5 things to know about our new weather radar

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Maybe Outkast was right: you can’t predict the weather. But thanks to new radar systems popping up across Canada, meteorologists will be able to more accurately forecast it.

The experts base their forecasts on the data that weather radar gathers as it “sweeps” the sky, explains Patricia Wong, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Weather Radar Replacement Program. “The radar sends very brief pulses of energy out and then listens for responses. As the pulse of energy strikes particles of precipitation, a portion of that energy is reflected back to the radar.”

So far, the ECCC has upgraded five radars; they’ll replace seven every year until the completion of the program in 2023. The overhauled versions work faster and more efficiently, with less upkeep. “The new radars are state-of-the-art,” says Wong. “We are very excited to be replacing the old ones!”

New vs Old: the 411

A The new radars send their info-gathering pulses in two directions, not just one. This is called “dual polarization,” says Wong. This means improved ability to distinguish between, for example, heavy rain and hail, or between hail and snow. Or between snow and birds. (The new tech will allow for better i.d. of “non-meteorological” targets, says Wong.)

B They have a larger Doppler range—250 km instead of 120 km. “This extends the severe-weather detection range to cover more of Canada,” says Wong. “It will give meteorologists additional lead time as severe storms develop.” And that means they can warn us that nasty weather—say, a tornado—is on the way, sooner.

C The new radars have better “storm penetration performance,” says Wong—that is, the ability to “see” into weather systems and storm cells. “This is especially important for storms that present a high flooding risk, as more rain in a following storm cell can be missed if the radar is not able to see ‘through’ the first cell.”

D They scan more frequently, every six minutes instead of every 10 minutes. Translation: “New data will get to the meteorologists more quickly,” says Wong. 

E They need less maintenance. The old radars required bimonthly maintenance. The new ones only need it twice per year. Less frequent maintenance visits means more time that the radars are out there doing their jobs, helping to predict—er, forecast—the weather.

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