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  • View in gallery

    Example of radar echoes from predepression Hagupit at 2351:30 UTC 14 Sep 2008 during T-PARC/TCS08. Shown is the (a) dBZ (increment = 4 dBZ), (b) Doppler velocity (increment = 2 m s−1), (c) SW (increment = 1.5 m s−1), and (d) NCP (increment = 0.05). Nonweather echoes are labeled in (a).

  • View in gallery

    Close-up of radar echo from Fig. 1 near the aircraft. A 0.2 NCP threshold has been applied to the data. Shown is the (a) dBZ (increment = 5 dBZ), (b) Doppler velocity (increment = 1 m s−1), and (c) SW (increment = 0.5 m s−1). The sidelobe echo to the right of the aircraft has been highlighted in (b) by the dashed ellipse.

  • View in gallery

    Relative frequency of weather (black) and nonweather (gray) echoes with respect to various radar parameters. Shown are the (a) NCP, (b) SW, (c) dBZ, and (d) logarithm of the ratio of SW to linear dBZ.

  • View in gallery

    Example of the QC algorithm for the radar echo from Figs. 1 and 2. (a) The “reference” interactive editing, with results from the (b) low-, (c) medium-, and (d) high-threshold levels of the QC algorithm.

  • View in gallery

    Reference dBZ examples from the verification dataset from (a) VORTEX, (b) BAMEX, (c) RAINEX, and (d) T-PARC/TCS08. See Table 3 for further description of the dataset.

  • View in gallery

    ROC curves for the QC algorithm. (a) Full axes from 0 to 1 with the diagonal line demarcating the skill (top left) and no-skill (bottom right) regions. (b) A close-up of the area marked by the gray dashed box. Symbols represent low-, medium-, and high-thresholds of QC moving counterclockwise from top right to bottom left. Blue, red, green, and black curves correspond to different field experiments, and the cyan curve represents the average over the test dataset.

  • View in gallery

    PDFs and CDFs for the QC algorithm. PDFs of (a) weather echoes retained and (b) nonweather echoes removed from the test dataset. CDFs of (c) weather echoes removed and (d) nonweather echoes retained. Dashed green, solid blue, and dash–dotted red lines represent the low-, medium-, and high-threshold levels, respectively.

  • View in gallery

    Verification metrics for the QC algorithm. (a) TS, (b) ETS, and (c) TSS for each of the three threshold levels. Blue, red, green, and black bars correspond to different field experiments, and the cyan bar represents the average over the test dataset.

  • View in gallery

    Vertical velocity (color) at 8-km altitude from dual-Doppler retrieval of the example in Fig. 1 using different editing techniques. Results from (a) interactively edited data and (b)–(d) automatically edited data. Black contours in (a) show dBZ (increment = 10 dBZ) above 5 dBZ. Black contours in (b)–(d) indicate differences from (a) larger than 1 m s−1, with dashed contours denoting negative differences.

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A Solo-Based Automated Quality Control Algorithm for Airborne Tail Doppler Radar Data

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  • 1 University of Hawai'i at Mãnoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research,* Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

An automated quality control preprocessing algorithm for removing nonweather radar echoes in airborne Doppler radar data has been developed. This algorithm can significantly reduce the time and experience level required for interactive radar data editing prior to dual-Doppler wind synthesis or data assimilation. The algorithm uses the editing functions in the Solo software package developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research to remove noise, Earth-surface, sidelobe, second-trip, and other artifacts. The characteristics of these nonweather radar returns, the algorithm to identify and remove them, and the impacts of applying different threshold levels on wind retrievals are presented. Verification was performed by comparison with published Electra Doppler Radar (ELDORA) datasets that were interactively edited by different experienced radar meteorologists. Four cases consisting primarily of convective echoes from the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX), Bow Echo and Mesoscale Convective Vortex Experiment (BAMEX), Hurricane Rainband and Intensity Change Experiment (RAINEX), and The Observing System Research and Predictability Experiment (THORPEX) Pacific Asian Regional Campaign (T-PARC)/Tropical Cyclone Structure-2008 (TCS08) field experiments were used to test the algorithm using three threshold levels for data removal. The algorithm removes 80%, 90%, or 95% of the nonweather returns and retains 95%, 90%, or 85% of the weather returns on average at the low-, medium-, and high-threshold levels. Increasing the threshold level removes more nonweather echoes at the expense of also removing more weather echoes. The low threshold is recommended when weather retention is the highest priority, and the high threshold is recommended when nonweather removal is the highest priority. The medium threshold is a good compromise between these two priorities and is recommended for general use. Dual-Doppler wind retrievals using the automatically edited data compare well to retrievals from interactively edited data.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: Michael M. Bell, Dept. of Meteorology, University of Hawai'i at Mãnoa, 2525 Correa Rd., Honolulu, HI 96822. E-mail: mmbell@hawaii.edu

Abstract

An automated quality control preprocessing algorithm for removing nonweather radar echoes in airborne Doppler radar data has been developed. This algorithm can significantly reduce the time and experience level required for interactive radar data editing prior to dual-Doppler wind synthesis or data assimilation. The algorithm uses the editing functions in the Solo software package developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research to remove noise, Earth-surface, sidelobe, second-trip, and other artifacts. The characteristics of these nonweather radar returns, the algorithm to identify and remove them, and the impacts of applying different threshold levels on wind retrievals are presented. Verification was performed by comparison with published Electra Doppler Radar (ELDORA) datasets that were interactively edited by different experienced radar meteorologists. Four cases consisting primarily of convective echoes from the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX), Bow Echo and Mesoscale Convective Vortex Experiment (BAMEX), Hurricane Rainband and Intensity Change Experiment (RAINEX), and The Observing System Research and Predictability Experiment (THORPEX) Pacific Asian Regional Campaign (T-PARC)/Tropical Cyclone Structure-2008 (TCS08) field experiments were used to test the algorithm using three threshold levels for data removal. The algorithm removes 80%, 90%, or 95% of the nonweather returns and retains 95%, 90%, or 85% of the weather returns on average at the low-, medium-, and high-threshold levels. Increasing the threshold level removes more nonweather echoes at the expense of also removing more weather echoes. The low threshold is recommended when weather retention is the highest priority, and the high threshold is recommended when nonweather removal is the highest priority. The medium threshold is a good compromise between these two priorities and is recommended for general use. Dual-Doppler wind retrievals using the automatically edited data compare well to retrievals from interactively edited data.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Corresponding author address: Michael M. Bell, Dept. of Meteorology, University of Hawai'i at Mãnoa, 2525 Correa Rd., Honolulu, HI 96822. E-mail: mmbell@hawaii.edu

1. Introduction

Airborne Doppler radars are currently some of the best tools for deducing mesoscale three-dimensional wind and precipitation structures within weather systems at long range from an operations center. They have been the primary tools for deducing the internal structure of mesoscale weather phenomena such as bow echoes, convective boundary layers, fronts, hurricanes, mesoscale convective systems, tornadoes, and winter storms [Lee et al. (2003) and references therein]. Raw airborne Doppler data contain both weather and nonweather echoes that require editing and quality control (QC) prior to wind synthesis, but interactive QC has been a hindrance for researchers because of the time and training required to properly identify nonweather radar echoes. To date, this interactive editing process has not been systematically documented. The purpose of the current study is to (i) document the characteristics of nonweather echoes in airborne Doppler radar, (ii) design an algorithm to preprocess airborne Doppler QC automatically to reduce both the time and necessary experience level for data users, and (iii) validate the algorithm and examine its impact on derived products such as dual-Doppler synthesis and radar data assimilation.

