Spotlight on the Weather Partners: Radar Operations Center

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The NEXRAD radars stand tall, scanning our skies. They are components of a national network maintained by the Radar Operations Center. The information provided by these radars is used by NOAA National Weather Service forecasters, the Federal Aviation Administration, and U.S. Military.

Forecasters at the NOAA National Weather Service use NEXRAD radar as their primary tool for observing, monitoring, and forecasting the weather. The Radar Operations Center plays a crucial role in supporting the forecasters’ day-to-day operations.

David Andra: “In the short term, the support role of the Radar Operations Center helps us keep the radars running reliably. In the longer term, the development and modernization efforts that go on there help move the technology forward, which then allows us to do more.”

The NOAA National Severe Storms Lab researches and develops new tools and techniques to improve the radar. Once proven, these new tools must be placed in the hands of the forecaster.

Kurt Hondl: “The Radar Operations Center is responsible for taking that research technology and implementing it on the national network. Without them in the process, the research techniques that we develop here stay here. They don’t make it into the operational system. So the Radar Operations Center is an important part of that process to make sure that things we identify here are implemented in the operational network so all of the forecasters have benefit of it.”

Rich Vogt: “The NEXRAD program was a collaboration of three departments: the Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, and Department of Commerce. Working together, they could fund this network of radars in a more economical way than each of the agencies could on their own. They also formed this Radar Operations Center with tri-agency staffing and funding.”

In 1988, the Center was established in Norman, Oklahoma. The location was based on its proximity to the National Severe Storms Lab and the University of Oklahoma’s radar meteorology program.

The work done by the Radar Operations Center requires a wide variety of specialties, including meteorology, engineering, programming, radar technology, and many others. A twenty-four hour hotline provides assistance to radar field sites across the country, as well as some international locations. Technicians also travel to radar sites, providing assistance for maintenance and support activities.

Currently, the Radar Operations Center is collaborating on a major improvement to the radar network. Dual Polarization technology allows the radar to send and receive both horizontal and vertical pulses. This simultaneous signal will give more information about the size and shape of particles in the atmosphere.

Scott Saul: “So overall, what Dual Pol is going to do is it’s going to allow the forecaster to be more accurate and be more precise with their forecast. They’re going to know when it’s going to hail and where it’s going to hail. They’re going to know when winter precipitation is going to be light rain vs. heavy rain vs. snow.  The difference between six inches of snow and maybe half an inch of rain is just huge. That’ll allow the forecasters to say which of those scenarios is going to occur. Emergency managers then are able to put salt on the roads or not. So it’s really going to make the public a lot safer from that aspect, as well.”

Acting as the bridge between research and warnings, the mission of the Radar Operation Center is vital to our nation’s weather safety.

Rich Vogt: “The number one goal is to keep this fleet of radars running at a very high availability rate to provide reliable data and high quality data needed by the forecasters to put out warnings for severe weather and tornadoes.”