Radar technology used 70 years ago is ‘pretty outdated,’ says NWS meteorologist | News


National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh called 1952 a “complicated time for the weather service.”

“Radar technology was quite antiquated by today’s standards,” Cavanaugh said. “The radars we had for weather were mostly repurposed World War II radars to watch for invading aircraft.”

According to Cavanaugh, the United States installed radars on the west coast, the east coast and then in Hawaii. He said the first misuse of radar occurred during the Japanese air invasion of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

“They didn’t understand what they were looking at,” he said. “I guess they just couldn’t imagine there were that many planes and they got a weather feature wrong or birds or whatever. They saw it on the radar and didn’t realize it was a threat. So the radar operators that day didn’t call it even though they saw it. I don’t know what difference it would have made, because they only saw him 10-15 minutes before the shelling started, but that probably would have helped a little.

Because of this “misidentification of the invading Japanese planes, even though they were detected on radar…they started updating the radar technology,” he said. “…They started putting them on aircraft carriers and they shared the radar technology with all of our allies. We were neutral but now that we were at war, all of our allies, especially Britain. They also put in a bunch of the same radar tech but they went through about four generations of radar tech in WWII and eventually they were able to pick up bomber squadrons and give warning, especially in Britain if German fighters were coming in. The United States never really had another air attack, so there was no need for sirens in the United States at the time.

Cavanaugh said when the March 1952 tornado outbreak hit, causing about 52 deaths in White County and at least 209 in the south, there was probably no warning, if he had to guess. On Doppler radar at the time, “all you could see was the shape of the storm,” he said.

The first weather radar upgrade was in 1974, Cavanaugh said, done by the military, “and those were the first radars that were actually designed for weather. So in the 1970s you had a much better idea of ​​what the storms were like. You have multiple elevations. You could see what was happening not only in part of the storm, but what was happening during the storm, which gave the forecasters a better ability to be expected when a thunderstorm was likely to produce a tornado.

He said the upgrade “wasn’t perfect, but it was way better than the radar technology of the 1950s which was just black and white. They finally had radar that could show colors, different thresholds radar intensity.

In 1988, Cavanaugh said the weather service finally deployed the current generations of radars where “you have weather surveillance radar but it’s significantly more powerful.”

“Instead of the 1974 radar where you can see out to about 50 miles, the 1988 radar lets you see out to about 120 miles, and they also included the ability to see speeds in a storm,” he said. he declares. “For the first time you could see how strong the winds were, if there was any rotation in the storm itself.

“Again we’re not talking until 1988, that’s when you get a lot more tornado warnings, that’s when you can actually see the rotation and then you can see the structure of the storm because the radar from 1988, there is still what we use today the radar has just been upgraded over time, new computers have been installed, new processors to look at the data and make them higher resolution, things like that, but the basic radar design hasn’t changed.

He said the weather surveillance radar was still called 88B, meaning original date and Doppler. “It just got improved tons and tons of time. Now we have many different ways of seeing thunderstorms.

Cavanaugh said weather data has been archived since 1990, so “you can actually pull radar data every five minutes – every bit of information the radar collects can now be pulled from a massive database.”

When tornadoes are studied by the weather service, he said, they discover their location, path and the type of damage they caused.

Lt. Todd Wells said the Searcy Police Department received information from the North Little Rock National Weather Service from “multiple sources”.

“Through the Arkansas Crime Information Center, the National Weather Service will send out alerts, watches, warnings, and short- and long-range forecasts,” Wells said. “It could be anything from extremely cold/hot weather, wintry weather, dense fog and severe storm watches/warnings. We have an emergency hotline that the National Weather Service calls with information. Both of these sources of information flow directly to a dispatcher who can relay the information to the agents who are working. »

Wells said all department officers are trained storm watchers and when tornado weather is near or imminent, they are sent to different parts of the city to watch for them. “We watch local TV when tornado weather is a threat,” he said.


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