Lowering weather radar can improve forecasting

Medford, Ore. — Tracking lightning storms is a major part of preventing major wildfires. Now, the National Weather Service (NWS) is planning changes to make it easier to do just that. Those changes could allow meteorologists to see more of the region, and recognize storms before they cause problems.

NWS Medford wants to lower the KMAX radar by just 0.5 degrees. But that tiny change can make a world of difference for meteorologists in the region.

“Right now, we’re overshooting all the storms over at the coast. We can see them coming onto the satellite images, but the radar isn’t watching them come onshore,” said John Lovegrove, NWS Medford Meteorologist.

Lovegrove is explaining the current pitfalls of the KMAX radar on top of Mount Ashland.

“If there’s a convection – a thunderstorm – going on, we’ll be able to see lower down into the storm to see what will impact the people underneath it,” he said.

What exactly is KMAX? Lovegrove said in a nutshell, it’s the doppler weather radar. Similar to the ones you see on NBC5 News forecasts everyday.

“Anything that’s in the air – we can take a look at with the radar,” he said.

Anything from cloud drops, pollen, and even dust.

“We’ll change the lowest angle that the radar will look at. Right now, it’s about five degrees above the horizon, but flat,” he said.

Lovegrove said NWS Medford wants to lower that angle by half a degree.

The tiny change will have a big impact on how in depth your forecasts are.

“That will greatly extend the range that we could scan and interrogate with the radar,” he said.

He says right now, the radar can’t see anything below 25,000 feet in Coos Bay. But, if NWS Medford can lower the radar – it’s vision could potentially be doubled.

“We could drop that to 8,000 to 10,000 feet,” he said.

Lovegrove said that means meteorologists would be able to see further down into the atmosphere and get a better look at oncoming storms.

“We can combine that with our lightning detection and the satellite images and know how strong the thunderstorm is as it’s coming onshore,” he said.

The big question is – why not just do it? While it sounds simple to lower the radar, what goes into it includes an assessment to assure no one will be affected by the radar as it gives off radio-frequency. As of now, that assessment reports no one will be affected. NWS Medford said the main thing its waiting on now is new software, and that should be out by next year.

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