Weather or Not: How does radar work?

Weather or Not: What is Radar?

ARKLATEX (KSLA) - Radar is a word that you hear almost every day, whether or not there is rain outside. Did you know that radar is actually an acronym? It stands for Radio Detection and Ranging.

Radar towers are normally located in rural areas and most of the time near an airport. They are placed in these areas because buildings and large features like mountains obstruct the radar's beam. That's why areas with less development are ideal for a radar site.

This is how a radar works. Pulses are sent from the radar. When these pulses encounter a rain drop a secondary pulse is reflected back to the radar. Once that is reflected and reaches the tower, it ingests the data. The distance and time determined by that specific reflected pulse tells the radar the location and how far away the rain is from the radar.

There are some limitations to radar:

  • Radar can only detect rain within a 143 mile radius
  • A radar beam is sent out at a certain height. This means that if there are clouds, rain, or thunderstorms lower to the surface, the beam will not pick them up.
  • If rain is going right over the radar, it can't pick the rain up either
  • A radar beam can pick up on other things besides rain.  
    • Examples would be planes, smoke or ash from large fires, and  large flocks of bird.

Radar is a technology that is constantly evolving. It was first used extensively in World War II before releasing the technology to the public after the war was over. Different technologies have improved radar throughout the years. Dual-Polarization has given us different products that we now use during severe weather coverage. One of these products is velocity, which we use to determine rotation on radar.

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