Sometime in the early 90s, TV stations began TRACKING storms. By tracking we don’t mean following after and telling you which way they are moving. We mean pulling up a box with a list of cities in the path of the storm and tell you the viewer exactly what time the storm would be impacting you. Was this first used by a TV station in Huntsville, AL, or Oklahoma City, OK? That question remains up for debate. Throughout the years much study has gone into figuring out how to do this.
Today, radar data is very sophisticated. Sometimes it’s to sensitive. That’s why the F.A.R is so high. That would stand for “False Alarm Ratio.” Every storm that rotates doesn’t produce a tornado, but every storm that produces a tornado does indeed rotate. Figuring out which ones are actually dangerous and which ones are simply rotating winds in the clouds can be a very tricky process for a meteorologist and in particular the meteorologists operating radar to follow and figure out.
There was a time in the middle 1900s that the word “tornado” was actually banned use by the National Weather Service. The thought process was that it would cause to much alarm. Thankfully by the Super Outbreak of April in 1974, tornadoes were being studied fiercely, and the use of the word tornado came back into existence.
It sounds so insignificant, but the way that we say what we say matters a lot to the viewer. If the person watching and listening hears that intensity in the meteorologists voice, they know when to take them more seriously. Still, we as meteorologist always urge you to take every tornado warning seriously. With the installation of new radars expected to be completed over the next several years used by all local national weather service offices, perhaps the F.A.R can go down significantly. The radar data currently used by the local National Weather Service offices and most TV stations only see storms/rain/hail/snow/ or sleet in the horizontal mode.
With the new radar known as Dual Polar, it will see the above mentioned forms of precipitation on radar in both the horizontal and the vertical.
Below is a look at how conventional Doppler radar looks at precipitation.
As you can see the pulses are all horizontal. With the new Dual Polar Radar the radar operator and eventually the viewer will be able to see things in both vertical and horizontal. The image below depicts that nicely.
Both images are courtesy of the National Weather Service office in Memphis.
Now it all goes back to one thing; keeping the public safe. So what will it take to keep people safe. Hundreds died on April 27th 2010 after severe weather had been forecasted 5 days in advance by dozens of media outlets.
So once the storm has been identified, how do you prefer that we track it (taking you back to the start of this topic)?
Would you rather we tell you the exact time of arrival like WREG Chief Meteorologist Tim Simpson is doing (you can’t see him but you can see the times of arrival)? Check it out below:
Perhaps you prefer the other way of telling you what time the storm will arrive. The other option is to tell you how many minutes away the storm is from you. This is demonstrated well in the picture below showcasing JP Dice as he tracks a large tornado on radar.
Regardless of your preference, we all have to acknowledge that radar has come a long way since following those green “blobs” back in the early and middle 80s.
This article has actually dealt with two issues and rolled it all into one. First off we discussed radar in general and how radar has evolved and continues to evolve. We also talked about how to track what we see on radar. Don’t forget to go back and look at both images to see which you like the best. Also, the graphics on dual polar radar really break it down for you in a way that words can’t so be sure to give those links a click as well!