Improved radar is in the forecast

The National Weather Service is about to update its eyeglasses atop Mount Ashland by installing the latest dual polarization technology.

The state-of-the-art radar equipment will enhance the agency's ability to predict weather in the region, said John Lovegrove, meteorologist-in-charge at the weather service office near the Medford airport.

"This radar upgrade will help us provide better forecasts and warnings of snow, heavy rain and hail for the residents of southwest Oregon and northeast California," he explained.

Beginning Wednesday or Thursday, the agency's Doppler radar atop the mountain will be out of service for an estimated seven to eight days while the radar is upgraded to include the dual polarization technology.

The upgrade will include new hardware and software, according to the agency.

While the Doppler radar is down, other NWS, U.S. Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration weather radars will be accessible to help monitor parts of southwest Oregon and northeast California, officials said.

"We will also be relying on satellites and local weather spotters during that relatively short period," observed Ryan Sandler, warning coordination meteorologist at the Medford weather station.

"But with this new system, we will get a better look at weather conditions — our forecast will be even more accurate," he added.

The current Doppler radar system provides forecasters with information on precipitation intensity and movement in terms of direction and speed, he said. However, it transmits and receives information only on the horizontal plane, he said.

The upgrade will enable the radar to collect data on the horizontal and vertical properties of weather, he said.

For instance, it will provide new information about the size and shape of airborne objects, he said. The technology is expected to improve estimates of how much rain is falling, allowing the agency to provide more precise flash-flood detection and warnings, he said.

During the winter, the new radar technology will give forecasters a better handle on what type of precipitation to expect by being able to determine the difference between rain, snow and hail, he noted.

"We will get everything we had before but more images," he said.

In areas where tornadoes occur, dual polarization technology can detect the presence of airborne debris, giving forecasters a peek at an ongoing tornado, officials said. Because some tornadoes cannot be seen by the human eye because of darkness and other factors, the technology is expected to save lives, they observed.

The agency is installing the new system in all 122 of its radar sites nationwide, as well as 38 other similar Doppler sites operated by the Air Force and the FAA, at a cost of about $50 million.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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