Forecasters to cast away Doppler radar for new technology

Tuesday, April 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Forecasters at the National Weather Service are casting aside the Doppler radar that served them for three decades for a new technology that will help them predict storms more quickly and accurately.

Workers soon will dismantle the structure, known as the Norman Doppler Radar, from Max Westheimer Airport.

In September, researchers will begin working with SPY-1 radar technology produced by Lockheed Martin Corp. for the Navy's most advanced Aegis destroyers.

The Norman Doppler was originally used by the Air Force in the 1960s to scan the skies for Soviet missiles on Canada's northern frontier. In 1970, the radar was customized to begin detecting tornadoes.

Don Burgess, chief of warning research and development at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, remembers when the radar went into service in 1971.

At a ceremony recently to mark the decommissioning of the Doppler tower, rain fell as speakers took the podium.

``When we turned the radar on, it scared the storms away,'' Burgess said. ``Now that we're tearing it down, the storms come.''

The system collected its first storm data May 23, 1971, and continued to track storms for the next 20 years, Burgess aid. It has gone unused since 1992.

The Norman Doppler was used in the 1980s to develop today's sophisticated ``NEXRAD'' Doppler radar, deployed at 158 places across the United States and on U.S. military installations overseas.

NEXRAD is credited with improving severe weather warning times.

But the new SPY-1 technology has the potential to add even more warning time, scanning a storm six times faster than NEXRAD, Burgess said.

``The potential of this radar is enormous,'' he said. ``We just have to learn how to use it.''

The radar also has the potential to show more detail at lower elevations than NEXRAD.

Work on the new radar should take about a decade to complete, Burgess said.

The severe storms lab has received $20 million in funding from federal, state and private sources to conduct its research.