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Are Voids in Radar Coverage Leaving You Blind?

Weather Radar |

Are Voids in Radar Coverage Leaving You Blind?

Weather radar is one of the most successful observing systems for scanning the skies and monitoring for rain, snow, hail, damaging winds, and tornadoes.

In the United States, government agencies, businesses, and citizens are lucky to have one of the best radar networks in the world. NEXRAD (Next Generation Weather Radar) is an extensive network of radar sites around the country that help meteorologists determine weather information including, but not limited to, wind direction and speed, to precipitation type and intensity. Federal agencies, such as the National Weather Service and the Federal Aviation Administration, operate this network of long-range weather radars that guide the issuance of severe weather advisories, watches, and warnings.


What are Low level radar coverage voids?

Unfortunately, NEXRAD doesn’t see everything. “The vast radar network across the United States is of the highest quality in the world, yet still has limitations,” (Forbes).

What causes these gaps in NEXRAD coverage? Large swaths of the lower atmosphere under 4,600 ft remain unobserved as the earth curves away from the lowest beam of the nearest government radar or due to mountains or other blockages.


The Problem with Low Level Radar Data Voids

With the increased frequency and severity of weather events over the past 50 years, ( voids in weather coverage can be severe. Filling in these spots is critical for flash flood warnings, low-level mesocyclone observations, and improved forecast modeling which depend on measurements near the surface. Diminished radar coverage leaves surrounding residential and commercial areas vulnerable to sudden weather events and results in less accurate forecasts.

“I’m intrigued and concerned (about the radar gap in the Lehigh Valley) given the rise of inclement weather,” said State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, whose district covers Allentown and parts of South Whitehall Township. “It strikes me this is going to become an issue of timeliness. Like it or not, we know that climate change is on the rise. We know we’re going to have more severe weather. It’s incumbent upon us as a community to have the most advanced technology available to take protective actions and prevent loss of life,” (The Morning Call).

While forecasters may have the ability to look at other data available to them to make conclusions to fill in holes in the picture, that isn’t enough when severe weather events threaten communities and businesses.

“Reports are not enough when limitations exist, especially during severe weather cases, and minutes matter where the situation is dynamic. Furthermore, radar gaps also hurt businesses that rely on hail data from thunderstorms to be proactive in their operations and deployment. If the radar measures hail 10,000 feet above the ground, there is no way of knowing if it reached the surface, except for ground observations. Those are quite spotty and incomplete,” (Forbes).

Tornadoes can also remain undetected in these radar gaps. Rich Thompson, a meteorologist at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK, is involved in research that shows that tornado warning performance “generally drops off once you go beyond about 50 [nautical miles] from the radar (or above about 4,000 ft),” (Washington Post).

Thompson additionally noted, “It would certainly be easier to detect possible tornadoes more consistently if we had radar coverage that allowed us to see the low levels everywhere,” (Washington Post).

Additionally, high winds can also go undetected or be misconstrued as tornadoes. Meteorologist Bobby Martrich, owner of Lehigh Valley-based EPAWA Weather Consulting noted “The presence of intense downdrafts or microbursts can also mimic tornado damage in more of a unidirectional path. That will not be detectable below 6,000 feet in most cases and may be missed entirely,” (The Morning Call).

Another meteorologist, Ed Vallee of Empire Weather, in the Morning Call article agreed: “At the end of the day if we have the ability to get better data at the lower levels, it would be a much more confidently conveyed situation,” (The Morning Call).

The problem is clear: “Radar gaps are clearly a critical issue,” (American Meteorological Society Journal).


Is Anyone Solving the Weather Coverage Issue?

Yes, in fact, we are!

At Climavision we’re deploying our own network of high-resolution radars to close significant weather observation data voids and drastically improve forecast speed and accuracy. Over the next 4 years, Climavision is rolling out over 200 radars across the continental United States. So far, we have several radars installed. One of the North Carolina Radars is in the Charlotte area – one of the most prominent gaps in the country. Over 41% of North Carolina’s Population lived in a radar coverage void before we installed the Climavision radar for that area.

Our goal is to arm federal agencies, local Emergency Managers, and businesses with the weather data they need to properly keep communities, employees, and assets safe.

With the Climavision network of radars deployed, we estimate that the percentage of detected tornadoes will double from 30 to 60% of tornadoes. Additionally, we calculated related injuries and fatalities for tornado events and estimate 30% of the fatalities occurred in low level radar coverage voids that Climavision is filling. Similarly, for high winds, Climavision radars will increase detection from 34 – 62%. Estimates and coverage of other weather phenomena will also be improved including hail size estimates, hurricane precipitation, and rain and snowfall rates and accumulations.

One major concern for those in need of a radar can be the cost. “The cost obviously goes into it,” said Randy Padfield, the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. “How does that get funded and where do you get the money? From our perspective, we don’t have funding that funds that,” (The Morning Call).

Padfield’s perspective is not a surprise. Most communities do not have the resources required to obtain a radar for themselves. The radars that comprise the NEXRAD network are very large, very expensive S-band radars. Not only do they require millions of dollars to initially install, but they also require a dedicated National Weather Service office and $500,000 per year to maintain.

Climavision radars simply supply weather data more efficiently. We offer access to this network as a simple subscription service called Radar as a Service, or RaaS. The major benefit of RaaS is that communities can have this crucial weather data through a low annual data services contract instead of burdening communities with the hassle of a multi-million-dollar radar acquisition.

Weather radars are one of the best tools for detecting and measuring critical weather phenomena. Climavision is filling the gaps by making these critical tools available in every community. To read more about Climavision’s RaaS solution visit our Radar as a Service Page.

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