The Electra Doppler Radar (ELDORA)/Analyese Stereoscopic par Impulsions Aeroporte (ASTRAIA) system (Hildebrand et al. 1996), operated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), has the best spatial resolution of any currently operating airborne Doppler precipitation radar. ELDORA has two separate antennas that can scan rapidly at ~24 revolutions per minute, with a complete revolution of each radar available every 3 s. The two antennas are oriented ~16° fore and aft of the cross-fuselage axis (i.e., aircraft heading) so that the radar beams overlap in space as the aircraft moves forward. The ELDORA scanning strategy allows for dual-Doppler retrievals of the three-dimensional wind with 300–500-m spatial resolution, providing a tremendous advantage that can only be realized after this prodigious amount of data is quality controlled.

The QC process consists of airborne navigation and pointing angle corrections (Testud et al. 1995; Bosart et al. 2002), followed by interactive data editing. The interactive QC process of airborne Doppler radar data using the NCAR Solo software requires a significant amount of time even for experienced radar meteorologists, with rough estimates of up to 30 min to edit a single radar scan. As a result, interactive editing of 10 min worth of ELDORA radar data takes up to 240 h by this estimate. With the algorithm described herein, the editing time for the 10 min of ELDORA data can be decreased significantly, from several weeks down to a few days or hours, depending on the intended use of the radar data.

A variety of algorithms to identify and remove nonweather radar echoes have been developed for ground-based radars (Steiner and Smith 2002; Lakshmanan et al. 2007), but many of the components from ground-based QC are not directly applicable to airborne radar data (Bousquet and Smull 2003). For example, the surface echo characteristics are quite different with airborne Doppler radars than with ground-based radars. Airborne tail radars scan in an axis approximately perpendicular to the aircraft track, such that the radar scans trace out a helix in space. A “clutter map” can be made for a ground-based radar that indicates where stationary targets such as trees, terrain, or man-made structures are present, but a static clutter map is not possible for a moving platform. Bousquet and Smull (2003) alternatively used a digital terrain map to identify echoes from Earth's surface in their semiautomated QC algorithm for airborne radar data. However, QC algorithms based on spatial patterns and numerical characteristics of the radar data may be generally applicable. Bousquet and Smull (2003) also used a running-mean outlier detection algorithm based on Bargen and Brown (1980), similar to that used in ground-based applications, with further QC performed interactively.

Gamache (2005) developed an algorithm for the automatic QC of data collected in hurricanes by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Tail Doppler Radar (TDR). The algorithm uses rule-based procedures similar to the algorithm presented herein, but the procedures and technical implementation are different. The Gamache (2005) algorithm was developed for the specific context of hurricane reconnaissance, with a primary focus of providing real-time dual-Doppler winds for the National Hurricane Center and National Centers for Environmental Prediction. Hurricane-specific features, such as the approximate circular symmetry of the wind field and fixed operational flight patterns, can be exploited to improve the QC process. Because ELDORA is a research radar operated within the context of National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded field experiments, both the observed phenomena and the data collection strategy change from project to project, requiring a more general algorithm. One of the recorded data fields from ELDORA that is an important part of the current QC algorithm is the normalized coherent power (NCP), but this field is not currently computed by the NOAA TDR or used in the Gamache (2005) algorithm.

Velocity aliasing can be of concern for the NOAA TDR when using a single pulse repetition frequency with a relatively small Nyquist velocity (often 12.9 m s−1). Although the technical implementation is different, both NOAA TDR and ELDORA have the ability to use a dual-pulse repetition frequency scheme to extend the Nyquist velocity to 60–80 m s−1 and essentially eliminate aliasing (Hildebrand et al. 1996; Jorgensen et al. 2000). The algorithm presented here does not include dealiasing as explicitly as in Gamache (2005), but can be included if required (Bargen and Brown 1980).

The algorithm development was guided by two main design goals: (i) to be general enough to handle a wide variety of situations but specific enough to significantly reduce QC time and (ii) to be implemented within the context of the Solo interactive data editor. The first design goal makes the algorithm generally applicable, but sacrifices advantages that could be obtained from tuning for a specific weather regime. The current algorithm was therefore designed within the context of convective weather given the preponderance of convective cases in the ELDORA data archive. The trade-off is practical, but limits its applicability to a subset of the ELDORA archive and may be suboptimal for some weather regimes.

The second design goal was to develop the QC preprocessing algorithm using the Solo interactive data editor (Oye et al. 1995). In contrast to a stand-alone, operational QC application like that in Gamache (2005), a Solo script–based procedure can be easily distributed to existing Solo users without requiring any additional software. The batch-editing scripts can also be used by researchers as a starting point for further interactive editing within the Solo environment. The trade-off with the second design goal is that algorithm components were limited to those available as existing Solo editing operations. A set of tunable parameters was developed with Solo components to meet different editing criteria using “low,” “medium,” and “high” thresholds for data removal. It will be shown that increasing the threshold level removes more nonweather echoes at the expense of removing more weather echoes also. Although good results are obtained with the current algorithm, one result of this study is that rule-based procedures with tunable parameters such as those available within Solo may ultimately be suboptimal for weather discrimination. The current work helps pave the way for a more complex algorithm with multidimensional classification metrics.

All radar QC algorithms suffer from a lack of an established “ground truth” for validation. Nonweather echo characteristics are highly variable, and it is difficult to design a synthetic verification dataset that captures this variability for different radars and weather conditions. Determining whether a given radar volume consists of a weather or nonweather echo ultimately depends on a radar meteorologist's subjective appraisal of the scene and experience level. Although some volumes are easily classifiable, others are more ambiguous and may be classified differently by different researchers. The approach taken in this study was to validate the QC algorithm using datasets edited by different researchers from multiple field projects. The selected datasets are taken from published papers by experienced ELDORA users, and provide a reasonable baseline for validation and statistical verification of the algorithm using dichotomous classification metrics (Stanski et al. 1989; Woodcock 1976). The verification approach contains some potential biases, but it is expected that differences between datasets and researchers' editing styles would remove any large systematic biases in the verification statistics.

The desired product from a quality controlled airborne Doppler dataset is typically a wind retrieval or improved initial conditions for a numerical simulation. Although there are many studies that address dual-Doppler and radar data assimilation techniques, considerably less attention has been paid to the impacts of radar QC on these techniques. The impacts of the different thresholds of data removal on a dual-Doppler retrieval from a developing tropical cyclone were examined, confirming the results of a previous study that wind retrievals using the QC algorithm were robust compared to their interactively edited counterparts (Schmitz 2010). Impacts of the QC algorithm on radar data assimilation (Zhang et al. 2012) will also be summarized here. These results suggest that the algorithm proves useful for preparing airborne radar data for assimilation into numerical weather prediction models, for real-time dual-Doppler during a research flight to aid a mission scientist in making decisions about where to next send the aircraft (Houze et al. 2006), or for initial QC prior to further interactive editing of detailed case studies in postanalysis mode.

The outline of this paper is as follows. Descriptions of the nonweather echoes in airborne radar data and classification procedures are presented in section 2. The validation and statistical verification of the QC algorithm are presented in section 3. Impacts on dual-Doppler retrievals and radar data assimilation are presented in section 4. A summary and concluding remarks are presented in section 5. Technical details of the Solo software and the automated QC algorithm are described in the appendixes for interested readers.

2. Classification of echoes in airborne tail Doppler radar data

a. Characteristics of nonweather echoes

A returned radar signal is quantified by the zero, first, and second radar moments that correspond to the reflectivity (hereinafter the units dBZ are used to indicate reflectivity), Doppler velocity, and spectral width (SW), respectively. The dBZ is directly proportional to the returned power and the strength of the Doppler velocity signal. The Doppler velocity is a statistical estimate from multiple pulses that can be affected by noise in the received signal and radar electronics. The SW indicates the variance of the Doppler velocity within the radar pulse volume because of noise, turbulence, wind shear, differential fall speed, and antenna motion. A less commonly used radar parameter is the normalized coherent power (NCP), which is defined by the ratio of the power in the first moment (also called coherent power) to the total returned power. NCP quantifies the relative power used to calculate the Doppler velocity with the total power used to calculate dBZ, and is approximately inversely proportional to SW.

