National Weather Service doppler radar will be going down next week. How will this affect our area?

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 6:59 PM EDT
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Southwest Virginia’s doppler radar is tucked away among the rolling farmlands of Floyd County.

The radar is operated by the National Weather Service out of Blacksburg.

Its call sign is KFCX. It’s part of a network made up of one 159 radars across the country, but on Monday, March 27th, the doppler covering the Two Virginias is going offline for maintenance.

Doug Butts, Meteorologist in Charge - National Weather Service in Blacksburg, VA: “Well the radar has been in service here in southwest Virginia, in Floyd County, since roughly the first part of 1995, and has been in nearly continuous service since.”

The wear and tear of that constant use takes a toll. It’s downright hard on the machine. The weather service reports when you have vital equipment like this, especially when it carries a price tag that runs into hundreds of millions of dollars, you want to make sure it gets preventative care.

Doug: “The big satellite looking dish, the actual radar dish, sits on what’s called a pedestal, it’s a cylindrical hole, and after 30 years roughly, it needs to be replaced.”

This radar dish is 28 feet in diameter, and is surprisingly light due to being balanced by weights.

Its movement is controlled by two small motors, one for revolving horizontally, and the other one for tilting the angle up and down.

The radar works by emitting a beam that scans the atmosphere. That data is then transmitted to local computers, and then fed to National Weather Service offices across the country. After that, it’s turned into the radar products that you see on your phone, and on tv.”

The National Weather Service then uses those radar products in the moment to monitor thunderstorms, and determine if a warning needs to be issued.

With that being said, the Blacksburg radar services eight counties in our area.

Mercer, Bland, Giles, Wythe, Tazewell, Monroe, Summers, and Greenbrier.

With severe weather season just about here, what sort of impacts will be felt in our area when KFCX goes down for repairs?

Doug: “We’re not flying blind when the radar is down. We have other tools at our disposal, and we’ve been trained to do that.”

One such tool is the GOES Satellite, which can be helpful in many ways that radar can’t.

By monitoring satellite imagery, we can look at cloud formations to pinpoint developing thunderheads.

Lightning data from the satellite can also be used to help track ongoing storms.

Another helpful tool, is data from surrounding radar sites, which can be used to fill in the hole left from the Blacksburg radar.

Doug: “Even when the radar is down, we, the meteorologists at the national weather service will be relying on surrounding radars, such as the one in Charleston, occasionally use the one in Morristown, Tennessee.”

The repairs are expected to take about two weeks. They will use a crane to remove the radar dome.

Once complete though, this dish will sit on a new pedestal. Its’ throne so to speak, right here in Floyd County, where it will continue to reign, as it monitors incoming rain and anything else mother nature throws our way.