SURVIVE THE STORM: Inside look at the National Weather Service Doppler Radar

Published: Apr. 3, 2017 at 9:50 AM CDT
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Perched one hundred feet up in the air, you've probably driven past what looks like a giant soccer ball many times on your way to the airport but did you know that this is actually an important piece of weather equipment that is vital to saving your life in severe weather?

Meteorologist Matt Jones was able to get an up close and personal look at it during a private tour.

Quay Kendrick, National Weather Service Radar Technician, explained to Matt that the pedestal that holds the giant 28 foot radar dish is 17 feet high from the base to the top and weighs 17 thousand pounds.

The giant satellite is able to rotate 360 degrees and at its fastest speed can do about six revolutions per minute. Pulses of energy are beamed out both horizontally and vertically and then the radar listens for a short period of time for any energy to come back. With the data, meteorologists are able to identify rainfall rate, hail size and if there is any rotation within the storm.

During severe weather, the dish will be programmed to make more revolutions and take more slices out of the atmosphere to get a more detailed look at the storms.

Quay said, "During severe weather you're really concentrating on what's lower to the ground because tornadoes aren't at 30 thousand feet so you're trying to look at what the tornado levels could be. So it's going faster and it's taking a smaller cut of the pie and it's really isolating whats around us."

The radar has undergone significant upgrades since its original installment in 1988 including the introduction of dual pole technology in 2005.

Quay went on to say, "Back in the day, we just shot a straight signal and since we went to dual pole, they put a cross hair on it so now it gets that extra dimension. It gives you hi-definition."

Because of the dual pole upgrade meteorologists can now determine if debris is being picked up by a potential tornado within a thunderstorm.

As you might imagine all this technology generates a huge amount of power with 450 thousand watts being emitted at any given time while the radar is on.

With so many moving parts, technicians keep the radar on a strict maintenance schedule checking the oil and the gears monthly and making sure everything is good to go for the upcoming severe weather season.