Science & Tech

Texas A&M Partners With Climavision To Install New Weather Radar On Campus

The new system will give faculty and students in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences access to more comprehensive, high-resolution weather data.
By Grant Hawkins '98, Texas A&M University College of Arts and Sciences June 21, 2024

A weather radar sits in a parking lot outside the 0&M Building on the Texas A&M campus.
The new Climavision X-band radar is prepared for installation outside Texas A&M’s David G. Eller Oceanography and Meteorology Building on Thursday, June 20, 2024.

Emily Caroline Sartin/Texas A&M University Division of Marketing and Communications

 

The skyline of Aggieland is set to change this weekend with the installation of a new weather radar system atop Texas A&M University’s Eller Oceanography and Meteorology Building.

The installation of the new radar, the result of a partnership between Climavision and the Texas A&M Department of Atmospheric Sciences, aims to redefine how students, faculty and the community study and respond to weather patterns.

The new radar replaces the aging Aggie Doppler Radar (ADRAD) that has towered over Aggieland since the O&M Building was built in 1973. ADRAD’s most recent major upgrade occurred in 1997.

The ADRAD removal and new radar installation will take place Saturday with the use of a helicopter, weather permitting.

“The current radar system has seen multiple upgrades over time, incorporating both older and newer technologies,” said Dr. Erik Nielsen, an instructional assistant professor in Atmospheric Sciences. “While components like the radiation receiver and transmitter have been rebuilt successfully, our main challenge lies in its mechanical rotation atop the O&M building. Due to wear and tear, operating the radar reliably has become increasingly costly and uncertain. Despite occasional functionality, ensuring consistent performance has become a significant issue. When the opportunity with Climavision emerged, pursuing it made practical sense.”

A view of the electronics underneather the new Climavision weather radar to be installed on the O&M Building on the Texas A&M University campus.
The new Climavision radar houses a sophisticated signal processor to analyze the data collected. Because X-band weather radar operates within smaller wavelengths, it is more sensitive and capable of detecting and identifying precipitation down to the particle.

Emily Caroline Sartin/Texas A&M University Division of Marketing and Communications

Enhanced Data

The new radar system is an X-band radar that offers finer resolution in data collection than ADRAD’s S-band capabilities. It features an 8-foot antenna housed within a 12-foot radome, a substantial change from the old radar, which lacked the protective enclosure to shield it from environmental conditions such as weather, debris and physical damage.

The addition of dual-polarization capabilities and continuous operation in the new radar are the most significant enhancements over its predecessor. Dual polarization allows radar waves to move in both horizontal and vertical planes, unlike ADRAD’s single horizontal polarization. Texas A&M Atmospheric Sciences Professor Dr. Courtney Schumacher explains this concept using an analogy of snakes and dolphins.

“Picture a snake on the ground symbolizing the horizontal polarization of the old radar,” Schumacher said. “In contrast, the new radar can also behave more like a dolphin, capable of movement in vertical planes as well, enabling observation in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. This capability allows us to perceive hydrometeors in four dimensions, distinguishing between ice, sleet, snow and hail as well as assessing the volume and intensity of rain, among other factors.”

Its constant operation means the radar will provide a more comprehensive, high-resolution view whenever weather systems are within range, without the need for faculty and students to operate it.

“The location of the radar at Texas A&M makes it an important radar in observing some of the more interesting and sometimes more dangerous weather phenomena,” said Dr. Don Conlee, an instructional professor in Texas A&M Atmospheric Sciences. “The new radar will offer fresh research datasets for both traditional studies of severe and hazardous weather as well as enhanced opportunities for undergraduates to conduct introductory research using a valuable local dataset.”

The new radar’s influence goes beyond academia, significantly enhancing weather forecasting and warning services for the local community through expanded coverage and improved accuracy. The upgraded capability is crucial for issuing timely and precise weather alerts, potentially saving lives and reducing property damage during severe weather events. Bryan-College Station, previously situated in a “radar gap” region, will benefit from comprehensive coverage at lower altitudes, enhancing community preparedness and safety.

Data from the radar will be available to Climavision’s federal partners, such as the National Severe Storms Laboratory, and other Climavision clients, including media. It’s the dual impact on both academic advancements and community safety that has Climavision most enthusiastic about partnering with Texas A&M on the new radar.

“Partnering with Texas A&M on the site to install our gap-filling weather radar is incredibly exciting,” said Chris Goode, CEO of Climavision, which is headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. “This collaboration not only enhances comprehensive low-level coverage for the university and College Station area but also offers students a hands-on learning experience with cutting-edge data that will have a real impact on the local community.”

The Legacy Of ADRAD

Climavision’s new radar and partnership with the Department of Atmospheric Sciences marks a milestone in Texas A&M’s rich radar technology legacy, which dates back to the 1960s and has consistently been at the forefront of innovation.

“Texas A&M has had a pioneering role in meteorological radar research for a very long time,” Conlee said. “Aggie professors were instrumental in figuring out the best frequencies and wavelengths for radar use, setting the stage for nationwide advancements dating back to the 1960s. The importance of radar was evident in the construction of the Meteorology Department’s building in 1973, which was designed to accommodate and utilize this crucial technology.”

This technology has provided Texas A&M faculty and students with cherished memories throughout the history of the outgoing radar.

Texas A&M students operated ADRAD during Hurricane Ike in 2008 and relayed crucial information to the National Weather Service (NWS). In addition to monitoring the data, the students ensured the radar’s mechanical safety as the hurricane approached the coast while also keeping an eye out for  important data sets the NWS might need.

On March 21, 2022, ADRAD provided emergency assistance to the NWS when the KGRK radar in Williamson County that monitors supercells approaching the Brazos Valley experienced temporary power outages due to a tornado. The first tornado warning of the night, issued for a supercell tracking along the northern Burleson County line, was based on ADRAD analysis. By the next day, seven confirmed tornadoes had occurred in the NWS Houston/Galveston County Warning Area, with ADRAD playing a crucial role in the forecasting and warning efforts during the event.

Texas A&M biologists have even used the radar to study bat movements.

Through its partnership with Climavision, Texas A&M Atmospheric Sciences aims to significantly enhance its capabilities with the new radar system.

“The Aggie Doppler radar has served Texas A&M and the community very well over several decades,” said Dr. R. Saravanan, professor and head of Texas A&M Atmospheric Sciences. “As it nears the end of its life, we are happy to welcome the new partnership with Climavision that provides a timely replacement. Our students will have access to state-of-the-art radar data for their meteorology education. In addition, the new radar will fill the ‘radar gap’ Bryan-College Station is in and help the local community be better prepared for severe weather.”

A ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony is planned for early in the fall 2024 semester, when the radar will be fully operational.

 

Media contact: Darren Benson, darren.benson@tamu.edu

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