Weather Radar: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure


How weather radar was first discovered

Sir Robert Watson-Watt developed the worlds' first operational Radar during the 1930s. It used the relatively new technology of radio waves to gain advantages and insights into modern warfare during World War Two. During military maneuvers, the highly trained radar operators noticed a background echo showing up on their displays that appeared, under further investigation, to originate as interference from the weather (2). This “extraordinary accident” became the starting block for modern meteorology (along with satellite data), expanding the ability for meteorologists to predict more accurately the oncoming precipitation and weather patterns, particularly the radar signatures of extreme weather.

After the war, the race to commercialize weather radar began. Teams from America, Canada and the UK all fought for supremacy in this new and exciting technology. By 1950, the British company EKCO had developed commercial weather radar equipment built on its WW2 technology and was supplying to major airlines around the world, commercializing what was primarily a military application. In fact, the iconic plane Concorde had an EKCO E390/564 weather radar onboard during its maiden flight (1).

Weather radar in the modern meteorologist’s toolset

Fast forward 66 years and weather radar is still a critical part of the meteorology toolset - though it has significantly evolved from the early days of the cathode ray tube. The 21st century weather radar uses radio waves to locate precipitation, calculate its distance and the direction it’s travelling in. Modern meteorological analysis can then turn the data into essential insights for modern industries and businesses.

In the winter of 2013 – 2014, the UK experienced a sustained period of flooding caused by a persistent and highly unusual pattern of winter storms, resulting in coastal damage and prolonged flooding to low lying areas of the south west of England and into Wales. The best estimate of total economic damages was 1,300 m (GBP), with the highest proportion of damages being felt by residential property holders at 320 m (GBP)(3). Of course, the bill for this extreme event lay firmly at the doorstep of the household insurance companies, with the likes of Aviva and Direct Line saying that the floods cost them each over 120 m (5).

Insurance companies during that time were ill-prepared for extreme weather events. Many woke up to the need for a more optimized weather forecasting technology to support their claim management and prevention teams. They needed to use Radar technology to predict and manage precipitation events, get a handle on the prevention, and support their customers.

How radar technology is used by weather forecasters

MeteoGroup, a commercial weather company, takes basic radar data (location, intensity) and adds in their meteorological expertise and industry insights to create a unique value set of data points that have high relevancy across a multitude of industries.

Merged radar data:
Here MeteoGroup essentially combines radar reflectivity images from multiple radar sources to provide insights into a broad geographical area, for example, a country or even the whole of Europe, this is extremely useful for Media companies who extensively use radar images to display a visualisation of the weather forecast in their broadcasts.

Decluttered radar data:
With a growing focus on green energy sources, the increased presence of wind turbines means organizations need de-cluttered radar data more than ever. Radar providers deliver their radar data with some correction, but additional declutter is needed and applied by MeteoGroups’ algorithms. De-cluttered data reduces the number of false precipitation signals caused by turbines and other signal or echo types anomalies.

Expected radar:
This creates real-time data of expected precipitation for the next three hours. MeteoGroup uses the movement of precipitation objects to build a movement (vector) field, which applies to real-time data that are extrapolated to give a highly accurate forecast. This type of forecasting is essential for civil engineering construction works, insurance prevention warnings and, of course, deciding whether to wear a coat on a short trip to the shops, using MeteoGroup’s “WeatherPro” app.

Precipitation type radar data:
This combines conventional radar data with probability forecasts of snow/hail/rain taken from MeteoGroup MOS (Model Output Statistics) forecast to provide a precipitation type forecast. This type of weather data has all manner of industrial applications, in particular it is very important for winter road conditions and winter road management as well as rail and aircraft operations.

Cumulative radar:
This combines multiple radar images to calculate the estimated precipitation amount over 1-, 3-, 6-, and 24-hour periods. MeteoGroup also offers a cumulative radar image that is calibrated with ground observations.

If insurers had access to these unique insights in December 2013, many UK insurance companies would have been able to assess the damage during and after the event. While radar cannot stop the rain, it can help industries by being prepared, as Benjamin Franklin said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” (6)


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