The WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network: How we decided where to put the radars

Extensive research by WAAY 31 meteorologists went into the placement of each radar site in the region.

Posted: Aug 6, 2020 12:53 AM
Updated: Sep 24, 2020 11:15 AM

It's a project more than two years in the making: The WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network.

Three Doppler radars across North Alabama comprise what is now the largest private radar network in the country.

These radars are networked together to provide a complete picture and fill in the gaps between other radar sites.

WAAY 31 worked closely with EEC, an Enterprise, Ala., company that makes Doppler radars. They are one of the world’s largest manufacturers, with radar installations in more than 900 countries worldwide.

Extensive research by both WAAY 31 meteorologists and EEC went into the placement of each radar site in the region.

Here are some of the factors taken into consideration:

First and foremost, we needed to ensure complete radar coverage across all of North Alabama. This is the exact reason WAAY 31 pursued a radar network in the first place.

One centrally located radar is not quite powerful enough to provide quality data on its outer fringes, but three radars with overlapping scans do exactly that: Provide high resolution data across every community.

In order to do this, our radars would need to cover every inch of North Alabama's 150 mile by nearly 90-mile area.

Secondly, it was determined a centrally located radar, in addition to a radar to the west and to the east, would be necessary.

The radars on the fringe of the viewing area would provide data for storms coming into North Alabama. This would produce information beneficial in advanced warning and lead time in our communities that aren't centrally located.

For those cities that are in the heart of the area, the centrally located radar would be equally important in monitoring and tracking both developing and ongoing storms.

The third aspect of consideration may seem like the most obvious, but it certainly played a role in site selection.

Ensuring even spatial distribution was critical in covering North Alabama equally. That is to say, one portion of the area isn't covered by two high-quality radar scans and another area is barely on the outer fringes.

We needed overlapping scans to eliminate safety gaps, but not overlapping to the extent that one area received lower quality data as a result.

A "safety gap" is just a way to describe the location at which the radar beam is a bit too high above the ground to provide clear, accurate radar data.

It's on the outer fringe of the radar's range, leading to a degradation in radar quality as well.

In addition, the radar sites needed to be placed near adequately populated areas, due to the fact that a higher concentration of people typically means a higher concentration of infrastructure and technological resources.

The radars require a high speed, reliable internet connection to receive and transmit information. Of equal importance was access to a reliable, high quality power source.

So, after careful selection, the final three sites for the WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network are Muscle Shoals, Decatur and Guntersville.

In Muscle Shoals, the Doppler radar was hoisted to the top of a water tower on the northwest side of town, just off Cox Boulevard.

In Decatur, the radar sits on top of the People's Bank of Alabama downtown across from the Cook Museum of Natural Science.

In Guntersville, like Muscle Shoals, the radar was lifted to the top of a water tower across the street from the Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge.

Finally, after all three sites had been narrowed down to a general area, an exact location had to be determined.

One of the more important factors in honing in on a spot was the radar's "view" from the location.

"Beam blockage" occurs when the radar beam being sent out is obstructed by terrain (like a hillside or mountain) or an object (like a building). One of the strengths of the WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network is that it uses fairly compact Doppler radars, so they can be ideally be placed anywhere.

This means they can be low to the ground, helping to identify and track low-level circulations like developing tornadoes, in addition to microbursts and straight line winds.

However, a radar that's too low to the ground means the beam can easily be blocked.

Numerous surveys by EEC and WAAY 31 finally determined ideal locations that would greatly reduce radar beam blockage to provide a clear, complete picture from each site.

Huntsville/Redstone
Partly Cloudy
55° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 55°
Muscle Shoals
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 57°
Huntsville/Madison
Partly Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 53°
Decatur
Clear
53° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 53°
Fort Payne
Partly Cloudy
49° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 49°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518899

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753641487
Mobile37763798
Madison33859494
Tuscaloosa25266443
Montgomery23962565
Shelby23106238
Baldwin20631300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14284311
Morgan14139268
Etowah13662345
Marshall11957219
Houston10380278
Elmore9993200
Limestone9811147
Cullman9470188
St. Clair9426234
Lauderdale9215227
DeKalb8746181
Talladega8058171
Walker7087275
Jackson6754110
Autauga6723103
Blount6483135
Colbert6203130
Coffee5399112
Dale4767110
Russell428838
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia387674
Dallas3527149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256258
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218775
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171440
Washington164038
Macon154548
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58724
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 822085

Reported Deaths: 12001
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby914971575
Davidson86563918
Knox48960619
Hamilton42811480
Rutherford41428415
Williamson26942213
Sumner22909338
Montgomery18780223
Out of TN17852101
Wilson17747223
Unassigned16441132
Sullivan15781283
Blount14839194
Bradley14284147
Washington13850240
Sevier12986174
Maury12901166
Putnam11072173
Madison10628240
Robertson9486127
Anderson8539171
Hamblen8409169
Greene7645151
Tipton7171104
Coffee6782121
Dickson6643108
Cumberland6461127
Gibson6355144
Bedford6350126
Carter6332156
McMinn625595
Roane6124101
Jefferson6008121
Loudon595869
Lawrence573186
Hawkins5682105
Monroe564395
Warren549481
Dyer5340104
Franklin504987
Fayette484578
Obion447196
Cocke439598
Cheatham436551
Rhea428075
Lincoln427963
Marshall407358
Campbell405462
Weakley398761
Giles391298
Henderson368375
Carroll355582
Macon354375
White351468
Hardin346166
Hardeman345063
Lauderdale312744
Henry309775
Marion307246
Scott303145
Claiborne302373
Overton294360
Wayne294134
Hickman278345
McNairy275354
DeKalb273953
Smith271737
Haywood267660
Grainger255449
Trousdale247822
Morgan242839
Fentress236346
Johnson226738
Chester208651
Bledsoe208211
Crockett199848
Polk196024
Unicoi191149
Cannon187531
Union184034
Grundy176431
Lake169526
Humphreys168721
Sequatchie165228
Benton160940
Decatur156438
Lewis154826
Meigs132123
Stewart129328
Jackson129235
Clay108331
Houston107333
Perry105628
Moore99217
Van Buren82621
Pickett75524
Hancock53612

Community Events