National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Date Posted: February 21, 2012

NOAA’s National Weather Service is improving its Doppler radar serving the Mid-Atlantic region by installing the latest dual polarization technology in their Sterling, Va., radar. This technology will give forecasters better information about heavy rainfall in flooding events, hail detection in thunderstorms, and even recognize whether precipitation is in the form of rain, snow, or ice. In some situations, it can also detect the presence of airborne tornado debris, giving forecasters confirmation of an ongoing damaging tornado, which is especially helpful if the tornado is impossible to see with the human eye.

“This is the most significant upgrade to the nation’s weather radar network since Doppler radar was first installed in the early 1990s and is a significant step toward us becoming weather ready,” said Jack Hayes, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Dual polarization technology provides significantly more information and clearer pictures of current weather conditions, helping National Weather Service meteorologists provide more accurate and timely forecasts.”

Currently, National Weather Service Doppler radars provide forecasters information on precipitation intensity and movement (direction and speed). Dual polarization technology adds new information about the size and shape of airborne objects, which will improve estimates of how much rain is falling, improving flash flood detection and warnings. During winter weather, dual polarization radar can tell the difference between rain, snow and ice, which gives forecasters a much better idea of what type of precipitation to expect at the ground.

“This radar upgrade will help us provide better forecasts and warnings of all precipitation types for the residents of the Mid-Atlantic region,” said James Lee, meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service’s Baltimore/Washington forecast office.

Installation begins today, February 17th, and will last approximately 7 days. During the upgrade, adjacent National Weather Service, Air Force, and Federal Aviation Administration weather radars will provide coverage. Installation of dual polarization technology in all 122 National Weather Service radars is expected to be completed in 2013. Thirty-eight other operational WSR-88D systems, owned by the Air Force and FAA, will also be enhanced.