PATH TO NEXRAD: Doppler Radar Development at the National Severe Storms Laboratory

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In this historical paper, we trace the scientific-and engineering-based steps at the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) and in the larger weather radar community that led to the development of NSSL's first 10-cm-wavelength pulsed Doppler radar. This radar was the prototype for the current Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD), or Weather Surveillance Radar-1998 Doppler (WSR-88D) network.

We track events, both political and scientific, that led to the establishment of NSSL in 1964. The vision of NSSL's first director, Edwin Kessler, is reconstructed through access to historical documents and oral histories. This vision included the development of Doppler radar, where research was to be meshed with the operational needs of the U.S. Weather Bureau and its successor—the National Weather Service.

Realization of the vision came through steps that were often fitful, where complications arose due to personnel concerns, and where there were always financial concerns. The historical research indicates that 1) the engineering prowess and mentorship of Roger Lhermitte was at the heart of Doppler radar development at NSSL; 2) key decisions by Kessler in the wake of Lhermitte's sudden departure in 1967 proved crucial to the ultimate success of the project; 3) research results indicated that Doppler velocity signatures of mesocyclones are a precursor of damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes; and 4) results from field testing of the Doppler-derived products during the 1977-79 Joint Doppler Operational Project—especially the noticeable increase in the verification of tornado warnings and an associated marked decrease in false alarms—led to the government decision to establish the NEXRAD network.

NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma, and Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Dr. Rodger A. Brown, National Severe Storms Laboratory, 1313 Halley Circle, Norman, OK 73069, E-mail: rodger.brown@noaa.gov

In this historical paper, we trace the scientific-and engineering-based steps at the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) and in the larger weather radar community that led to the development of NSSL's first 10-cm-wavelength pulsed Doppler radar. This radar was the prototype for the current Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD), or Weather Surveillance Radar-1998 Doppler (WSR-88D) network.

We track events, both political and scientific, that led to the establishment of NSSL in 1964. The vision of NSSL's first director, Edwin Kessler, is reconstructed through access to historical documents and oral histories. This vision included the development of Doppler radar, where research was to be meshed with the operational needs of the U.S. Weather Bureau and its successor—the National Weather Service.

Realization of the vision came through steps that were often fitful, where complications arose due to personnel concerns, and where there were always financial concerns. The historical research indicates that 1) the engineering prowess and mentorship of Roger Lhermitte was at the heart of Doppler radar development at NSSL; 2) key decisions by Kessler in the wake of Lhermitte's sudden departure in 1967 proved crucial to the ultimate success of the project; 3) research results indicated that Doppler velocity signatures of mesocyclones are a precursor of damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes; and 4) results from field testing of the Doppler-derived products during the 1977-79 Joint Doppler Operational Project—especially the noticeable increase in the verification of tornado warnings and an associated marked decrease in false alarms—led to the government decision to establish the NEXRAD network.

NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma, and Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Dr. Rodger A. Brown, National Severe Storms Laboratory, 1313 Halley Circle, Norman, OK 73069, E-mail: rodger.brown@noaa.gov
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