An unedited ELDORA radar sweep from The Observing System Research and Predictability Experiment (THORPEX) Pacific Asian Regional Campaign (T-PARC)/Tropical Cyclone Structure-2008 (TCS08) field campaign that illustrates these radar parameters is shown in Fig. 1. The radar image is from the aft-pointing antenna at 2351:31 UTC on 14 September 2008. The Naval Research Laboratory's P-3 aircraft position is at the center of each panel, and a large convective echo and anvil are evident to the right of the aircraft. The four panels in Fig. 1 show dBZ, Doppler velocity, SW, and NCP. Five main types of data can be identified in Fig. 1: weather, noise, surface, radar sidelobes, and second-trip echoes. Gray shading indicates values off the color scale, and the locations of the nonweather echoes have been highlighted. Noise regions are characterized by low dBZ with a logarithmic range dependence, and random Doppler velocities. The SW and NCP fields distinguish predominately signal and noise regions with a relatively sharp demarcation.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Example of radar echoes from predepression Hagupit at 2351:30 UTC 14 Sep 2008 during T-PARC/TCS08. Shown is the (a) dBZ (increment = 4 dBZ), (b) Doppler velocity (increment = 2 m s−1), (c) SW (increment = 1.5 m s−1), and (d) NCP (increment = 0.05). Nonweather echoes are labeled in (a).

Citation: Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52, 11; 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-0283.1

The tail Doppler scanning strategy yields a prominent surface echo with a high dBZ, near-zero Doppler velocity over land (or the corresponding ocean surface velocity), and a low SW. The surface echo is a thin, multigate echo directly beneath the aircraft, but it expands in width at longer ranges and becomes difficult to distinguish from the strong convective echoes at low altitude to the right of the aircraft. For ELDORA, there is also some cross contamination from the multiple frequencies used in the complex “chip” pulse (Hildebrand et al. 1996). The close proximity of these frequencies results in a broadening of the surface echo in range comparable with that of the single-frequency NOAA TDR.1 Reflected atmospheric echoes appear beneath the ground.

Although partial beamfilling by surface echo would occur even with a “perfect” Gaussian radar beam, we define “sidelobe echoes” as those resulting from distinct peaks in the power in the tail of the radar beam by antenna diffraction. The sidelobe surface reflection manifests itself as a ring of moderate dBZ and low velocity around the aircraft, with flared echoes near the base of the ring that appear to emanate from the surface. The diameter of the sidelobe surface ring is dependent on the altitude of the aircraft, with larger rings as the aircraft flies higher. The strongest sidelobe echoes are located near the surface at approximately 20°–30° from nadir, and are characterized by a high NCP, moderate dBZ, and moderate SW. Reflectivity decreases in the “flared” portion of the echo farther from the surface, but the velocity signal is nearly constant throughout the echo. Sidelobe echoes occur primarily in clear-air regions, but the boundary between the sidelobe echo and the weather echo is often very subtle.

A “second trip” echo is a radar echo from a previous pulse that returns from longer range and is combined with the processing of the current pulse at shorter range. The second-trip echo is evident as a large reflectivity wedge on the left side of Fig. 1a, and is due to a combination of returns from both the surface (below flight level) and convective weather (above the flight level) at long range. On the right side of the aircraft, the stronger, first-trip convective echo dominates the returned power and no second-trip echo is evident. The second-trip echo appears as a spike in the reflectivity field with a random Doppler velocity, a moderate NCP, and a high SW. Modern signal-processing techniques have been identified to separate multitrip echoes, such as phase coding (Sachidananda and Zrnic 1999; Frush et al. 2002) that may be implemented in future radar upgrades.

A close-up of reflectivity, Doppler velocity, and SW near the aircraft is shown in Fig. 2. The data have been partially edited for clarity by removing noise with an NCP threshold value below 0.2. The second-trip echo has been partially, but not completely, removed by the NCP threshold. Another feature of note that remains is a high-dBZ, high-velocity region in the first few radar gates because of saturation of the receiver near the aircraft. The sidelobe flare is still apparent on the left side of the aircraft, with reflectivity near 25 dBZ near the surface and coherent velocity streaks around zero. The sidelobe echo is partially suppressed in the shallow convection to the lower right of the aircraft, but can be seen in the clear air between the small convective cell and the deeper convection farther to the right.

Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

Close-up of radar echo from Fig. 1 near the aircraft. A 0.2 NCP threshold has been applied to the data. Shown is the (a) dBZ (increment = 5 dBZ), (b) Doppler velocity (increment = 1 m s−1), and (c) SW (increment = 0.5 m s−1). The sidelobe echo to the right of the aircraft has been highlighted in (b) by the dashed ellipse.

Citation: Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52, 11; 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-0283.1

The radar images shown in Fig. 2 illustrate the difficulty in discriminating between the weather and nonweather echoes in some circumstances. It is hard to discern the sidelobe echo on the right side in the dBZ field, and is only marginally easier in the velocity field even when a 1 m s−1 increment is used. Coherent velocity streaks around zero are evident in the highlighted area upon close inspection, but the velocity magnitudes are very similar to those found in the neighboring convection. However, there is a discernible increase in the SW field of a few meters per second in the sidelobe compared to the weather echo. The boundary between the surface echo and deep convection is also difficult to discern in this example. The lack of any ground-truth validation compounds the difficulty in definitively classifying these ambiguous echoes.

Every airborne radar scan contains varying combinations of these main echo types. Figure 3 shows histograms of radar parameters for weather (black) and nonweather (gray) echoes derived from the entire verification dataset (details of the dataset are provided in section 3). The NCP histogram (Fig. 3a) shows the clearest separation of weather and nonweather echoes, with high-NCP values generally associated with weather and low-NCP values associated with nonweather returns. NCP can be regarded in some sense as a normalized signal-to-noise ratio, with values near one indicating strong coherence of the velocity signal and values near zero indicating noise. Intermediate values of NCP are ambiguous, such that any threshold chosen to remove data invariably removes both weather and nonweather signals. The low, medium, and high thresholds used in the QC algorithm are indicated in Fig. 3a.

Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.

Relative frequency of weather (black) and nonweather (gray) echoes with respect to various radar parameters. Shown are the (a) NCP, (b) SW, (c) dBZ, and (d) logarithm of the ratio of SW to linear dBZ.

Citation: Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52, 11; 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-0283.1

Figure 3b indicates that SW and NCP are generally negatively correlated, each with similar but distinct information content. SW values above eight are generally associated only with noise, but there is a large overlap region in which moderate SW values can be either weather or nonweather. The high frequency of nonweather with SW near zero is associated with surface echoes. Figure 3c indicates that dBZ by itself is a relatively poor discriminator of weather echoes. The mean dBZ of weather is higher than that of nonweather, but there is considerable overlap in the distributions. Although SW and dBZ are not great discriminators by themselves, the combination of these parameters contains more information (Fig. 3d). In general, high SW associated with high dBZ would be more indicative of turbulent convection or wind shear, whereas high SW associated with low dBZ would be more indicative of noise. The ratio of SW to reflectivity in the QC algorithm is discussed further in the following section.

b. Automatic quality control algorithm

There have been relatively few automated QC algorithms developed for airborne weather radar, but one area that has received a thorough treatment is the removal of surface echo. For flat continental or oceanic returns, the primary radar gates affected by the surface can be identified by the intersection of the main lobe of the radar beam with the surface (Lee et al. 1994a; Testud et al. 1995). The issue of surface removal in complex terrain was addressed by Georgis et al. (2000) and Bousquet and Smull (2003) through the use of a digital terrain map. Complex terrain removal is not currently part of the Solo software, highlighting one limitation of the existing QC framework used in this study.2

The above studies focused on the removal of surface echoes within the main lobe (defined by the half-power beamwidth), but the strong backscatter from the surface can contaminate a radar volume with only a small intersection of the “tail” of the beam and bias the Doppler velocity toward zero. One advancement in the current QC algorithm is the use of a variable “effective” beamwidth in the Testud et al. (1995) algorithm to remove data with partial beamfilling by surface echo. The use of a wider beamwidth removes partial surface echoes left behind in the original form of the algorithm.

