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Ask Andrew | What determines the location of a Doppler radar?

Meteorologist Andrew Stutzke explains what factors contribute to the location of NEXRAD Doppler radar sites.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Scanning the skies 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, Doppler radar is an extremely important tool in our weather toolbox. 

With a total of 159 NEXRAD (Next-Generation Radar) sites across the United States, we're able to track all kinds of weather. Carter from Davenport, Iowa asked, "What determines where a Doppler radar is located?"

That's a great question! Let's take a look. 

Many of the existing Doppler radar sites are located next to or near National Weather Service office buildings. There are a few exceptions, one of which is in Evansville, Indiana.  

This particular Doppler radar site was chosen because a considerable gap in radar data was observed in this region, hindering meteorologists from truly seeing what was going on inside storms as they moved through the area.

Credit: WQAD

The two years prior to this new radar being commissioned included a handful of severe weather and tornado outbreaks, increasing the need for more radar coverage in this particular region. 

Credit: NOAA
A map showing the location of Doppler radar sites across the United States.

Other factors that go into the decision of where to place a potential Doppler radar site include: 

Elevation: Radar utilizes the Doppler effect, meaning beams of energy are sent out and then the radar "listens" for these beams to return after reflecting off an object. In the case of weather, rain, hail, sleet, and snow. If tall trees or buildings are close to the radar site, the radar has to have a higher elevation to shoot the energy over top of these objects. 

Coverage:  Lack of radar coverage is certainly a problem, but you also have to consider the population that it impacts. Is there a large metropolitan area involved? Is it mostly rural, open country? 

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