Virtual Office Tour

Doppler Radar

We've saved the most important item on the tour for last: the Doppler Radar! Of course, the primary mission of this or any NWS office is to save lives and minimize property damage by issuing accurate warnings and forecasts. In order to be able to do that, forecasters need to start out on the right foot. We need to have an accurate representation of the atmosphere as it exists right now, before we can try to predict its state at some point in the future. Many tools have been developed over the years to help measure various qualities of the atmosphere both at ground level and aloft.

Just about everyone has heard of Doppler radar by now. It remains one of the most critical observing tools forecasters have at their disposal. WSR-88D is what we call our Doppler radars in the NWS. The term WSR-88D is simple to explain: WSR is Weather Surveillance Radar; 88 is the year the first WSR-88D was commissioned for use (1988); and the D means it is a Doppler radar. In a cooperative effort with the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration, the NWS has deployed about 155 Doppler radars nationwide. Through an integrated network spanning the entire United States and its island territories, from Guam to Puerto Rico, the WSR-88D has dramatically enhanced our ability to safeguard life, property and commerce.

ur radar requires three integral parts to work: (1) an antenna/receiver, (2) computers that process the raw radar data, and (3) an interactive workstation that the forecasters can use to display the processed radar data. We'll talk about the last components a bit later. NWS calls the antenna/receiver portion of the radar system the Radar Data Acquisition (RDA) unit. As you can see, our office is fortunate enough to have our Doppler Radar on site here in Wakefield (our office is in the far right of the photo below). In the foreground, you'll notice the satellite we use to recieve data for our AWIPS system. The radar dish is protected by a covering that resembles a giant soccer ball. The transmitter at the antenna within this protective dome sends out a pulse of energy. When this energy hits an object, like a raindrop, it is scattered in all directions. Part of the energy will be reflected back to the antenna, where the dish focuses the returned energy.


The data collected by the RDA, called base data, is sent from the RDA outside our office to the processing computer located inside the office. The processing computer, known as the Radar Product Generator (RPG), performs various data quality checks of the raw radar data and creates the radar images and products that forecasters can then interrogate. The RDA and RPG units are both controlled by a Master System Control Function (MSCF) workstation located in the operations area at the forecast office (pictured below). Our office not only controls our Wakefield radar (KAKQ, RPG pictured below on the right), but also the one at Dover, DE (KDOX, RPG pictured below on the left).

As an example, our latest local radar image is below. Click the image to link to an interface that allows you to loop the radar, select a different type of radar product, or look at imagery from a neighboring radar.

Well, that about wraps up the tour. I hope you enjoyed the "virtual" spin around the office! If you'd like to schedule an actual tour of the office, feel free to drop a line to the Wakefield Outreach team. Also, feel free to send any questions or comments about the tour to that address as well. Thanks again for taking the tour, see you soon!



National Weather Service
Wakefield, Virginia
10009 General Mahone Hwy Wakefield, VA 23888

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