Legislation introduced to better cover Charlotte with Doppler Radar

Legislation introduced to better cover Charlotte with Doppler Radar.

Charlotte has long suffered from a lack of quality doppler radar coverage. The closest Doppler radar to the Charlotte Metro 94 miles away in Greer, SC.  No other city of Charlotte’s size currently has a radar situated more than 58 miles away. This has become a very dangerous situation in my opinion. The reason is by the time the Doppler radar beam from Greer gets to Charlotte it’s almost 10,000′ above the ground. It’s even worse for areas north and east of Charlotte up I-85 into the Triad area. I believe this was a contributing factor in the 2012 Reedy Creek tornado going unwarned.

2015-09-17_18-56-21 2015-09-17_18-55-39

You can see in the above maps the “hole” that there is in the coverage. Even by the Government standards the coverage over Charlotte to Salisbury to Winston-Salem goes from just fair to poor.

Here is why this is such a problem.

The farther you are away from a radar, the higher up the beam is and wider the beam gets, this does two things

#1: You over-shoot a lot of severe weather that happens near the ground. Like tornadoes, downbursts, etc.

#2 The beam becoming wider makes the radar loses its resolution as well.

Courtesy of Penn State Meteorology (learningweather.psu.edu) CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0


It has been argued that the Terminal Doppler radar fills the gap. This frankly is nonsense. It’s a weaker C-band radar that has many issues with coverage especially “rain fade” or attenuation when there is heavy rain over the radar site. On top of all that it was never meant to be used for the same purpose as the bigger 88-D radar in Greer. It’s a band-aid on a gaping wound that needs ten stitches. Don’t even get me started on the whole missing radial of the TDWR that is being blocked by a communications tower.


The legislation:

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), Representative Alma Adams (D-NC) and Representative Robert Pittenger (R-NC) introduced the Metropolitan Weather Hazards Protection Act of 2015, which will enhance the Doppler radar system in North Carolina. This legislation requires the Secretary of Commerce to operate and maintain a National Weather Service (NWS) Doppler radar within 55 miles of a city with a population over 700,000, addressing a serious public safety deficiency in the North Carolina region.

Charlotte is currently covered by a NWS Doppler radar that is 94 miles away in Greer, SC. However, no other city of Charlotte’s size currently has a radar situated more than 58 miles away. The current location results in a majority of the metropolitan area being without radar beam coverage below 10,000 feet. Due to the circumference of the earth the further a radar is away from a given point, the higher the radar beam scans the atmosphere, leading to lower resolutions and an inability to detect the low-level dynamics of severe weather. Rowan, Cabarrus, and Davidson Counties have an even more pronounced problem with limited radar coverage because of the location of the radar.

Local meteorologists believe that the lack of quality radar coverage has made it difficult for the NWS office in Spartanburg to detect severe weather, specifically tornadoes. These meteorologists who understand the intricacies of weather in the Piedmont believe that the lack of an NWS Doppler radar in Charlotte contributed to the lack of a warning for a tornado that effected Mecklenburg, Rowan, and Cabarrus Counties in March of 2012 that damaged 192 homes. The failure was not the fault of the NWS, as it can be very difficult to detect rotation in the thunderstorms that tend to effect North Carolina; however, the lack of a Doppler radar for the Piedmont enhances the problem. This legislation will give the NWS, local and state officials, and news outlets the tools they need to protect our citizens.

Letters from three area meteorologists are available here: WGHP, WCNC and WBTV

The legislation:

  • Requires the Secretary of Commerce to operate and maintain a Doppler radar within 55 miles of a city with a population over 700,000.
  • Requires the Secretary, when evaluating potential sites, to take into account adjacent counties with limited radar coverage and that have populations over 130,000.
  • Requires that any new radar include the most up to date technology used around the country.

What’ Next?

As you can see, I did submit my opinions and some maps to help support this legislation. The next thing to do is rally support to get this bill through. I won’t hold my breath but feel like no matter your political beliefs that public safety should be one thing we can all agree on.

Maybe reach out to your representative and ask that they support this bill.

Other reading on the lack of radar coverage. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2013/07/25/storms-flying-under-the-radar-when-radar-gaps-and-down-time-turn-dangerous/