We've all been there: The weather forecast calls for rain, and then it's sunny skies for the entire day. Then one day, after you completely ignore the rain advisory, in comes a freaking deluge while you're left without an umbrella. The US National Weather service may not be able to help you out if you forget your umbrella, but its new radar system could mean more accurate weather forecasts.
According to the agency, it has nearly completed upgrading the nation's entire Doppler weather radar network. As of late April, the NWS has upgraded 151 operational radar units with a new "dual polarization" (dual-pol) technology that will allow meteorologists to distinguish between different types of precipitation--such as rain, snow, or hail--for the first time ever.
But wait - you've seen plenty of weather reports that predict chances of rain or sleet since seemingly forever, you say? It's true that these sort of forecasts aren't new, but the new system improves on the existing doppler radar system by allowing meteorologists to accurately see exactly where the precipitation will fall.
A dual-pol Doppler radar can better detect precipitation because it sends out both horizontal and vertical pulses of energy that produce a more informative two-dimensional picture of what's going on in the sky. The system can also more clearly identify rain, hail, snow or ice pellets, and other flying objects.
Speaking of other flying objects, the dual-pol radar is also able to more clearly detect airborne tornado debris. By tracking objects flying in the sky, forecasters can confirm a tornado is on the way and inform townships in its path of potential inbound flying cows.
The NWS says the dual-pol upgrade is the most significant enhancement made to the national radar network since doppler radar was first implemented in the early 1990s. And it's already helped save lives. Thanks to the dual-pol radar, there were no fatalities when an Enhanced Fujita class-four (F4) tornado--the second to last most destructive type of tornado--tore through Jackson, Mississippi last year on February 10.