Severe Weather Awareness: Radar Upgrades


As we head into severe weather season, National Weather Service offices across the state are going through an important upgrade.

Dual-polarization technology will be installed at the radar sites across the state, one by one, starting with Blue Hill. The NWS said Omaha has already gotten the upgrade.

These upgrades will take about a week and during that time the radar will be down.

Dual-pole, for short, means that instead of the radar sending out one beam, it will now send out two simultaneously. One beam will be vertical and the other will be horizontal, similar to a plus sign shaped beam for visualization purposes.

When the radar beam hits a raindrop, hail stone, snow flake, bird or bug it will bounce back to the radar site with a cross section of the object it hit.

Since each type of precipitation has its own unique shape as well as birds, bugs and other debris, the new technology will be able to identify what is falling and where.

Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the NWS in Hastings, Mike Moritz, said "with this upgrade on the radar we should at least have a better idea of where those hail cores are at, where the snow is at, where the changeover between is from frozen to liquid."

This will allow for more precise and timely warnings.

Being able to see the hail core on radar can have impact who receives a warning. Instead of issuing a warning for an entire county that is under a severe thunderstorm, the NWS will be able to issue it for only the part of the county that is experiencing the large hail.

One thing the radar upgrades will not impact is the ability the NWS has to issue tornado warnings.

Moritz said "it's not really designed to increase tornado lead time."

This doesn't mean that it isn't useful.

The identification of precipitation type is expected to streamline the warning process for severe storms and release those warnings in a more precise fashion.