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What are weather radars and how they work?

(The following text is provided by wikipedia)

Weather radar, also called weather surveillance radar (WSR) and Doppler weather radar, is a type of radar used to locate precipitation, calculate its motion, and estimate its type (rain, snow, hail etc.). Modern weather radars are mostly pulse-Doppler radars, capable of detecting the motion of rain droplets in addition to the intensity of the precipitation. Both types of data can be analyzed to determine the structure of storms and their potential to cause severe weather. During World War II, radar operators discovered that weather was causing echoes on their screen, masking potential enemy targets. Techniques were developed to filter them, but scientists began to study the phenomenon. Soon after the war, surplus radars were used to detect precipitation. Since then, weather radar has evolved on its own and is now used by national weather services, research departments in universities, and in television stations’ weather departments. Raw images are routinely used and specialized software can take radar data to make short term forecasts of future positions and intensities of rain, snow, hail, and other weather phenomena. Radar output is even incorporated into numerical weather prediction models to improve analyses and forecasts.


During World War II, military radar operators noticed noise in returned echoes due to rain, snow, and sleet. After the war, military scientists returned to civilian life or continued in the Armed Forces and pursued their work in developing a use for those echoes. In the United States, David Atlas[1] at first working for the Air Force and later for MIT, developed the first operational weather radars. In Canada, J.S. Marshall and R.H. Douglas formed the “Stormy Weather Group” in Montreal.[2][3] Marshall and his doctoral student Walter Palmer are well known for their work on the drop size distribution in mid-latitude rain that led to understanding of the Z-R relation, which correlates a given radar reflectivity with the rate at which rainwater is falling. In the United Kingdom, research continued to study the radar echo patterns and weather elements such as stratiform rain and convective clouds, and experiments were done to evaluate the potential of different wavelengths from 1 to 10 centimeters. By 1950 the UK company EKCO was demonstrating its airborne ‘cloud and collision warning search radar equipment’.[4] 1960s radar technology detected tornado producing supercells over the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area. In 1953 Donald Staggs, an electrical engineer working for the Illinois State Water Survey, made the first recorded radar observation of a “hook echo” associated with a tornadic thunderstorm.[5] Between 1950 and 1980, reflectivity radars, which measure position and intensity of precipitation, were incorporated by weather services around the world. The early meteorologists had to watch a cathode ray tube. During the 1970s, radars began to be standardized and organized into networks. The first devices to capture radar images were developed. The number of scanned angles was increased to get a three-dimensional view of the precipitation, so that horizontal cross-sections (CAPPI) and vertical cross-sections could be performed. Studies of the organization of thunderstorms were then possible for the Alberta Hail Project in Canada and National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in the US in particular. The NSSL, created in 1964, began experimentation on dual polarization signals and on Doppler effect uses. In May 1973, a tornado devastated Union City, Oklahoma, just west of Oklahoma City. For the first time, a Dopplerized 10 cm wavelength radar from NSSL documented the entire life cycle of the tornado.[6] The researchers discovered a mesoscale rotation in the cloud aloft before the tornado touched the ground – the tornadic vortex signature. NSSL’s research helped convince the National Weather Service that Doppler radar was a crucial forecasting tool.[6] The Super Outbreak of tornadoes on 3–4 April 1974 and their devastating destruction might have helped to get funding for further developments.[citation needed] Between 1980 and 2000, weather radar networks became the norm in North America, Europe, Japan and other developed countries. Conventional radars were replaced by Doppler radars, which in addition to position and intensity could track the relative velocity of the particles in the air. In the United States, the construction of a network consisting of 10 cm radars, called NEXRAD or WSR-88D (Weather Surveillance Radar 1988 Doppler), was started in 1988 following NSSL’s research.[6][7] In Canada, Environment Canada constructed the King City station,[8] with a 5 cm research Doppler radar, by 1985; McGill University dopplerized its radar (J. S. Marshall Radar Observatory) in 1993. This led to a complete Canadian Doppler network[9] between 1998 and 2004. France and other European countries had switched to Doppler networks by the early 2000s. Meanwhile, rapid advances in computer technology led to algorithms to detect signs of severe weather, and many applications for media outlets and researchers. After 2000, research on dual polarization technology moved into operational use, increasing the amount of information available on precipitation type (e.g. rain vs. snow).[10] “Dual polarization” means that microwave radiation which is polarized both horizontally and vertically (with respect to the ground) is emitted. Wide-scale deployment was done by the end of the decade or the beginning of the next in some countries such as the United States, France,[11] and Canada. In April 2013, all United States National Weather Service NEXRADs were completely dual-polarized.[12] Since 2003, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been experimenting with phased-array radar as a replacement for conventional parabolic antenna to provide more time resolution in atmospheric sounding. This could be significant with severe thunderstorms, as their evolution can be better evaluated with more timely data. Also in 2003, the National Science Foundation established the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), a multidisciplinary, multi-university collaboration of engineers, computer scientists, meteorologists, and sociologists to conduct fundamental research, develop enabling technology, and deploy prototype engineering systems designed to augment existing radar systems by sampling the generally undersampled lower troposphere with inexpensive, fast scanning, dual polarization, mechanically scanned and phased array radars.