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NWS radar will be new and improved

By Amy Hadachek
for The Fence Post

The National Weather Service launched an improved display of their weather radar on Nov. 17.

Ranchers, farmers and others can test out the new radar webpage while it’s in a type of preview mode for the next 30 days in order to get used to it while still having access to the current radar. The temporary preview site can be viewed at preview-radar.weather.gov. The current radar will be discontinued on Dec. 16, and then the new radar will be available on a permanent site at radar.weather.gov.

Just remember that the NWS radar network isn’t changing, the actual radar remains the same, it’s the way the radar data is displayed is changing — just the interface on the NWS websites. They are updating the radar to be more user-friendly, and also to provide higher resolution radar data, said Paul Kirkwood, a meteorologist in the Science & Technology Services Division of the NWS Southern Region in Fort Worth, Texas.

Everyday users will notice a change.

The current radar became pixelated when zooming in and the square pixels would become distorted making it tougher to see the radar data. The new radar has much higher resolution so the the images will be more crisp-looking with four times higher resolution. Users will be able to zoom in, with a sharper picture, and negotiate around a region more. “You are not tied to the area you first select,” Kirkwood said.

You can loop the new radar, and it won’t get pixelated. Looping (putting the radar in a movement mode) shows you the past few views — so that you can see where the precipitation was previously located, and the direction and speed that it’s currently moving.

Also, on the current radar, when you first looked at the national map, there were numerous large blue dots placed on the major cities across the country. Now, there’s an option to delete the blue dots, if you want.

This map showing a close-up view of Denver, with light snow over Breckenridge and a view from Steamboat Springs to Wray, Colo. is from the current NWS radar.

“Ranchers and farmers could zoom in to their area of interest, save it, and then it will always be there,” said Kirkwood, who is also the project manager of the team that created the new radar with Nipa Parikh. The team also included their multi-radar, multi-sensor team from Norman, Okla. (National Severe Storms Laboratory,) and their GIS team in Silver Spring, My., as well as their software development branch in Silver Spring and Kansas City, Mo.

A key improvement with the new radar page is if your area radar was knocked offline due to storms or during routine maintenance, you won’t miss a beat, because you’d still get radar data, Kirkwood said. You will no longer see that former black screen that says “Radar is offline” because the nearest radar site will automatically kick in with the data. If you see a red dot, it means the radar is offline, like when the Lake Charles, La., radar was knocked out by Hurricane Laura. “But other radars will automatically kick in (providing nearby radar images) since it uses our mosaic radar (surrounding radars) to fill in,” Kirkwood said.

The radar scans update every 10 minutes.

“When you think about the radar sweeping around, it goes 360 degrees and up in elevation too, so that we get to see the mid-levels of the storm,” Kirkwood said. “However, when we have severe weather, we use our precipitation mode and the update frequency is greater; normally every four and a half minutes.” They also have the ability to use another function that can give an extra lowest level scan every one and a half minutes. It’s called Supplemental Adaptive Intra-Volume Low-Level Scan or SAILS.

“The radar web page can be saved on your mobile phone home screen just like an app so you can use this powerful weather monitoring tool on the go,” said Maureen O’Leary, deputy director of public affairs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric’s NWS.

Some of the other new features:

• NWS national mosaics deliver more radar data, including 159 NEXRAD Doppler radars and Terminal Doppler Weather Radars. For times when a single radar is out of service, you still have coverage since radar beams overlap.

This map of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Utah with turquoise blue and some green color is the current NWS radar.

• The new page’s infrastructure allows for easy integration of new datasets, like satellite imagery, in the future.

• Video tutorials are available to help you get started using the site.

The big change was needed because Adobe Flash will not be supported in 2021.

“Our current pages use Flash, so we knew we had to change. In addition, Flash doesn’t work on most mobile devices, which has led to complaints from the public. So, we needed something more user-friendly that worked on those pages,” Kirkwood said.

Even now, the current radar site routinely receives around 1.75 million hits on an average day, and hundreds of millions of hits per day during active weather, according to the NWS website.

This mag featuring Colorado, Kansas and part of Nebraska is from the new NWS radar.

With technology changing, already more than 80 percent of Americans age 13 and over reported owning a smartphone by 2018, according to the website, and more than half of all website traffic worldwide is attributed to mobile devices.

“When we designed this radar, we needed to figure out how we get the information to the public, whether it’s farmers, or a mom taking a child to soccer,” Kirkwood said.

This new radar page is part of the big picture, tying it all into the Weather-Ready Nation plan, which is the NWS mission to protect lives and property, and enabling people to have easy access to critical weather and radar information.

This map of northern Colorado, showing Colorado Springs to Fort Collins and Fort Morgan to Aspen is from the new NWS radar.

“Our mission in the NWS, is to show the raw radar data. We work with private partnerships to show those additional features that the NWS doesn’t provide. Others, like AccuWeather (Baron Services and others) are able to provide that, and if someone needs that — that’s where we go,” Kirkwood said.

The webpage is more reliable now that it is on an operationally supported system 24/7. Radar animation loops can be saved, shared and used on social media.

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Simplified step-by-step radar instructions:

Go to preview.radar.weather.gov.

Click on the word Location in the upper left search bar. Type in your city.

You’ll get any watches and warnings for your area, temperature and your forecast.

To loop (move) the radar, click on lower left button. The arrow is pointing to the right/hover over it and it says play.

To zoom in closer tap the plus sign in lower left. To zoom out, tap minus sign in lower left.

For more advanced options:

Select view: National Radar Mosaic and make a bookmark to go back to it.

Check it out:

Temporary new site: preview-radar.weather.gov

Permanent site: radar.weather.gov

For background info on the updated radar displays:

https://www.weather.gov/ilx/radar-display-faq

 


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