While the removal of all radar range gates, even those potentially affected by the surface, may be desired for some applications, excessive removal of near-surface echoes can be detrimental for dual-Doppler synthesis. Overestimating the amount of surface echo contamination can significantly affect the magnitude and even the sign of the retrieved vertical velocity because of the strong dependence on the measured low-level divergence. The variability of the partial surface echo depends on the strength of the near-surface weather echo and beam broadening with range, but without additional signal processing of the Doppler velocity time series it is impossible to quantitatively determine how much a near-surface radar volume has been affected by the surface.

A key advancement of the current study is the extension of automatic QC procedures beyond the removal of surface echo. The basic editing procedure performed by the automatic QC algorithm consists of nine steps, which are shown in Table 1 and described in more detail in appendix B for interested readers. Some of the relevant details of the algorithm are summarized here.

Table 1.

Description of editing steps in the QC algorithm.

Table 1.

The Solo scripts used to execute the algorithm steps can be configured with user-defined threshold values that offer a compromise between the amount of weather and nonweather data removed. Three basic threshold levels were defined as low, medium, and high, with the corresponding script parameters shown in Table 2. The use of a general, procedural approach necessitates the use of broad characteristics for data removal rather than specific feature identification. The three threshold levels in the QC algorithm for NCP, SW, and dBZ are indicated in Figs. 3a and 3d. Removing data with a low NCP is very effective at eliminating noise, as evidenced by the histogram. At the low threshold almost no weather echo is removed, but increasing the threshold to remove more undesirable nonweather echoes also consequently removes more-desirable weather echoes.

Table 2.

Parameters used at the different QC threshold levels.

Table 2.

The ratio of SW to dBZ was found to be a good identifier of sidelobe echoes, and Fig. 3d shows the logarithm of the ratio of SW to dBZ converted to its linear value (mm−6 m−3) for dBZ values less than zero. A SW/dBZ ratio near zero is ambiguous, but increasing values of the ratio are associated with higher probabilities of nonweather. It is noted that the high threshold uses a 5-dBZ value, which increases the relative frequency of weather slightly compared to Fig. 3d. While most ground-based algorithms include SW and dBZ information, the SW/dBZ parameter is a novel combination to the authors' knowledge. The ratio is not explicitly calculated in Solo, but a combination of SW and dBZ that mimics this parameter is included in the algorithm.

It is also noted that the order in which the Solo components are executed plays an important role in the algorithm, such that successively finer discriminations are made after coarser data removal. For example, the “despeckling” and “defreckling” algorithms described in appendix B were found to be effective at removing isolated data, noise, and second-trip echoes after the bulk of nonweather echo was removed.

An example of the QC results for the radar scan shown in Figs. 1 and 2 is presented in Fig. 4. Figure 4a shows the “reference” dBZ, which was edited through a combination of Solo operations described above and manual removal of remaining nonweather echoes. The reference field represents the best estimate of the partition into weather and nonweather echoes, and is regarded as “truth” for the purposes of validation. The effect of applying the low-threshold QC algorithm is shown in Fig. 4b. The algorithm removes the vast majority of nonweather echoes, and the resulting dBZ field is generally comparable to the reference field. A few distinct differences are apparent upon close inspection: (i) the surface echo was not removed completely to the lower left of the aircraft, (ii) small regions of sidelobe echo were not removed completely below the aircraft, and (iii) low-dBZ regions have been thinned, especially in the anvil region to the upper left of the aircraft.

Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.

Example of the QC algorithm for the radar echo from Figs. 1 and 2. (a) The “reference” interactive editing, with results from the (b) low-, (c) medium-, and (d) high-threshold levels of the QC algorithm.

Citation: Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52, 11; 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-0283.1

The medium-threshold algorithm (Fig. 4c) removes more of the surface echo and the sidelobe, but at the expense of additional reflectivity loss in the anvil and cloud edge above the aircraft. An undesirable side effect of the additional surface removal is evident to the right of the aircraft near the 30-km-range ring where the base of the strong convective echo has been removed. The high-threshold algorithm (Fig. 4d) removes nearly all of the surface echo and sidelobe, as well as the anvil to the upper left and even more of the convective echo to the right of the aircraft, especially near the surface.

All three threshold levels of the QC algorithm are able to identify and remove the bulk of the nonweather echo, but the details of the editing depend on the specific thresholds used. The editing differences are most apparent along echo boundaries, in clear-air echoes, in sidelobe echoes near the surface, and in surface echoes at longer range from the aircraft. There is an apparent trade-off between removing more nonweather echoes at the expense of removing more weather echoes. The low-threshold algorithm is superior for maximum weather echo retention, but leaves some nonweather echo that would require additional editing. The high-threshold algorithm is superior for maximum nonweather echo removal, but also removes more potentially valuable weather echoes. The primary convective echo is well preserved at all three levels in this example, suggesting that there would be no fundamental differences in the horizontal winds retrieved by a dual-Doppler analysis. However, useful near-surface and echo-top radial velocities are removed as the editing thresholds are increased, which may affect the derived vertical velocity more significantly, as will be shown in section 4.

The example illustrates that the choice of algorithm threshold largely depends on the user's application and amount of time they wish to spend on the editing. If vertical velocity retrievals are critical in a research setting, the low-threshold algorithm provides an excellent starting point for subsequent interactive editing. For data assimilation applications, the loss of some good weather echoes may have a minimal impact compared to the insertion of radar artifacts into the model, especially if the data are subsequently “super obbed” after quality control (Zhang et al. 2012). The trade-offs presented for the current example are generally applicable for most ELDORA radar cases, but the details depend on the meteorological situation and aircraft sampling strategy.

3. Algorithm verification

a. Verification statistics

Verification of the QC algorithm was conducted using multiple radar datasets. The test dataset was chosen from four field programs in which ELDORA was involved (Fig. 5). Each case represents a different mesoscale regime so that the QC algorithm could be tested in a variety of meteorological situations. The verification data are 1344 radar scans that were interactively edited by experienced radar meteorologists and used in case studies published in the refereed literature. The sample dataset contains 48 min of data and over 60 million radar gates, which provides a reasonable sample for calculating statistics. It is recognized that data editing is subjective and editing styles among these experienced radar meteorologists may vary, which could produce a bias in the statistical results presented. However, averaging over the variety of weather conditions and editing styles is expected to reduce the bias from any one case. Table 3 provides information about each of the cases used for the verification including the times of each of the flight legs. The field experiments are the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX), Bow Echo and Mesoscale Convective Vortex Experiment (BAMEX), Hurricane Rainband and Intensity Change Experiment (RAINEX), and T-PARC/TCS08. The VORTEX (Wakimoto et al. 1998) and BAMEX (Wakimoto et al. 2004) cases represent different types of midlatitude continental convection. The RAINEX (Houze et al. 2006) and T-PARC/TCS08 (Bell and Montgomery 2009) cases represent tropical oceanic systems in different stages of development.

