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Radar Revolution

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Dual Pol radar will send out a horizontal and vertical signal to enhance what we can "see" on radar. Dual Pol radar will send out a horizontal and vertical signal to enhance what we can "see" on radar.
This upgrade can help us see debris, helping to confirm a tornado is on the ground. This upgrade can help us see debris, helping to confirm a tornado is on the ground.
This upgrade will take place on all radars across the United States. This upgrade will take place on all radars across the United States.
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

No warning. No siren. It happens.

Just ask residents of Elmore county on January 23rd.

"In a flash. A blink of an eye and boom it was on us," Elmore county resident Steve Hopp said.

Just because there's no siren doesn't mean there's no tornado. It just means we can't see it.  Until now.

"In the old days when radar first came to the weather service we were able to see things like where the storms are. But we were unable to see a lot of things like storm structure and especially wind," Kevin Laws, National Weather Service meteorologist said.

Things have changed since then, and they're about to change again. The Birmingham radar has been upgraded to dual polarization, a new technology that promises to change the way we look at storms.

"This is the best upgrade since Doppler Radar," Laws said.

Doppler radar allows us to "see" the weather without actually seeing it.  Here's how it works: The radar dish sends out a pulse of energy. That pulse travels until it encounters something in the air, such as a raindrop.  That raindrop reflects part of that pulse back to the radar which tells us something is out there.  Those pulses are only sent in one direction; horizontally. With dual polarity, a vertical pulse will be included painting more of a 3-D portrait of our sky.

"We'll be able to see a three dimensional, high definition look inside the storms. We'll be able to tell the difference between rain, hail and even tornadic debris," Laws said.

You heard that right.  When a tornado is on the ground, it lofts debris up into the air.  More times than not, we don't see it on radar.  But with dual polarization it will be staring us in the face.

"We'll know right where that debris signature is and we'll know right where it's headed. It will lead to the accuracy of the forecast being increased many times over than today," Laws said.

There is so much to learn as an entire nation of radars upgrade to dual polarization in the coming years. There will be a learning curve. There will be growing pains.

"We were lucky," proclaimed Hopp.

But in time, we may learn to take luck out of the equation.

For more information on how Dual-Pol works, check out our web extra: Radar Revolution: In Depth.  The link is on the right side of this page.

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