New radar upgrade improves view of thunderstorms - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

New radar upgrade improves view of thunderstorms

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Slidell, La - Spring severe weather season is ramping up and our local national weather service is ready for the challenge. The biggest upgrade in radar technology in almost twenty years took place over the last couple of years. Although the radome at the New Orleans/Baton Rouge National Weather Service office looks the same on the outside, the inside is totally different.

"We can see if there's a lot of rain drops, a couple raindrops, how big that raindrop is," Meteorologist In Charge Ken Graham explains how the dual-polarization upgrade will help improve what we know about thunderstorms. The more we know about what's happening in the storm, the better we can stay ahead of the damage. He said, "We can say if the hailstone is melting or the hailstone is actually growing. Now we can actually verify that tornado just by looking at the radar." That information could save lives.

"With this verification instead of saying radar indicated or if you see the tornado let us know this is going to say there is a tornado on the ground headed your way and social science wide people will take action quicker," said Graham.

Graham is seeing his second revolution in radar detection as dual-polarization also known as dual- pol radar is now operating out of the Slidell office. "We got the big upgrade to the radar in 1994 and we were able to see the precip like we never did. I remember the day. We were giddy as meteorologists this new Doppler radar was here." Now we can not only detect rotation, "I can actually see debris," Graham said.

The old Doppler radar sent out waves in only one direction. This new radar sends out two waves: one horizontally and one vertically. The radar can see the difference between golf ball size hail and much larger debris, information that can make a huge difference.

"You almost see a hole in the actual data at this location and the blue area here. That's actually debris in this tornado. Here it could be on the ground, we don't know. Now we can actually verify that tornado just by looking at the radar," Graham pointed out the differences in information between the previous radar and the dual-pol upgrade. It can also tell the difference between rain, snow and ice and it's easier to get better wind estimates. Better hail detection also allow for formulas to calculate more precise radar rainfall estimates.

"It will make it easier to detect threats like large hail or a tornado when we have thunderstorms occurring," Matt Moreland is the Emergency Response Meteorologist at the Slidell NWS office. He said, "It's going to help with the timing. Often time is critical." With events like French Quarter Fest with outdoor stages more specific wind predictions really help. He said, "There's a whole bunch of outdoor stages out there. Some of them may have wind speed thresholds of 20, 30, 40 mph. So they want a pretty exact number when they know the line is coming in."

The National Weather Service completed the dual-pol radar upgrade at the Slidell location in late March. Although the radar views will be unfamiliar, Graham says he expects that in years to come they will become common place on the air. "Viewer beware some of this will be coming to a T.V. near you," said Graham. Helping us bring you an even more precise weather authority forecast.

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