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Tracking Storms in Texoma with Doppler Radar

It's almost second nature to take a look at the radar. But how does it work?
The National Weather Service (NWS) has a network of 158 radars spread out
across the country.

They are known as the NEXt generation RADars or NEXRAD for short.

The radar used in Texoma is located at the Frederick, Oklahoma Airport.

The radar site contains a back-up power source in case the commercial
source of power to the radar is shut off.

This gives time for the back-up generator to kick in.

Steve Dickson is an electrical technician for the radar in Frederick.

"The common time that you lose power is during a storm. So the worst thing
you would want is for your radar to shut off during a storm event."

So how does the radar actually give us information about storms and precipitation?

As the radar rotates inside of its protective covering, it sends out short bursts of
electromagnetic waves both horizontally and vertically.

The ability to send waves out in both dimensions is known as dual polarization or
dual-pol.

Radars across the country were recently upgraded to have this capability.

When the horizontal and vertical pulses strike an object such as a rain drop, some
of that energy is sent back to the radar.

This gives us a better idea of the size and shape of the precipitation falling out of
the cloud.

That data is displayed like this on your screen with weaker signals displayed as green
and stronger signals displayed as oranges and reds.

But radar gives meteorologists even more information on storms, explains Rick Smith,
Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the NWS in Norman, Oklahoma.

"Everybody's seen the radar pictures on television of the big red blob of the storm.
But there are things we actually use on radar even before the storms develop.
Where we can actually see boundaries or see where dry line and frontal positions
are sometimes if we are close enough to the radar and look for areas where thunderstorms
may be about to develop. So it's not just the red blobs on the radar we're actually using
that data before hand to even pick out areas that we really need to focus on."

And once storms do develop, we can use radar data to determine wind speed and
direction inside storms.

Smith says, "Obviously it will give us information about precipitation also give us a look of
kind of an x-ray into the storm and tell us what the winds are doing and that's really one
of the most powerful parts of the Doppler radar when it comes to tornado warnings is being
able to see those areas of rotation and circulation within the storm."

The new dual pol technology in our radars also helps differentiate between precipitation and
possible debris thrown into the air by a tornado.

This is especially important when detecting tornadoes at night or in rural areas when it is
hard to get ground confirmation from storm spotters.

While radar technology has come a long way over the past couple of decades, new
advances are still being made.

It is hoped that new technology will allow radars to scan storms quicker, ultimately
leading to faster warnings.
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