Monday, June 1, 2015

Happy 20th Anniversary KMTX!

Weather prediction over northern Utah reached a major milestone this week with the 20th anniversary of the KMTX WSR-88D radar on Promontory Point (right image in the @NEXRADROC tweet below).
WSR-88D stands for Weather Surveillance Radar, 1988, Doppler, a name only the National Organization for the Advancement of Acronyms [(a.k.a., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)] could love.  The non-technical name is NEXRAD, for NEXt-generation RADar.

The development, installation, and subsequent operation of the 160-radar NEXRAD network is a great success story, paying dividends to the American taxpayer many times over.  Mike Smith, author of the book Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather, calls the NEXRAD network "one of the best investments the federal government has ever made when viewed on a cost/benefit basis."

The NEXRAD network replaced the pre-existing network of WSR-57 and WSR-74 radars, adding increased resolution and the ability to measure Doppler velocity, the magnitude of the flow towards or away from the radar, which is critical for warnings related to severe convective storms and tornadoes.  The NWS recently added polarimetric capabilities to the NEXRAD network, which allows each radar to send and receive horizontal and vertical radar waves and better discriminate between rain, hail, snow, and other precipitation types.

Although beneficial across the country, the NEXRAD network was a revolutionary advance across most of the western United States and northern Utah, which were completely uncovered by the WSR-57 and WSR-74 radars.

Source: National Academies Press (1995).
In fact, prior to the installation of the KMTX radar, forecasters at the Salt Lake City National Weather Service Office relied on hand-drawn analyses from a FAA radar — hardly a recipe for success during rapidly evolving severe and hazardous weather events.

Today, thanks to KMTX, you can view radar loops in real-time on your smart phone while skiing in the Wasatch.  That's what I call progress!  Chances are you are using radar apps developed by private sector companies, which have leveraged the NEXRAD network to tap into all sorts of emerging markets in weather sensitive areas.  None of this was possible when I started graduate school.  Kudos to all in the weather enterprise who have contributed to these advances.

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