The WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network: Eliminating the safety gaps in radar coverage

The WAAY 31 Storm Tracker Early Warning Radar Network covers every county, city, and neighborhood in North Alabama - the only radar coverage for many communities in "safety gaps."

Posted: Jun 10, 2020 3:23 PM
Updated: Sep 24, 2020 9:45 AM

One of the greatest challenges for meteorologists tracking severe weather is potentially inaccurate radar data.

Part of the reason this is such a problem is due to the physical locations of radar sites.


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.

The two closest National Weather Service radar sites that cover North Alabama are located in Hytop in northern Jackson County and in Columbus, Mississippi. They are strategically placed to cover large areas of the region, which gives a high-level picture of what is happening, but often misses areas in between – especially when storms are lower to the ground.

The yellow circles indicate where the radar beam is 5,000 feet off the ground. Radar data generally becomes less accurate and more noisy once the beam is more than 5,000 feet off the ground. Areas where the beam is higher than 5,000 feet off the ground are called "safety gap areas."

A significant portion of northwest Alabama, including most of Lauderdale and Lawrence Counties, is in a safety gap area. While this area still has radar data, it is insufficient data that has caused issues for meteorologists tracking severe storms and tornadoes in the past. What is even more concerning is approximately 160,000 people live in this safety gap area alone, meaning the lack of accurate radar data could have significant consequences to loss of life and property during severe weather.

The WAAY 31 Storm Tracker Early Warning Radar Network addresses the safety gap area in northwest Alabama and so much more. With the introduction of all three radar sites, in Muscle Shoals, Decatur, and Guntersville, we are able to provide full coverage from state line to state line across Alabama.

Each of the green circles below show the 5,000 feet beam heights from our three radar sites. With the WAAY 31 Storm Tracker Early Warning Radar Network, all of North Alabama and Lincoln County, Tennessee are now well under the 5,000 feet beam height.