WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network: Why build three radars?

The WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network is the largest privately held radar network in the United States and is only the radar system that covers every city, county, and neighborhood in north Alabama. It can literally see storms that other radars miss.

Posted: Jun 10, 2020 3:22 PM
Updated: May 4, 2021 11:05 AM

North Alabama has a storied past when it comes to tornadoes and severe weather. In the last 20 years, the entire state averaged 60 tornadoes a year. In North Alabama's 10 counties, we've seen 23 tornadoes in just a year and a half. When lives are on the line, every moment counts. That's why complete radar coverage with live, up to the minute data is so important in keeping our communities safe.

Right now, the National Weather Service's radars are able to complete a full 360° (volume) scan of an area in four to six minutes. While that might not seem like an exorbitantly long time, tornadoes can touch down and dissipate within a matter of moments.

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.

The WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network: Live, Real-Time Information

The WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network completes a 360° scan in exactly 60 seconds! That means we're able to get life-saving information out to the people of North Alabama up to 6 times faster. When there’s an isolated storm, we can also position the radar strategically using what’s called a sector scan. This allows for even faster times as the radar doesn’t need to make a full 360 degree view. Sector scans can display data in literally a few seconds.

Minute by minute radar data is an incredible asset for WAAY 31, but only if every corner of the area has access to the same vital information. That's exactly why we installed three radars, strategically placed in Muscle Shoals, Decatur, and Guntersville.

The WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network is the largest privately held radar network in the United States and is only the radar system that covers every city, county, and neighborhood in north Alabama. It can literally see storms that other radars miss.

Currently, there are two National Weather Service radars that serve the 150-mile-wide area North Alabama: the radar at Hytop, AL in the northern part of the state and the radar at Columbus, Mississippi. While both do a fair job with their coverage, there's a safety gap through a large part of Lauderdale and Lawrence Counties, in addition to part of Colbert County.

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.

EEC is an Enterprise, Alabama company that makes Doppler Radars. They are one of the world’s largest manufacturers, with radar installations in more than 900 countries worldwide. Months of research and analysis by EEC engineers, including an examination of historical tornado trends over the past 60 years and detailed mapping of the radar beams of the National Weather Service and other television stations, concluded that no one radar could physically cover the entire region. The distances were too great.

WAAY 31 meteorologists came up with the idea to place three Doppler radars in strategic positions throughout the state. These radars are networked together to provide a complete picture and fill in the gaps between other radar sites.

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 North Alabama.

The WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network is the most advanced radar system in North Alabama and it sees details other radars miss.

Huntsville
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