National Weather Service plans to upgrade Tallahassee radar

The Tallahassee weather radar near the airport will be out of service in late January for upgrades to extend the life of the radar.
Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 5:43 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 11, 2022 at 5:59 PM CST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The white dome just to the east of Tallahassee International Airport containing the National Weather Service’s Doppler radar will be offline for two weeks as it plans to perform maintenance on the radar.

Technicians expect to “refurbish and replace” a pedestal that holds and spins the radar dish, according to a press release emailed to NWS partners Monday.

“The antenna spins around in circles and a certain elevation so that it scans all of the reflectors - primarily precipitation,” Warning Coordination Meteorologist Mark Wool said on Tuesday. “And it returns that energy to the radar.”

The technology lets meteorologists and other users see the snow, rain, hail, or other precipitation on maps and screens.

“The pedestal will raise up the antenna up a little bit, will complete another scan, and it raises up a little more (for additional scans,” Wool said.

The weather radar runs all day and every day, but anything mechanical doesn’t last forever. Wool said that failures of the pedestal and other hardware have happened before, and upgrades will help avoid breakdowns.

“This is kind of preventative,” Wool said. “How to reduce the number of times that happens.”

The upgrade is part of the WSR-88D Life Extension Program, or SLEP, according to the press release. The pedestal upgrade is one of many that have taken place to the Tallahassee radar and many others in the U.S. for nearly a decade according to Wool.

“The radar and pedestal were designed to last 25 years, and this radar has exceeded its lifespan,” the Tallahassee office said in its release. “This activity is necessary to keep the radar functioning for another 20 years or more.”

The two-week upgrade, which is slated to start on Jan. 24, will mean the Tallahassee radar will be out of service. The NWS and those that rely on the radar data, including the WCTV Pinpoint Weather Team, will revert to nearby radars at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Ft. Rucker in Alabama, Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle and from Jacksonville’s NWS office.

An issue with the outage is the reduction of higher-resolution radar data from the Central Big Bend. The issue would be exacerbated if severe weather threatened the area as meteorologists could miss low-level rotation on radar. But Wool said this is the better time of year to do it.

“We don’t start to see a ramp up of our severe weather climatology until we get into April,” he said.

But he stressed that it doesn’t mean the area will not see a severe weather threat during the outage period. If that happens, Wool said that there has been training on what to look for in the upper levels of the atmosphere to determine whether severe weather is likely occurring. The NWS can also rely on reports from storm spotters on the ground.

All the nearby radars are in line for the pedestal refurbishment, according to the information posted on NOAA’s SLEP web page. The Moody Air Force Base’s radar pedestal is slated to be upgraded on Feb. 14 — a week after the Tallahassee radar is scheduled to be complete. The Jacksonville radar’s upgrade is scheduled to start on March 7. Timelines for the additional surrounding radars have not been released, according to Wool.

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