Contact: Bob Chartuk FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 12/2/96
In 1959, a computer filled an entire room, Hula Hoops were in vogue, and Detroit cancelled the Edsel after two years of sluggish sales. It was also the year the National Weather Service installed one of its first weather radar systems at South Carolina's Charleston Airport.
And, like automobiles with driver-operated lubrication systems and electronic equipment relying on vacuum tubes, the Charleston radar, Serial Number 16, has been displaced by technology, the last of its kind decommissioned by the National Weather Service in favor of a state-of-the-art Doppler weather radar.
"We can finally throw away the grease pencils," said Charleston Meteorologist David George, referring to the technique used to trace weather systems as they passed across the old radar screen. "With the Doppler radar, map backgrounds are built into the system and storms can be tracked automatically, freeing up the radar operator for other tasks," George said, adding, "Gone are the days when forecasters had to manually turn a crank to adjust the radar's scan elevation or scramble for spare parts no longer manufactured in this country."
Designed in 1957 using World War II technology, the old Charleston radar was part of a network that served the nation well for more than 35 years. For the first time, a forecaster had an electronic picture, albeit primitive by today's standards, of approaching storm systems.
"It took considerable skill to determine storm intensities from green blotches on the radar scope," said Steve Rich, meteorologist-in-charge of the Charleston office. "It took even greater skill to tell if a storm had tornadic characteristics."
Like the user-friendliness built into much of today's technology, the new Doppler radars not only produce highly accurate storm signatures, but will sound an alarm if a storm looks like it will spawn a tornado. "For the first time in history, we are now able to broadcast a tornado warning for a given area before a tornado is formed," Rich said. "This is a remarkable technological achievement and has already saved many lives."
Forecasters liken Doppler images to a CAT scan as the system can dissect approaching weather systems at different elevations and produce brilliant color-coded portraits of a storm's most intense areas. Hail can be distinguished from rain and the machine can eventually tell how much precipitation a storm dropped in a given area.
The weather service's installation of 118 Doppler systems is part of a nationwide modernization effort designed to take advantage of the latest in computer and communications technology. More than 100 radars are already on line, with the network expected to completed next year.
"With 118 modernized weather forecast offices associated with each of the new Doppler radars, the United States has the most advanced weather forecast and warning capability of any nation," said Elbert W. Friday Jr., assistant administrator for weather services, with the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "In just a few short years, our modernization program will have paid for itself by providing more accurate weather information to the American public and our nation's many commercial activities."
The 1957 Weather Surveillance Radar, however, will not disappear over the technological horizon. A California firm refurbishes them and a number of nations and private interests are still bringing them online.
Other historical events that happened the year the old Charleston radar was installed include: the admittance of Alaska and Hawaii into the union, American Airline's introduction of daily coast-to-coast service, the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the premier of the Barbie Doll. The epic movie Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston, was released.
To see a graphic comparing the images from the 1957 radars with the WSR-88D Doppler radars, visit the NWS Web site: www.nws.noaa.gov/modernize/radars.htm
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