The National Weather Service has just completed a major upgrade to the radar units scanning the skies for active weather over Wisconsin.
"This is one of the major retrofits" meteorologist Todd Shea of the La Crosse National Weather Service office told Newsline 9.
Wisconsin's three National Weather Service Doppler radar units have now all been equipped with dual-polarization technology. The upgrade is scheduled to eventually reach all of the NWS radars in the country; part of a $50 million nationwide effort.
"We're really excited to take a look at this data" Eugene Brusky of the National Weather Service office in Green Bay said. "I think it will really help forecasters better identify areas of heavy rainfall, better and more easily identify areas of hail and distinguish areas of hail in a storm as opposed to just heavy rain."
The National Weather Service says that dual-polarization radar will help meteorologists better analyze the weather over Wisconsin. Doppler radar units work by sending a pulse of energy in a horizontal plane away from a radar tower, looking for areas of active weather. But the new dual-polarized radar sends an additional pulse of energy in the vertical plane, essentially providing a cross-section of the atmosphere.
"With our conventional Doppler radar we sometimes had to assume what we were seeing on radar. This change in our radar system in a sense gives us more of a 3-D look at what that object is we're seeing" Shea said.
In addition for meteorologists to be able to better analyze rain and hail, the system will provide an additional confirmation when tornadoes touch down.
"In the case of a tornado, the radars will be able to tell that that is not rain and it's not hail so we'll be able to confirm that a tornado has actually struck something" Shea said.
Tornadoes typically send debris from the ground into the atmosphere when they strike. That provides a signature on radar that meteorologists use to spot and indicate tornadoes are on the move.
Though the new technology cannot help in determining if a tornado will develop, it can offer more clarity. A function of the upgrade that forecasters say is worthwhile.
"Once it's on the ground in many cases it will allow us to see the debris signature and then warn folks down stream that that tornado is approaching" Brusky said.