Radar upgrades to improve weather forecasts

Residents in the Capital Region can expect more-precise weather forecasts in the near future once an

Residents in the Capital Region can expect more-precise weather forecasts in the near future once an upgrade to National Weather Service radar systems is complete.

The Doppler radar systems used by the National Weather Service’s Albany forecast office will undergo the first major improvement in roughly 20 years as early as next month.

Under the current system, Dopplers make use of radio waves transmitted and received horizontally.

The new system employs “dual polarimetric” radar, which sends and receives these radio waves both horizontally and vertically.

The advancement will enable meteorologists to provide better precipitation estimates, according to Tom Wasula, radio operations program leader at the forecast office.

It’s the biggest improvement in weather forecasting since the current Doppler radar system went into operation at Albany in 1993, Wasula said.

The upgraded system will provide weather forecasters with more detail to determine if rain is falling instead of snow, while eliminating false readings that sometimes show birds and bugs, instead of weather.

Though tornadoes aren’t a common weather event locally, the new system will also help weather forecasters provide early warnings once twisters have touched down, National Weather Service Spokesman Christopher Vaccaro said.

The system will be able to show forecasters the debris flying around after a tornado tears into structures, so they will be able to strengthen their warnings of possible tornado activity in areas where severe weather is headed.

“It’s very valuable ground confirmation to a forecaster. They’re able to incorporate information into a warning and use stronger language,” Vaccaro said.

“This is research at its best,” said Vaccaro, who said the U.S. has the most advanced weather forecasting capabilities on the planet.

The $50 million, nationwide project is funded through an agreement among the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Weather Service and the federal Department of Transportation.

The upgrades have already been performed for radar systems for the New York City, Boston, Mass., and Mount Holly, N.J. areas.

The Albany area’s system will be upgraded following similar work at State College, Pa., in Buffalo and in Binghamton.

More information about the project can be found on the Internet at www.erh.noaa.gov/aly/.

Categories: Schenectady County

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