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NWS radar upgrade to give different view of storms

SHALLOTTE, NC (WWAY) — A big facelift is happening in the weather community. The National Weather Service’s radar in Shallotte is off-line right now for some major upgrades that are going to change the way we show you storms.

So how does our radar work now? Inside the radar dome, a huge dish rotates constantly sending out pulses into the atmosphere, looking for rain, but that pulse can’t tell us exactly what’s there.

Imagine that a baseball is a raindrop. With our current radar, we’re only looking at it horizontally. By looking at it one way, we can tell that it’s there, and how it’s moving, but don’t know much about it’s shape. That’s all changing.

Crews are hard at work, and doing some heavy lifting, to change out the old parts and put in the new system, which will give us what’s called a “dual polarization” radar. Instead of looking only horizontally, now we’ll look vertically, too, meaning we’ll be able to know the size and shape of the rain, snow, sleet and hail in the sky.

“It’s going to help us provide better rainfall information data,” Reid Hawkins fo the NWS office in Wilmington said. “It’s also going to help us determine where hail is in a storm.”

In a worst-case scenario, large debris flying in the sky will give us ability to confirm if a large tornado is on the ground.

But just like getting a new computer upgrade, there will be some challenges for meteorologists when using this new data.

“It’s actually a learning curve, the experience of being able to look at the imagery,” Hawkins said.

By the end of the year, the Weather Service estimates that all of these radars will be upgraded across the entire country, meaning everybody has a better look at the storms.

While the radar is offline, the NWS is using the radars in Raleigh and Morehead City, as well as Columbia and Charleston, SC, to track storms that form across our area. You can rest easy. They’ll still be able to issue severe weather warnings until the upgrade is complete early next week.

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