ASHWAUBENON - The WSR-88D weather radar used by the Green Bay National Weather Service is one of the most useful tools available to meteorologists today. It allows us to see precipitation, winds within storms and even identify tornadoes in strong thunderstorms - all without leaving the office. But it was installed in 1992 and being older technology, it has its limitations.
"The current radar is great telling us where precipitation is, how hard it's falling, and how it's moving within a storm. But what it is not very good at is telling us the size and the shape of the particles within the clouds," said Gene Brusky, National Weather Service.
So it's out with the old and in with the new.
And while the new radar won't look much different from the outside, it's what's inside that counts. The new technology being installed is what's called dual-polarization radar. And once it's installed, the advantages we gain will have been worth the wait.
"We'll be able to better detect hail and where the hail is falling, and also detect how large the hail is. It will also give us a better sense of where the heaviest precipitation is falling. Lastly, it'll be able to detect debris lifted into the clouds from tornadoes should one touch down," said Brusky.
Dual-pole radar sends out two beams, one vertical and one horizontal, as opposed to just one horizontal beam.
This allows it to see the size and shape of objects in the clouds, rather than just their existence and location.
So in addition to seeing the difference between hail and rain the summer, it'll be able to better tell the difference between rain and snow in the winter, helping us all around the year.
One thing dual-pole does not improve upon, though, is the current radar's ability to see wind shifts within a storm, and accordingly, potential tornadoes. That's because the old radars were already very good at doing this.
"We've been getting better and better with lead times, and right now we average anywhere from 10 to 13 minutes warning," said Brusky.
The impending upgrade means that Green Bay's NWS radar will be down, but that doesn't mean we'll be in the dark.
Milwaukee and Marquette, Michigan's radar will provide some coverage. And our very own FOX 11 Live Doppler is located right here in the heart of Packer country.
The radar upgrade and subsequent downtime begins Friday. Installation will last about a week.
After it's completed, every radar site in Wisconsin will have the new dual-polarization technology.
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