Fig. 5.
Fig. 5.

Reference dBZ examples from the verification dataset from (a) VORTEX, (b) BAMEX, (c) RAINEX, and (d) T-PARC/TCS08. See Table 3 for further description of the dataset.

Citation: Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52, 11; 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-0283.1

Table 3.

Date, time, field experiment, and brief description of the cases in the verification dataset.

Table 3.

Measures of the skill of the QC algorithm can be derived using 2 × 2 contingency tables where hits, misses, and false positives can be collected for each case. The edited data are treated as dichotomous values where each gate in the sample is defined as either “positive” weather or “negative” nonweather. A radar gate where both the QC algorithm and verification dataset have identified a weather echo is considered a correct positive result. A gate where both have identified a nonweather echo is considered a correct negative result. Correct positive and negative results are considered hits. Radar gates falsely identified as weather echoes by the QC algorithm are considered false positives. Radar gates falsely identified as nonweather echoes are considered misses.

A typical sweep of data from ELDORA contains much more nonweather echo than weather (cf. Fig. 1a to Fig. 4a). The algorithm skill scores would be dominated by data that are obviously not weather without a baseline edit of the raw data. To get meaningful statistics, some very basic QC techniques were applied to the raw data before the fields were run through the full QC algorithm. Data with NCP below 0.2, radar echoes at and below the surface identified with a 1.8° beamwidth, and echoes above 25-km altitude were removed prior to the verification. The baseline edited data allow for the evaluation of the algorithm on data that are more difficult to classify as weather or nonweather.

Figure 6 shows a receiver operating characteristic (ROC; Joliffe and Stephenson 2003) plot that displays the relationship between correctly identified events (hits) versus falsely identified events (false positives) for the low, medium, and high thresholds. Anything to the upper left of the 1:1 line across the ROC plot in Fig. 6a is considered to have positive skill. A perfect algorithm with retention of all weather data and the removal of all nonweather data would give results in the top-left corner of the chart. The three data points for each test case represent the average amount of data retained after application of the method using the three different thresholds. The rightmost points on each curve denote the low threshold and the leftmost points denote the high threshold. Thresholds in the algorithm could be tuned by the user to yield different levels of editing between the high and low points illustrated here. The curves are near the top-left corner for the current algorithm, but trace counterclockwise as the QC thresholds are increased. The two primary goals of the algorithm—to retain all weather and remove all nonweather—cannot be met simultaneously and involve trade-offs as the thresholds are increased.

Fig. 6.
Fig. 6.

ROC curves for the QC algorithm. (a) Full axes from 0 to 1 with the diagonal line demarcating the skill (top left) and no-skill (bottom right) regions. (b) A close-up of the area marked by the gray dashed box. Symbols represent low-, medium-, and high-thresholds of QC moving counterclockwise from top right to bottom left. Blue, red, green, and black curves correspond to different field experiments, and the cyan curve represents the average over the test dataset.

Citation: Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52, 11; 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-0283.1

The ROC curve is the best for RAINEX (green line), with over 95% of the weather retained and 88% of nonweather removed at all thresholds on average. The RAINEX case was located in the outer eyewall of Hurricane Rita in 2005 and the data contain large regions of stratiform and convective weather echoes. The other tropical case from T-PARC/TCS08 (black line) performed the second best, with almost all nonweather data removed at the high threshold. The continental cases from VORTEX (blue line) and BAMEX (red line) still verify well, but with less skill than the oceanic cases. The differences in skill between the oceanic and continental cases may be due to differences in aircraft altitude, the surface echo characteristics between land and ocean, meteorological conditions, and the editing style of the researchers. The mean weather echo retained when averaged over all cases decreases from 95% to 90% to 85% with increasing thresholds. The mean nonweather echo removed increases from 80% to 90% to 95% with increasing thresholds.

Statistical distributions illustrating the algorithm performance over all the cases are shown in Fig. 7. The top two panels in Fig. 7 show probability distribution functions (PDFs) for each of the three threshold levels, and the bottom two panels show cumulative probability distributions (CDFs). Figure 7a shows the probability that the algorithm met the first of its primary goals by retaining weather echoes. There is considerable overlap in the PDFs, but the distributions generally broaden for weather retention and sharpen for nonweather removal with increasing thresholds. The low-threshold PDF (green line) has the narrowest distribution and peaks at 95% weather retained. The medium-threshold PDF (blue line) has a broader distribution and peaks closer to 85% weather retained. The high-threshold PDF (red line) has the broadest distribution with a nearly flat probability peak between 75% and 85% weather retained.

Fig. 7.
Fig. 7.

PDFs and CDFs for the QC algorithm. PDFs of (a) weather echoes retained and (b) nonweather echoes removed from the test dataset. CDFs of (c) weather echoes removed and (d) nonweather echoes retained. Dashed green, solid blue, and dash–dotted red lines represent the low-, medium-, and high-threshold levels, respectively.

Citation: Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52, 11; 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-0283.1

Figure 7b shows the probability that the algorithm met the second primary goal by removing nonweather echoes. The PDFs are approximately the reverse of those shown in Fig. 7a, with a sharpening of the PDFs as the thresholds are increased. The peaks of the medium- and high-threshold PDFs are both at 95% nonweather removed, but the mean probability that weather is removed at the medium threshold is lower due to the broader distribution. The peak of the low-threshold PDF is at 75% nonweather removed, but with a very broad distribution. In general, increasing the thresholds increases the probability that nonweather will be removed, but also decreases the probability that weather will be retained. Applying different thresholds mostly affects the lower-quality data that reside in the gray area between weather and artifacts and has less impact on strong weather signals.

Figures 7c and 7d show the cumulative probability that the algorithm did not meet its goals. The CDF of the weather data that is removed is shown in Fig. 7c and the CDF when nonweather data are retained is shown in Fig. 7d. Like the PDFs, the distributions are approximately reversed with increasing thresholds. The CDFs can be used to estimate the probability of error for the QC algorithm for a given threshold, with Fig. 7c corresponding to misses and Fig. 7d corresponding to false positives. The low-threshold CDFs indicate that less than ~12% of the weather echo would be removed at the 95% confidence level, compared to ~26% using the high threshold. However, no more than 16% of the nonweather would be retained using the high threshold, compared to 30% when using the low threshold. At the 99% confidence level, the CDFs suggest that less than 20% of the weather echo would be removed by using the low threshold, and no more than 20% of the nonweather would be retained when using the high threshold.

Figures 57 indicate a consistent depiction of the trade-off between weather retention and nonweather removal. It is clear that these two goals cannot be met simultaneously with the current dichotomous algorithm, but the thresholds provide a reasonable way of prioritizing one goal over the other. The choice of a particular threshold then depends on the user's specific application, experience level, and time commitment to further editing. The statistics suggest that a user who wants to retain the maximum amount of weather echo should use the low threshold. For example, an experienced user interested in dual-Doppler synthesis may start the QC process with the low-threshold script, followed by interactive editing to remove the remainder of the nonweather data. The user can be confident that the vast majority of weather echoes, including near-surface and echo-top data, are left intact. Likewise, the statistics suggest that a user who wants to remove the maximum amount of nonweather echo should use the high threshold. For example, radar data are typically thinned for data assimilation into a numerical weather prediction model, such that only the highest-quality data may be desired. The statistics suggest that the medium threshold is a good compromise that reduces editing time while still producing a high-quality dataset.

b. Skill metrics

A variety of metrics are available to assess the skill of a dichotomous algorithm. The threat score (TS; Schaefer 1990) quantifies how well weather identification by the algorithm corresponds to weather identification by the experienced radar meteorologists. The TS ranges from 0 (no skill) to 1 (perfect algorithm) and is calculated by dividing the number of hits by the total number of hits, misses, and false positives. Figure 8a shows the TS for all four of the cases tested along with their average score (cyan bar). The algorithm performed well for these cases, with TSs near or above 0.8 at all threshold levels. A slight decrease in the TS is evident as the thresholds are increased, with average TS values of 0.89, 0.88, and 0.85 for the low, medium, and high thresholds, respectively. The TS values indicate that 80–90% of the algorithm attempts to identify weather and nonweather were successful. The TS generally gives higher scores as the event probability increases, which is consistent with the highest scores for the RAINEX case that had the most weather echo.

