Next generation weather radar will make your communities even safer

Published: Jun. 21, 2023 at 10:25 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The technology that helps us monitor Mother Nature and give you First Alerts could change dramatically in the years ahead.

Doppler radar technology has been around since the 1940s and used for weather forecasting since the late 80s, but experts at the National Weather Service believe the next generation radar tech could be a game changer.

The NWS has used the same radar to monitor weather in Alabama since 1992. NWS Birmingham Office Chief Scientist Kevin Laws says a few things have been done to extend the life of their current system, but things are expected to change drastically over the next decade.

“The decision is going to be made within the next couple of years as to how we are going to advance the technology. So that is going to be coming and it is going to replace these Doppler radars,” said Laws.

How will the next generation of radar be different to the one meteorologists have used for decades to keep us safe?

“You won’t see a dish or dome like we have now. It is not circular - it is more square and there is no moving parts. So each side of the square has its own radar essentially,” said Laws.

The lack of movement will mean less maintenance work, and more importantly, quicker radar results.

“Basically, you are cutting down on the scan times by several minutes. So right now, they update every three to four minutes and now you’re talking about updating every thirty seconds or less. So that is a huge advantage as far as lead times are concerned in a tornado situation, for example,” Laws said.

Still, the technology won’t see widespread use for years to come.

“Hopefully within the next ten years, you will start to see these roll out,” said Laws.

Laws stressed that while the will to improve the systems are there, determining the funding sources and how to best shift the necessary infrastructure in to place are things that will delay the switch.

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