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Phased-Array Radar Could Improve Tornado Prediction Times

But cost could keep it decades away

3 min read

28 June 2011—At 5:17 p.m. on 22 May, the U.S. National Weather Service forecast office in Springfield, Mo., issued a tornado warning for the nearby town of Joplin, 24 minutes before the twister hit. But this was unusually early. Tornado warnings today provide an average lead time of 13 minutes, a leap from the 5 minutes people had in the early 1980s, before the weather service employed a nationwide network of nearly 150 Doppler radars for severe weather detection.

More computing power and advanced signal-processing algorithms have maximized the warning-time gain from this radar system. Further updates are under way, but "the system is approaching its end of life," says Sebastian Torres, a research scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla. "We’re exploring the future of weather radar," says Torres.

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Greg Mably

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