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The WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network: 10 times the resolution of other radars

The National Weather Service has radar located in Columbus, Mississippi and Hytop, Alabama. This allows for an overview, but leaves significant gaps in coverage. The WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network – 3 Doppler radars placed in Muscle Shoals, Decatur, and Guntersville – fills in these gaps.

Posted: Jun 10, 2020 3:28 PM
Updated: May 4, 2021 11:04 AM

“The mission of the National Weather Service is to cover a very large area,” said Michael Knight, VP/Development and Innovation at EEC.

The National Weather Service has radar located in Columbus, Mississippi and Hytop, Alabama. This allows for an overview, but leaves significant gaps in coverage. The WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network – 3 Doppler radars placed in Muscle Shoals, Decatur, and Guntersville – fills in these gaps.

ADDITIONAL COVERAGE

The three Doppler radars that make up the WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network is the only radar system that can cover every square inch of North Alabama and provide earlier warnings with precise, real-time accuracy that can see storms other radars miss. Other radar systems, including the National Weather Service, have significant gaps in their radar coverage areas to see storms closer to the ground. With Doppler radars located in Muscle Shoals, the Decatur-Huntsville area, and Guntersville, the WAAY 31 Storm Tracker Early Warning Radar Network is the largest privately-held weather radar system in the United States.

“With this, you can cover an area with much greater detail,” Knight said. “It will be a much more detailed picture for your audience and faster. Much faster.”

Knight knows his stuff. His company, EEC, has more than a thousand weather radars deployed throughout the world. They got their start in 1974 when it built the first radar units for the National Weather Service. They currently have radars set up in more than 90 countries worldwide. The same company that built 18 radars for the weather service in Germany built the WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network – the largest privately held radar network in the U.S.

WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network: More Detail

That’s a significant advance in weather coverage. The farther you get from any radar site, the less detail you will get from the radar data. For example, a storm in the northwest corner of the state being tracked by a radar in Hytop, Huntsville, or Athens can miss key details or warning signs.

Here’s an example of how the NWS radar missed the detail inside this recent storm, but the WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network was able to pick up real-time storm data. On the left, you can see how the WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network was able to track the exact placement of the thunderstorm. On the right, the NWS radar was unable to show its exact location.

Other Radars Can Overshoot Storms

Other radars can also over-shoot the storms. The farther you are from any radar site, the beam’s ability to see what’s happening is impacted by the curvature of the earth. As the radar signal goes out, it’s in a fairly straight line. While it might be close to the ground at the origin, it might be at 5,000 feet at a distance. It may pick up what’s happening in the atmosphere, but not close the ground where we live and tornadoes form.

WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network: Faster Warnings

“From the genesis of a tornado to causing damage, it can only be a few minutes,” Knight said. “For a typical volume scan with the National Weather Service, it might take five minutes before it produces a picture.” With the WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network, he said, you get the picture essentially instantly.

That 5 minute faster warning could mean the difference between life and death. In north Alabama, we’ve seen instances where a tornado pops up, does significant damage, and is gone in less than 5 minutes. The WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network takes seconds to display images.

The images the WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network gets will be even higher resolution and more detailed than anything you can get anywhere. “The weather service has what they call High Resolution,” Knight said. “That’s about 250 meter spatial resolution.” With the WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network, you get about 16 meter resolution. “It’s more than 10 times the resolution,” he said. “It’s a much clearer picture.”

According to Knight, that means a tornado on the ground might not even show up on other radars. With the WAAY 31 Early Warning Radar Network gets, Knight said the higher resolution might allow you to see a tornado forming even within a small cell.

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