NOAA Introduces Its Next-Generation Weather Radar

NORMAN, OK – NOAA has unveiled its next-generation, one-of-a-kind weather radar that could soon replace the aging network of Doppler radars throughout the country.
The Advanced Technology Demonstrator (ATD) is a highly advanced Weather Surveillance Radar that utilizes Phased-Array technology to scan the atmosphere, looking for storms.
A $20 million prototype project, ATD will be running as a research radar on the grounds of the National Severe Storms Laboratory, located near the campus of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. While not in an operational state, ATD will allow forecasters and meteorologists to see storms like we’ve never seen them before.
Traditional radars use a dish that encompasses an antenna that sends out a single radar beam. The problem is, the radar beam can only be sent out in one direction. In order to scan other areas, the dish must rotate up and down and around 360-degrees.
All of that mechanical movement not only slows down the rate radar scans are completed, equating to longer delays between updates, but causes excessive wear and tear on the mechanical components, which can lead to prolonged periods of outages when parts break.

Animation showing the benefits of a phased array radar compared to a traditional radar. Credit: NOAA

ATD has nearly 5,000 radar beams placed on a flat panel. The beams can be sent out in any 90-degree direction without moving. This gives forecasters the ability to look in multiple directions at a faster rate than traditional radar.
While the current setup only has one panel on a rotating apparatus that must be moved mechanically, the future goal of ATD is to have it scan 360-degrees simultaneously by utilizing four panels, completely making the radar solid-state with no physical moving parts.
A sketch drawing of what the actual phased array panels look like.
Credit: NOAA

By using phrased-array technology, ATD can deliver rapid-fire scans, with new radar sweeps coming in every 60 seconds, which can be reduced to about 30 seconds depending on the storm. ATD’s quicker radar scans will improve severe weather detection and increase the timeliness of warnings.
In addition to the advanced phrased array technology, ATD also incorporates Dual-Polarization technology, which was rolled out to the current network of Doppler radars in 2010. Dual-Pol allows the radar beam to be sent both vertically and horizontally to better detect what type and size of precipitation is falling.
By combining the two technologies together, NOAA is able to get the best from both technologies, making ATD the world’s first Dual Polarization phased array radar for weather surveillance.
NOAA says if the research proves effective, ATD could be rolled out across the country within the next 20 years.