Each reflectivity image you see includes one of two color scales.
One scale (far left) represents dBZ values when the radar is in clear air mode
(dBZ values from -28 to +28). The other scale (near left) represents dBZ
values when the radar is in precipitation mode (dBZ values from 5 to
75). Notice the color on each scale remains the same in both Rainrate
operational modes, only the values change. The value of the dBZ dBZ
depends upon the mode the radar is in at the time the image was 65 16+
60 8.00
The scale of dBZ values is also related to the intensity of rainfall. 55 4.00
Typically, light rain is occurring when the dBZ value reaches 20. The 52 2.50
higher the dBZ, the stronger the rainrate. Depending on the type of weather 47 1.25
occurring and the area of the U.S., forecasters use a set of rainrates which are 41 0.50
associated to the dBZ values.
36 0.25
These values are estimates of the rainfall per hour, updated each volume scan, with 30 0.10
rainfall accumulated over time. Hail is a good reflector of energy and will return 20 Trace
very high dBZ values. Since hail can cause the rainfall estimates to be higher than
what is actually occurring, steps are taken to prevent these high dBZ values from being
converted to rainfall. What is the difference between base and composite reflectivity?
The main difference is composite reflectivity shows the highest dBZ (strongest reflected
energy) at all elevation scans, not just the reflected energy at a single elevation scan. This
can be seen in the images below from the Salt Lake City radar.

Notice the additional reflectivity that is visible in the composite reflectivity (far right). It
is most readily seen around the Base Reflectivity Composite Reflectivity
name 'Wendover'. Also notice
the composite view displays a
slightly larger area of heavy
rain (orange-red area to the
west of Wendover).

Why the difference? Base

reflectivity only shows
reflected energy at a single
elevation scan of the radar. Composite reflectivity displays the highest reflectivity of
ALL elevations scans. So, if heavier precipitation is higher in the atmosphere over an area
of lighter precipitation (the heavier rain that has yet to reach the ground), the composite
reflectivity image will display the stronger dBZ level.

This occurs often with severe thunderstorms. The updraft, which feeds the thunderstorm
with moist air, is strong enough to keep a large amount of water aloft. Once the updraft
can no longer support the weight of suspended water then the rain intensity at the surface
increases as the rain falls from the cloud.

What is UTC Time?

Standard Time Daylight Saving
Diff +10 -10 -9 -8 -7 -6 -5 -4 -7 -6 -5 -4
00 10a 2p* 3p* 4p* 5p* 6p* 7p* 8p* 5p* 6p* 7p* 8p*
01 11a 3p* 4p* 5p* 6p* 7P* 8p* 9p* 6p* 7p* 8p* 9p*
02 12N 4p* 5p* 6p* 7p* 8p* 9p* 10p* 7p* 8p* 9p* 10p*
03 1p 5p* 6p* 7p* 8p* 9p* 10p* 11p* 8p* 9p* 10* 11p*
04 2p 6p* 7p* 8p* 9p* 10p* 11p* 12M 9p* 10p* 11p* 12M
05 3p 7p* 8p* 9p* 10p* 11p* 12M 1a 10p* 11p* 12M 1a
06 4p 8p* 9p* 10p* 11p* 12M 1a 2a 11p* 12M 1a 2a
07 5p 9p* 10p* 11p* 12M 1a 2a 3a 12M 1a 2a 3a
08 6p 10p* 11p* 12M 1a 2a 3a 4a 1a 2a 3a 4a
09 7p 11p* 12M 1a 2a 3a 4a 5a 2a 3a 4a 5a
10 8p 12M 1a 2a 3a 4a 5a 6a 3a 4a 5a 6a
11 9p 1a 2a 3a 4a 5a 6a 7a 4a 5a 6a 7a
12 10p 2a 3a 4a 5a 6a 7a 8a 5a 6a 7a 8a
13 11p 3a 4a 5a 6a 7a 8a 9a 6a 7a 8a 9a
14 12M% 4a 5a 6a 7a 8a 9a 10a 7a 8a 9a 10
15 1a% 5a 6a 7a 8a 9a 10a 11a 8a 9a 10a 11a
16 2a% 6a 7a 8a 9a 10a 11a 12N 9a 10a 11a 12N
17 3a% 7a 8a 9a 10a 11a 12N 1p 10a 11a 12N 1p
18 4a% 8a 9a 10a 11a 12N 1p 2p 11a 12N 1p 2p
19 5a% 9a 10a 11a 12N 1p 2p 3p 12N 1p 2p 3p
20 6a% 10a 11a 12N 1p 2p 3p 4p 1p 2p 3p 4p
21 7a% 11a 12N 1p 2p 3p 4p 5p 2p 3p 4p 5p
22 8a% 12N 1p 2p 3p 4p 5p 6p 3p 4p 5p 6p
23 9a% 1p 2p 3p 4p 5p 6p 7p 4p 5p 6p 7p
AST - Atlantic, AK - Alaska time, HI - Hawaii time, *The previous day, %The next
Weather observations around the world (including radar observations) are always taken
with respect to a standard time. By convention, the world's weather communities use a
twenty four hour clock, similar to "military" time based on the 0° longitude meridian,
also known as the Greenwich meridian.

Prior to 1972, this time was called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) but is now referred to
as Coordinated Universal Time or Universal Time Coordinated (UTC). It is a coordinated
time scale, maintained by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM). It is
also known a "Z time" or "Zulu Time".

To obtain your local time here in the United States, you need to subtract a certain number
of hours from UTC depending on how many time zones you are away from Greenwich
(England). The table (right) shows the standard difference from UTC time to local time.

The switch to daylight saving time does not affect UTC. It refers to time on the zero or
Greenwich meridian, which is not adjusted to reflect changes either to or from Daylight
Saving Time.
However, you need to know what happens during daylight saving time in the United
States. In short, the local time is advanced one hour during daylight saving time. As an
example, the Eastern Time zone difference from UTC is a -4 hours during daylight
saving time rather than -5 hours as it is during standard time.
National Weather Service, Page Authors: Dennis R. Cain and Paul
NOAA Kirkwood
1325 East-West Highway Last Modified: March 3, 2005
Silver Spring, MD 20910