Fig. 8.
Fig. 8.

Verification metrics for the QC algorithm. (a) TS, (b) ETS, and (c) TSS for each of the three threshold levels. Blue, red, green, and black bars correspond to different field experiments, and the cyan bar represents the average over the test dataset.

Citation: Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52, 11; 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-0283.1

The equitable threat score (ETS; Gandin and Murphy 1992) shown in Fig. 8b is calculated in a similar manner to the TS, but is adjusted for hits associated with random chance. The ETS was developed so that scores could be more easily compared across different regimes and account for climatology. For the current study, the ETS makes adjustments for higher hits from random identification of weather when there is more weather echo in a radar scan. The ETS is lower than the TS for all cases after accounting for random hits but shows similar relative magnitudes across the cases. The algorithm exhibits decreasing skill with higher thresholds for the oceanic and VORTEX cases and varying skill for the BAMEX case. The average ETS values are 0.62, 0.63, and 0.57 for the three threshold levels, respectively. Thus, the ETS indicates that ~60% of the successful attempts to identify weather showed skill relative to random chance.

Another metric for quantifying the performance of the algorithm is the true skill statistic (TSS; Woodcock 1976), which quantifies how well the algorithm discriminates weather from nonweather echoes and ranges from −1 to 1, where 0 indicates no skill. The TSS shown in Fig. 8c is calculated by subtracting the probability of a false positive for nonweather echoes from the probability of a hit for weather echoes (Doswell et al. 1990). The best discriminations between weather and nonweather according to this metric are equal at the medium and high thresholds with an average TSS of 0.81. The TSS is only slightly lower at 0.75 at the low threshold, indicating good discrimination skill for all threshold levels.

The metrics presented in Fig. 8 suggest that the QC algorithm has skill when validated against echo classification performed by an experience radar meteorologist. The high-TS values correlate with the amount of weather echo present in the radar scans, but the ETS and TSS values that corrected for this bias are considered skillful for all of the test datasets. The highest combined ETS and TSS skill is found at the medium threshold, suggesting the medium-threshold levels are nearly optimal for weather discrimination using the automated Solo-based procedures. However, the algorithm is not perfect and additional skill is perhaps achievable with a more sophisticated classification algorithm.

c. Additional tests

An additional test of the method was also performed on ELDORA data from the International H20 Project (IHOP) that consisted primarily of clear-air echoes in the boundary layer (Cai et al. 2006; Wakimoto and Murphey 2010). The verification for the IHOP case (not shown) was considerably poorer than the convective cases and showed little or negative skill, depending on threshold levels. The poor performance by the algorithm on the IHOP case can be primarily attributed to the removal of high-SW and low-dBZ echoes, or to the high SW/dBZ ratio (cf. Fig. 3d). The IHOP counterexample emphasizes the fact that the current version of the QC algorithm was designed for precipitating convection, and should be used with caution in other meteorological situations, particularly in turbulent clear-air returns.

A modified version of the algorithm was also tested using NOAA TDR data from the 2003 Coupled Boundary Layers Air–Sea Transfer (CBLAST) experiment during Hurricane Isabel (Bell and Montgomery 2008; Bell et al. 2012). The algorithm required modification because the NOAA TDR data did not contain the NCP parameter and significant velocity dealiasing was present in the test dataset. Replacing the NCP thresholding [step (ii) in Table 1] with a Bargen and Brown (1980) dealiasing step provided a simple modification with which to test the algorithm using a NOAA TDR dataset. The skill scores were generally consistent with the ELDORA convective cases despite the algorithm modification and different radar characteristics. TS values were near 0.9 for all three thresholds, and ETS values ranged from 0.51 at the high threshold to 0.57 at the low threshold. TSS values were the best for the high threshold at 0.68, and were similar for the medium (0.60) and low (0.63) thresholds.

Though the NCP parameter is not recorded, the NOAA TDR data have significantly less data in the clear-air regions than ELDORA because of the reduced sensitivity of the radar receiver. The reduced data coverage (and therefore reduced noise) in the clear air may help to minimize the impact of the missing NCP thresholding step. However, failures in the velocity dealiasing can have a large impact on the defreckling step and may remove too much data. The CBLAST test case indicates that the modified algorithm shows skill when used with NOAA TDR data, but further verification and improvements to the velocity dealiasing, or use of newer dual–pulse repetition frequency data, are needed.

4. Impacts of quality control on radar applications

Several tests of the QC algorithm's impacts on subsequent applications of airborne radar data have been performed. Schmitz (2010) compared dual-Doppler wind retrievals using the low-, medium-, and high-thresholds automatic QC to interactively edited data from the BAMEX field campaign (Wakimoto et al. 2006). She concluded that the wind fields from the automatically edited data were virtually indistinguishable from those interactively edited. Further tests of perturbation pressure retrievals (Gal-Chen 1978) indicated that the automatically edited data had good, if not better, momentum checks in comparison with the interactively edited data (Schmitz 2010).

A similar test of the algorithm was performed for this study using the example dataset presented in section 2. A comparison of dual-Doppler retrievals using the methodology described in Bell and Montgomery (2008) is shown in Fig. 9. The vertical velocity at 8 km from the interactively edited data is shown in Fig. 9a in color, with 10-dBZ contours for reference. A strong ~20 m s−1 updraft associated with the deep convective cell in Figs. 1, 2, and 5 is evident. The results using the QC algorithm in Figs. 9b–d indicate a vertical velocity pattern that is nearly identical to the interactively edited data. Differences from the original analysis larger than 1 m s−1 are contoured, revealing only minor variances in the low and medium algorithms.

Fig. 9.
Fig. 9.

Vertical velocity (color) at 8-km altitude from dual-Doppler retrieval of the example in Fig. 1 using different editing techniques. Results from (a) interactively edited data and (b)–(d) automatically edited data. Black contours in (a) show dBZ (increment = 10 dBZ) above 5 dBZ. Black contours in (b)–(d) indicate differences from (a) larger than 1 m s−1, with dashed contours denoting negative differences.

Citation: Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52, 11; 10.1175/JAMC-D-12-0283.1

At the high thresholds, more significant differences exceeding 3 m s−1 are evident, with a general reduction in the vertical velocity. This is believed to be due to the removal of near-surface and echo-top data that contain valuable divergence information. However, the high threshold also removed the residual surface echo found on the left side of the aircraft (see Fig. 5) that would negatively impact wind retrievals outside the chosen domain. The maximum difference in the horizontal winds was found near the 3-km flight level, where some low-dBZ echoes present in the interactively edited data were removed at all three threshold levels (not shown). Root-mean-square (RMS) differences with the interactively edited data over the entire domain of Fig. 9 are shown in Table 4. They are less than 1 m s−1 in all cases, but do increase as the editing thresholds are increased. These results are consistent with those from Schmitz (2010), suggesting that automatically edited wind fields are robust compared to those from interactively edited data.

Table 4.

RMS values of dual-Doppler winds in the zonal (u), meridional (υ), and vertical (w) directions from interactively edited data and the RMS difference when using automatic editing (m s−1).

Table 4.

