SEVERE WEATHER 101: The Future of Tracking Storms

12lAs we wrap up our series of reports this week, I wanted to take a moment to tell you what’s coming in the near future for weather forecasting and storm tracking.  Without getting into the details, scientists continue to work on and improve the computers and the algorithms they use to predict the weather as accurately as possible.  This helps forecasting accuracy improve all the time.  The biggest improvement that many are getting excited about is Doppler radar.

Earlier this week I spoke about WSR-88D.  The network of radars operated by the National Weather Service is better known as NEXRAD.  For 20 years, NEXRAD has served as the backbone for detecting severe weather.  The array has also DRAMATICALLY reduced storm related deaths by increasing warning times for dangerous storms.  But 20 years is a long time and it’s time for something new.

That’s why the National Weather Service is in the process of upgrading the nation’s radar network.  These modifications will make NEXRAD a dual-polarization radar system.  At this time there are 5 such NEXRAD radars across the country operating with this new technology.  In the near future the rest of the radar sites, including those here in Iowa will be upgraded with the new technology.  So how does dual polarization work?

dual_pol2As you can see in this graphic, a normal Doppler radar beam travels left and right.  But with dual polarization, a second beam travels vertically, up and down.  What this design will do is better detect what’s going on inside a storm.  Instead of just creating a cross section of certain layers of the storm, this twin beam will allow radar analysts to better determine what type of precipitation is occurring.  This will allow rain and snowfall estimates to be more accurate.  It will also better determine whether it’s heavy rain or hail falling from within the storm.  This will better confirm whether a storm is capable of producing severe weather and hopefully eliminate the number of warnings issued that probably didn’t need to be put into effect.

That’s the great science coming from the lab.  In the field it’s a different story.  2011 might go down as the year of the live chaser.  I feel this is the time when we’ll see a dramatically growing number of storm chasers who not only capture footage but also transmit their images LIVE as the storm is happening.  We’ve brought you video feeds such as these right here at  But I feel that as mobile internet speeds increase dramatically in the next year or two, the amount of coverage and the quality of those images will improve.  We’ll of course do all we can to be a part of that revolution.

That’s going to wrap up our week-long series, Severe Weather 101.  We’ll leave the link to these reports up on the website.  I hope these posts have provided you with a good reference of what really goes on during a severe weather event and what it all means to you.  The primary goal of this website is to better inform the public and give them the tools they need to inform themselves.  We’ll of course bring you plenty of coverage here on the site as yet another year of severe weather is right around the corner.

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