National Academies Press: OpenBook

Weather Radar Technology Beyond NEXRAD (2002)

Chapter: 7. Concluding Remarks: Radar in a Time of Terrorism

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Suggested Citation:"7. Concluding Remarks: Radar in a Time of Terrorism." National Research Council. 2002. Weather Radar Technology Beyond NEXRAD. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10394.

Concluding Remarks: Radar in a Time of Terrorism

This study began during spring 2001, a time marked by unprecedented peace and prosperity in the United States. On September 11, 2001 horrific acts of terrorism rocked the foundation of this country. In subsequent weeks, fears of further domestic terrorism continued, and fears of potential atmospheric releases of chemical, biological, or nuclear materials increased. This report has been prepared in this context. Though a detailed investigation of the application of weather radar to such situations is beyond the scope of this study, the committee feels there are important ways in which weather radar is directly tied to homeland security, and this need should be raised in the context of this report.

The current radar system could be employed in support of tactical and strategic aids for characterizing the transport and deposition of contaminants near the earth’s surface. This could be accomplished by: (1) making direct use of NEXRAD Doppler wind data, (2) assimilating the Doppler wind data into high-resolution mesoscale models to forecast transport and deposition characteristics, (3) deploying emergency relocatable radars similar to those used in tornado research to regions of expected or actual terrorist releases of contaminants, and (4) characterizing and quantifying scavenging and deposition rates of dangerous materials by precipitation (e.g., Seliga et al., 1989; Jylhä, 1999a,b). Some of these possibilities are to be tested in an urban dispersion experiment planned for the Oklahoma City area in 2003.

Future generation weather surveillance radar systems could provide similar, but improved, capabilities in this important area. Because of the potentially important use of weather surveillance radar as a tool in homeland security, it is critical that these discussions and investigations continue.

Suggested Citation:"7. Concluding Remarks: Radar in a Time of Terrorism." National Research Council. 2002. Weather Radar Technology Beyond NEXRAD. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10394.
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Weather radar is a vital instrument for observing the atmosphere to help provide weather forecasts and issue weather warnings to the public. The current Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) system provides Doppler radar coverage to most regions of the United States (NRC, 1995). This network was designed in the mid 1980s and deployed in the 1990s as part of the National Weather Service (NWS) modernization (NRC, 1999). Since the initial design phase of the NEXRAD program, considerable advances have been made in radar technologies and in the use of weather radar for monitoring and prediction. The development of new technologies provides the motivation for appraising the status of the current weather radar system and identifying the most promising approaches for the development of its eventual replacement.

The charge to the committee was to determine the state of knowledge regarding ground-based weather surveillance radar technology and identify the most promising approaches for the design of the replacement for the present Doppler Weather Radar. This report presents a first look at potential approaches for future upgrades to or replacements of the current weather radar system. The need, and schedule, for replacing the current system has not been established, but the committee used the briefings and deliberations to assess how the current system satisfies the current and emerging needs of the operational and research communities and identified potential system upgrades for providing improved weather forecasts and warnings. The time scale for any total replacement of the system (20- to 30-year time horizon) precluded detailed investigation of the designs and cost structures associated with any new weather radar system. The committee instead noted technologies that could provide improvements over the capabilities of the evolving NEXRAD system and recommends more detailed investigation and evaluation of several of these technologies. In the course of its deliberations, the committee developed a sense that the processes by which the eventual replacement radar system is developed and deployed could be as significant as the specific technologies adopted. Consequently, some of the committee's recommendations deal with such procedural issues.

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