Radar Could Better Predict When, Where Tornadoes Form

Dr. David Stensrud

Weather researchers in Oklahoma are using military technology to design the next generation weather radar.

It may help better predict where and when tornadoes will form.

The residents in Moore, Oklahoma had less than 15 minutes advance warning before an E-F 5 tornado flattened neighborhoods and schools.

Dr. David Stensrud is a chief researcher at the National Severe Storm Laboratory in Norman. He and a team of researchers are working on a new weather radar that will predict where a tornadic Supercell might form and the path it may take. Imagine a lead time of an hour instead of just a few minutes.

"So the idea is that we can take radar data and help build a storm in a computer model and use that to make a prediction out 45 minutes to an hour ahead of time," he said.

The more sophisticated technology is called Phased Array Radar.

What we use right now to track severe storms is Doppler radar. It uses one beam, but the phased array radar uses multiple beams simultaneously.

"So you can sample the storm very rapidly so instead of every 5 minute, every minute and maybe even faster than that," Stensrud said.

This radar technology isn't new. It's been used by the military for many years to track aircraft. Former U.S. Navy pilot and current U.S. Congressman Jim Bridenstine is familiar with the technology.

"We use those technologies to target aircraft from hundreds of miles away," Bridenstine said. "Those radar technologies can be honed into not only an aircraft but into a cloud."

To make sure the phased array radar is the best fit for predicting and tracking storms, a congressional committee is asking NOAA to use current funds from its budget to keep improving weather-related technologies that will help the public.

"The most important thing for me is that we pass a piece of legislation that we know will save lives and save property," Bridenstine said.

We have no idea how much the new radar system will cost, but one thing's for certain, it may be a decade before the new radar is rolled out.