South Texas weather radars upgraded

New technology to improve fore­casting, warning accuracy

SAN ANTONIO - The Doppler radar has become a vital part of predicting weather and protecting millions and now it will be seeing an upgrade, the first since the 1990s. 

Over 100 Doppler radars, located around the county, will be retrofitted over the next year by the United States government. 

The upgrade includes the Doppler radar located at the National Weather Service in New Braunfels and at Laughlin Air Force Base near Del Rio.

"It’s going to open a whole new world of looking inside the storms and really having a better idea of what’s happening inside of them,” said Paul Yura, warning coordination meteorologist for the Austin/San Antonio Nation Weather Service.

Currently, Doppler radars sent out horizontal beams to detect the weather around them. Once updated, the radar will also send out a vertical beam, creating an improved view of the particles in the atmosphere. The process is called dual-polarization or “dual-pol”.

"We'll be able to have a lot better idea of the size, the shape, and the variety of particles that are actually falling through the sky," said Yura.

Meteorologists will be able to see differences between objects like a sleet pellet and a snow flake, or a hail stone and a large rain drop. The result will be more accurate warnings according to Yura. For South Texas, specifically, accuracy of radar estimate rainfall should increase.

"Right now when the radar sees hail, it also thinks its rainfall and it goes to the rainfall totals,” said Yura.

Eliminating this phenomenon would likely result in more accurate flood warnings.

The update of the New Braunfels Nation Weather Service radar is slated to take place in March. The process will take about two weeks to complete and during that time, radar service will be down. Surrounding radars will be used to detect any weather in the area.

"We're pretty lucky for that because we are in the first tier of radars to actually get retrofitted like that,” said Yura. “Many of the other radars in Texas will wait for the other part of the year and maybe even parts of 2013."

While not everyone will be able to see the visible changes of the upgrade, meteorologists are expected to benefit greatly from the technology.

"If we can get the warnings out quicker with more information, with more exact information, that can help everybody," said Yura.


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