Next-generation radar technology capable of taking 3D slices of hurricanes and other storms is poised to move ahead after years of fits and starts.
The National Science Foundation announced $91.8 million in funding this morning — the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season — for the National Center for Atmospheric Research to design, build and test an airborne phased array radar.
- The technology consists of thousands of transmitters and receivers on horizontal plates mounted at different points on a plane.
- Together, they would scan storms in unprecedented detail, from the storms’ overall organization to the type, shape and direction of movement of droplets within the clouds.
Currently, NOAAs aging hurricane research aircraft fly tail-mounted Doppler radars into the heart of hurricanes. But the new APAR could yield significant insights into weather predictions and climate projections.
- For example, it could provide a far more detailed picture of the inner structure of a hurricane. That data can then be fed into computer models, which can warn of sudden intensity or track changes.
Context: Human-caused climate change is leading hurricanes to dump more rainfall than they used to. The storms also are more likely to rapidly intensify, with several landfalling systems in recent years increasing on the Saffir Simpson Scale in just 24 to 36 hours.
- The NSF press release cites climate change’s “unprecedented threats” as a reason for the new funding.
The funding will be used to outfit a C-130 research aircraft, operated jointly by NSF and NCAR, with the new radar.
- The NSF investment does not cover NOAA’s new equipment, though the oceans and atmosphere agency would benefit from NCAR’s research insights.
- NCAR director Everette Joseph said the radar should be ready for use in 2028.
Between the lines: In selecting NCAR for the funding and research, NSF is following a long-established model with the Boulder, Colorado-based organization.
- The partnership has helped advance weather and climate forecasting for decades.
APAR has been a priority for storm researchers and forecasters for years.
- Scott Rayder, who leads Leidos’ climate, energy and environment portfolio, said such technological leaps should not take so long, since lives are at stake.
- “When I first heard about the technology in 2012, I knew APAR would be a game changer,” Rayder told Axios. “The fact that it took 10 years to get to this decision is a concern — we need to find ways to more rapidly develop technologies like APAR and move them into operations.”