A test of the algorithm for data assimilation using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model was performed by Zhang et al. (2012). They found positive impacts on both track and intensity from assimilating automatically edited ELDORA data in a simulation of Typhoon Jangmi (2008). The simulations suggested that the high threshold had a larger impact on track, but the low threshold had a higher impact on intensity. It is unclear how much of the difference is due to nonlinear processes in the model or specific differences in the edited data. However, the positive impact on the simulation is encouraging and consistent with other recent studies assimilating airborne radar data into tropical cyclone simulations (Aksoy et al. 2012; Weng and Zhang 2012).

5. Summary

The use of high-resolution airborne Doppler datasets has typically been limited to experienced radar meteorologists and has required a significant amount of time for interactive data editing. Nonweather echoes in airborne radar data vary from scan to scan, but exhibit some consistent characteristics. The current study has documented and quantified some of these characteristics in an attempt to move toward objective classification of weather and nonweather echoes. An automated preprocessing quality control algorithm based on interactive Solo editing procedures performed by experienced airborne Doppler data users has been developed. The algorithm allows a user to QC a large number of radar scans in a short period of time for subsequent dual-Doppler wind synthesis or data assimilation. An estimated 10-fold time savings can be achieved by using the proposed preprocessing QC algorithm compared with the traditional interactive editing approach using Solo.

The algorithm consists of nine steps based on the authors' experience with editing data from convective weather cases. Nonweather echoes resulting from noise, radar sidelobes, surface, and second-trip returns were characterized and subject to a series of Solo radar-editing operations. Removing data with a low normalized coherent power (NCP) was found to be the most effective method for removing noise. The Solo despeckling and defreckling algorithms were found to be effective at removing isolated data, noise, and second-trip echoes. A conditional threshold of high-spectrum width and low reflectivity was found to be the best for removing radar sidelobes and preserving turbulent motions in the convective core, but was detrimental to turbulent clear-air boundary layer returns.

The algorithm can be tuned using a combination of thresholds in different parameters for data removal depending on the user's application and priorities. The current study uses three different combinations, termed low, medium, and high thresholds, to illustrate and evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed algorithm in removing nonweather radar returns. The different threshold levels essentially tune the algorithm to classify echoes that are ambiguous and not clearly weather or nonweather. Increasing the threshold level removes more nonweather echoes at the expense of removing more weather echoes also. The low threshold is recommended when weather echo retention is the highest priority, as it removes about 80% of the nonweather echoes on average, and no more than ~20% of the weather echoes at the 99% confidence level in the verification dataset. The high threshold is recommended when nonweather echo removal is the highest priority, as it removes about 95% of nonweather echoes on average, and no more than ~30% of the weather echoes at the 99% confidence level. The medium threshold is a good compromise between these two priorities, and is recommended for general use.

Verification of the algorithm was performed using convective weather cases from the ELDORA radar interactively edited by different radar meteorologists from the VORTEX, BAMEX, RAINEX, and T-PARC/TCS08 field experiments. The threat scores (TSs) were between 0.8 and 0.9 on average, suggesting that the algorithm has skill in identifying the weather echoes corresponding to those identified as weather by a radar meteorologist. Lower scores, near 0.6 for the equitable threat score (ETS), suggest that the algorithm still has skill after adjusting for hits associated with random chance. The true skill statistic (TSS), which determines how well the method can discriminate between weather and nonweather echoes, was between 0.6 and 0.8 on average. The TS decreased slightly with higher thresholds, while the TSS increased slightly with higher thresholds. The medium threshold had the highest combined ETS and TSS for the verification dataset, suggesting a near-optimal combination of threshold parameters. The metrics suggest that the algorithm performs similarly for the different test cases in general, and that it is applicable for a wide variety of convective datasets. An additional test with NOAA TDR data from CBLAST indicates that a modified version of the algorithm shows skill for NOAA TDR convective cases as well as ELDORA data. However, the algorithm performed poorly on the IHOP dataset and is not recommended for preprocessing primarily clear-air boundary layer echoes.

The effect of applying different threshold levels is most apparent along echo boundaries, in clear-air echoes, in sidelobe echoes near the surface, and in surface echoes at longer range from the aircraft. Large convective or stratiform echoes are largely unaffected at any of the threshold levels, except near the surface and echo top. Application of the automatically edited data in a dual-Doppler synthesis to retrieve the horizontal winds within convective echoes was robust after applying the method and not strongly sensitive to the choice of thresholds. The minimal impact on dual-Doppler wind retrieval is consistent with previous studies that showed positive impacts of automatically edited data on both dual-Doppler analyses (Schmitz 2010) and numerical simulations using radar data assimilation (Zhang et al. 2012). However, accurate Doppler velocities near the surface and echo top are critical for retrieving an accurate vertical velocity. Root-mean-square differences between wind retrievals from interactively and automatically edited data were small, but pointwise values differed by up to a few meters per second. It is highly recommended to inspect and manually edit the data after applying the QC algorithm for research quality wind synthesis.

Though the majority of the radar echo can be classified using a rule-based approach, the real challenge for radar QC lies in the more ambiguous echoes. One of the primary deficiencies of the current method is the use of hard thresholds for each of the discriminating parameters. A more sophisticated algorithm must take into account the “fuzzy” nature of the radar echoes in different scanning strategies and meteorological situations. For example, it is evident that the probability of weather generally increases as the NCP increases, but use of this single parameter does not contain enough information to define an optimal threshold for all situations. The classification must ultimately be multidimensional and requires more complex logic that is not possible within the Solo framework. Furthermore, the classification is currently subjective and could be improved with better objective characterization of nonweather echoes using synthetic datasets. The medium threshold represents a near-optimal set of thresholds for meeting both requirements of removing nonweather and retaining weather echoes identified by a radar meteorologist using Solo. However, further refinement appears to be possible outside the confines of the Solo software. Continued development of the method to incorporate multidimensional fuzzy logic in a stand-alone software package is currently under way.

Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The first author was also partially supported by NSF Award AGS-0851077 and the Office of Naval Research Award N001408WR20129. The authors also thank Cathy Kessinger and Andy Penny for their comments on the manuscript.

APPENDIX A

Solo Interactive Radar Editor

Solo was originally developed at NCAR in 1993 for perusing and editing Doppler radar data (Oye et al. 1995), and was extensively revised in version 2 (also referred to as SoloII) in 2003. The title of the software is not an acronym but rather stems from the initial development location in the Solomon Islands as part of the Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere (TOGA) Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Response Experiment (COARE) field program. The native data format for Solo is Doppler Radar Data Exchange (DORADE; Lee et al. 1994b) developed for ELDORA, with individual DORADE files colloquially known as “sweep files.” ELDORA data editing is typically done by the principal investigator for a field project as part of their postexperiment research with assistance from NCAR, where editing procedures can be tuned based on the specific project requirements. Solo has been the primary editing software for many ELDORA and NOAA tail Doppler radar users over the years.

The Solo data viewer can display up to 12 color panels of different radar field variables with range rings or Cartesian distance overlays. The numerical values of individual radar gates can be inspected using the “Data” widget. A more detailed inspection of the data can be performed using the “Examine” widget, which can display numerical values of multiple data fields in a specified area, the metadata associated with the radar data header, or the history of radar edits in the file. The Examine widget can also be used for point-and-click deletion or velocity unfolding of individual radar gates or rays.

