NWS: New forecasting tool will save lives


From flooding rain to large hail, tornadoes to winter storms, Central Indiana sees it all. And we're about to see it even better. 

On Tuesday morning, technicians began installation of the biggest upgrade to Doppler radar in decades. 

SkyTrak 13 meteorologist Chikage Windler went to Wilmington, Ohio, where the upgrade has already been completed, to see the life-saving advantages coming to Indianapolis.

On September 21,when hail pounded downtown Indianapolis with up to golf-ball sized stones, meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Wilmington were able to track them armed with new radar technology called Dual Polarization Radar, "Dual Pol," for short.

"Dual polarization is one of the most significant radar upgrades to come since the invention of Doppler radar," said Seth Binau, the Sciences and Operations Officer at Wilmington NWS.

Conventional radar sends a beam in a horizontal slice through a storm, but with Dual Pol radar, you get not only a horizontal slice, but also a vertical slice.  This new radar helps you see storms in two dimensions, which will help meteorologists better pinpoint exactly what's going on inside a storm.

"Is it snow, is it freezing rain, is it sleet, is it small hail?" Binau says Dual Pol eliminates much of the guesswork that makes short-term forecasts so challenging.

"With Dual Pol radar data, we are going to have increased confidence on what precipitation is falling over what areas," Binau adds.

Here's an example of what Dual Pol looks like from a winter storm in New York and New England.

The new radar deciphered a wintry mess of snow, sleet, and rain fancy products like "z-dr" and "correlation coefficient", erasing the question marks.

And in the March 2 tornado outbreak that moved through Alabama, this Dual Pol image shows a "debris ball" of a tornado, confirmation that a tornado was actually on the ground and causing damage.  That gave forecasters an edge in issuing warnings for those in the path of the storm. 

Back in Wilmington, Binau explained the upgrade to Dual Pol isn't cheap. Each upgraded radar costs around $225,000, and there are 160 radars nationwide getting new technology. That adds up to more than 50 million taxpayer dollars for the upgrade.

"That's a big chunk of money, but its estimated that in just one year, Dual Pol might save millions of dollars in damages," said Binau.

The other advantage: more lead time to keep your family safe.

"There's lives saved," said Binau. "If you can save one life, isn't a technology enhancement worth it? It's absolutely a no-brainer as far as saving lives."

The upgrade for Indianapolis is expected to be complete by early next week, with all radars upgraded across the country by the middle of next year.

More information on Dual Polarization radar.