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The history of weather radar from WWII technology to current applications

Bismarck, North Dakota (KFYR) – In our Deep Dive Radar series over the past six weeks, we took you inside the Bismarck National Weather Service’s radar and explained the basics of how it works. He creates three-dimensional images of the atmosphere, describes how maintenance is performed, describes Doppler and dual-polarization techniques that radars use to see inside storms, and finally describes how many current radar networks exist. We talked about some limitations.

But how did we get to this radar technology, and what does the future hold? Here’s a brief history of weather radar.

The principle underlying all radars was first observed in 1886 by Heinrich Hertz. He discovered that electromagnetic waves can be reflected from various objects and even focused into beams by suitable reflectors.

Various research projects on the potential uses of radar continued, and by 1930, Lawrence Hyland of the Naval Research Laboratory discovered that an airplane flying over a radio antenna would alter the signal received. .

In 1935, Robert Watson Watt used pulsed radio frequency energy to observe long-range targets up to 90 miles away.

By World War II, radars were used by militaries around the world to scan incoming aircraft. However, the use of radar for weather observation came about by chance. A military radar operator noticed precipitation along with the intended aircraft target on the display.

After the war, the National Weather Service received 25 radars that were in service with the Navy, and in 1959 the Bureau began deploying its first radar network. In 1957 using World War II technology. Tornadoes were very difficult to detect because only coarse reflectance data and no velocity data were available. Precipitation was tracked across the radar screen using a grease pencil, requiring forecasters to manually turn the crank to adjust the radar’s scan altitude.

Radar image of WSR-57, a supercell generating a tornado over Minneapolis, 1965(NOAA)

An updated version of the WSR-74 complemented the old radar from 1977, replacing it with new, more reliable components. 128 of the WSR-57 and WSR-74 model radars were spread across the country, including North Dakota, and operated as the Weather Service’s radar network until the 1990s.

Network of WSR-57 and WSR-74 radars
Network of WSR-57 and WSR-74 radars(National Meteorological Service Modernization Commission)

Meanwhile, in the 1980s, researchers began developing a next-generation radar system (NEXRAD) using Doppler technology. This is a big step forward for meteorologists, allowing them to detect the speed and direction of precipitation in storms.

These WSR-88D radars (D stands for Doppler) have been in operational deployment since 1992. These radars provided much higher resolution data, making it easier to identify severe weather. The Bismarck WSR-88D radar was installed in his 1994, and since then radar technology has continued to improve with several upgrades to national networks, particularly with the introduction of dual-polarization technology that has occurred in the last decade. increase.

Chauncy Schultz, Director of Science and Operations, Bismarck National Weather Service, said: By the mid-1990s, when these new radars were installed, he said the average lead time, or advance notice of warning, was just a few minutes. Now he’s 10 minutes, 20 minutes, leaps and bounds. This is thanks to the radar installation, all the new technology, and of course, all the other research we’ve learned since then. But the introduction of radar was a distinctive turning point in improving warnings in the United States. “

There are currently 155 NEXRAD radars located throughout the county, most of which are located near National Weather Service offices or Air Force bases, as is the case with radars northeast of Minot. Although the NEXRAD radar has now exceeded its original lifespan estimate of 20 years, the radar is currently undergoing a service life extension program to keep it operational into the 2030s.

World WSR-88D NEXRAD Radar Network
World WSR-88D NEXRAD Radar Network(NWS)

In the meantime, however, private companies such as Climavision have stepped in to fill some of the gaps in the existing National Weather Service radar network with their own radars. In addition, future radar technologies, such as electronically steerable fast-scanning phased-array radars, will give users control over how, when, and where radar scanning research and development takes place.

Multi-function phased array radar
Multi-function phased array radar(NOAA National Storm Lab)

To wrap up this series, let’s give you a deeper understanding of the weather radar technology that many of us take for granted, then load radars into apps and see them in action on the air. I hope you think about how radar works when

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