Both interactive and bulk radar data editing can be performed using the “Editor” widget. In an interactive setting, the user can draw a boundary around an arbitrarily defined patch of radar echo and apply a series of operators to that patch on a scan-by-scan basis. In a batch mode, editing operations can be applied to multiple radar scans at one time. Many editing operations are available for ground-based and airborne platforms, ranging from simple deletion to more complex series of logical operations. Solo also contains several diagnostic operators including histogram, rain-rate, and radial shear calculations. The primary operators used for the QC algorithm presented in this study are the “remove surface,” “threshold,” “despeckle,” and “defreckle” operators. Ground removal operations use the aircraft altitude, aircraft attitude parameters, radar beamwidth, and the radar-pointing angles to identify potential surface returns. At the present time, Solo cannot handle complex terrain. Threshold operations remove data in one field based on the numerical values exceeding a specified parameter in another field. Data removal can be performed above, below, or between the specified threshold values. The despeckle operator removes clusters of radar gates along a ray that are smaller than a specified “speckle” definition, defined by default as three gates. Therefore, despeckling removes isolated radar gates that are not part of a larger weather echo. Isolated gates with large numerical values that are embedded within a weather echo can be identified by comparison with the average value of nearby radar gates. An outlier algorithm to identify these gates is implemented in the radial direction as the defreckle algorithm, and in a circular patch as a “deglitch” algorithm. Experiments for the current study with the deglitch operator tended to remove more data compared than the defreckle operator.

Other Solo editing operators include velocity dealiasing using the Bargen and Brown (1980) algorithm and mathematical functions (i.e., add, subtract, multiply, and exponentiate). Solo can also be used to correct radar metadata such as aircraft inertial navigation system errors (Testud et al. 1995; Bosart et al. 2002). Earth-relative Doppler velocities and radar gate locations can then be recalculated using the corrected platform location and motion.

One deficiency of the SoloII software is that it depends on an older, deprecated 32-bit graphics library, and the code is not easily accessible for modification to add or improve the available editing steps. A stand-alone version of the batch-editing functionality of the software has been developed by the authors. The stand-alone version has an easily modified Ruby script interface, but it currently lacks the full functionality of Solo as a data viewer and interactive editor. Efforts to upgrade to version 3 of Solo, including full 64-bit support, are currently under way at NCAR. The Solo software package, editing scripts described here, and stand-alone editing software are available for interested users.

APPENDIX B

Automated Quality Control Procedures

This appendix presents in detail the steps that are listed in Table 1, with steps viii and ix combined in the last section.

a. Backup original reflectivity and velocity fields

The current version 2 of Solo does not have an “undo” functionality. As a result, it is important for any editing step using this software to store the results of unedited or stepwise-edited procedures that could result in unwanted loss of data. This step also makes it easy to apply different levels of thresholding within the same file under different data field names.

b. Remove noisy data with low NCP

The NCP parameter is a normalized value between zero and one representing a spectrum from pure noise to strong signal in the Doppler velocity estimate as described in section 2. The three thresholds selected for the automatic algorithm range from 0.2 to 0.4, above which the removal of quality weather data becomes unacceptable for most applications. While the NCP threshold is relatively simple, it removes the most data of any step in the algorithm. Noisy gates that remain after this step are typically isolated and are further addressed in section f of appendix B. The NCP parameter is not currently computed in NOAA TDR data, and therefore this step is not applicable for NOAA TDR datasets.

c. Remove noisy data near the edges of radar range

The data from the first few gates near the aircraft often have strong dBZ and noisy Doppler velocities due to saturation of the receiver, as is evident in Fig. 2. Similarly, data in the last few gates at the edge of the radar range are often unusable due to signal-processing requirements (e.g., test pulse). While the amount of noise is dependent on the meteorological conditions and the unambiguous range of the radar, the limited number of gates retained by a careful examination of these regions is usually not worth the effort. Approximately five gates at the beginning and end of each radar beam are therefore removed in this algorithm step, which can be adjusted as needed.

d. Remove the direct surface returns

Testud et al. (1995) derived a formula to identify the radar gates contaminated by the surface echo based on the half-power beamwidth of the radar antenna. An increase in the “effective” width of the radar beam is sufficient to identify and remove gates with partial beamfilling in the surface identification algorithm. The low threshold uses an effective beamwidth parameter of 2° that is slightly above the native resolution of ELDORA and NOAA TDR (1.8°). Higher effective beamwidths of 3° and 4° at the medium and high thresholds remove substantially more surface echo, especially away from the nadir rotation angle. At longer ranges, the high threshold may remove too much near-surface echo and should be used with caution when quality vertical velocity estimates are important.

e. Remove data with high SW and low dBZ

The ratio of the SW and dBZ fields is analogous to the NCP parameter, with the variance of the Doppler signal used instead of the power in the velocity signal. In this step, volumes with SW greater than 6 m s−1 and dBZ less than zero are removed at the low-threshold level. The SW threshold is decreased to 4 m s−1 at the medium level, and the dBZ threshold is increased to 5 at the high level.

For radars that do not record NCP, this step can serve as a proxy for the step described in section b of appendix B. The caveat with the SW–dBZ threshold is that regions of turbulence or wind shear with small scatterers will be adversely affected. The thresholds were chosen to remove sidelobe echoes and minimize the chance of convective turbulence being removed by the algorithm. However, tests indicate that this step can remove significant echo from the clear-air boundary layer and should be used with caution when preservation of boundary layer echoes is important.

f. Despeckle the data

The spatial scales of the weather observed by airborne Doppler radars are typically much larger than individual radar range gates. After the previous five steps have been performed, the majority of the nonweather echoes have been removed and the remaining isolated gates with few neighbors are unlikely to represent significant meteorological features. An efficient algorithm for identifying speckles, or isolated gates along the radar beam, is part of the Solo editor with a variable definition for the speckle size. The low threshold uses the default speckle definition of three gates, effectively removing features with spatial scales less than 450 m (for a 150-m-range gate). The medium and high thresholds increase the definition to five and seven gates, or 750 and 1050 m, respectively.

Unfortunately, the corresponding algorithm for identifying isolated gates in the azimuthal direction is not part of the Solo package. Thus, a larger speckle definition has the potential to remove features that are relatively thin in the radial direction but have significant horizontal extent. The most common examples of this are the anvil region of a thunderstorm or shallow, near-surface structures such as boundary layer clouds or insect returns. Careful consideration of the features of interest is important for determining the speckle definition.

g. Defreckle the data

Complementary to radar speckles are radar freckles. Freckles are radar gates that are outliers relative to their neighbors within a larger weather echo. A freckle can be defined as a gate with a value that deviates significantly from a spatial mean in the neighborhood of the gate. Though the freckles can be defined using any radar parameter, only the Doppler velocity is used in the current algorithm. Because this step is primarily for outlier detection, the freckle definitions are identical for the three threshold levels with a five-gate running mean and a 20 m s−1 outlier criterion.

In general, the defreckling algorithm is effective at removing spikes in the velocity field within weather echoes while retaining realistic velocity gradients. The defreckle algorithm is also effective at removing second-trip echoes that have moderate dBZ but random Doppler velocities. A potential failure mode of the defreckle algorithm occurs when the mean becomes ill-defined relative to the outliers. This appears to occur most often where a second-trip echo occurs radially inward of a weather echo. The running mean is then defined by noisy data and the entire beam can be removed. The algorithm can also fail where there is a strong velocity gradient across a region of missing data such as that found between hurricane rainbands, or where the velocity has aliasing errors.

h. Second despeckling and synchronization of reflectivity and velocity

A final pass with the despeckling algorithm removes any gates that were isolated by the defreckling algorithm, and the synchronization ensures that identical gates are removed from both the dBZ and velocity fields. The synchronization is not ideal, because the reflectivity may be representative of weather even when the velocity is noisy. Unfortunately, the algorithm cannot distinguish this situation because the primary criteria are based on velocity metrics.

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1

Multiple-frequency contamination can be considered a “range sidelobe” similar to contamination by sidelobe energy found off the main beam axis. The range sidelobe can sometimes also be found on the edge of strong weather echoes.

2

This functionality has been implemented in a stand-alone version of the QC algorithm.

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