A powerful EF-4 tornado that swept across one of Mississippi's most populated cities in Hattiesburg has left many people amazed and thankful that no one was killed. The National Weather Service (NWS) said Friday that they credit a recent upgrade in weather radar technology for saving lives ahead of the storm.
Just weeks ago (Jan. 19-23), the NWS forecast office in Jackson upgraded its Doppler radar serving the region with a new life-saving technology called Dual-polarization, or “dual-pol.”
During a dedication ceremony on Friday, the NWS said it was with this new radar technology that they were able to quickly confirm Sunday's large and destructive tornado moving towards the Hattiesburg area.
"Sunday was really our first major severe weather and heavy rain episode since the dual-pol was installed," explains Alan Gerard, the Meteorologist-in-Charge at the National Weather Service in Jackson.
"The fact that we were able to see debris being lofted high up into the storm helped us understand that this was a very powerful tornado," says Gerard.
With the dual-pol upgrade, meteorologists are able to transmit and receive information in both horizontally and vertically in the atmosphere from its 160 NWS offices. The standard Doppler radar only transmitted and received information horizontally.
These upgrades improve the accuracy and identification of precipitation types, precipitation estimates, and the view of rotation associated with tornadoes, as was the case on Sunday.
The upgrade to dual-pol technology, at a federal government cost of $50 million nationwide, is the most significant enhancement to the nation’s Next Generation Weather Radar network, NEXRAD, since Doppler radar was first installed in the early 1990s.
The Jackson NWS forecast office serves more than 1.5 million people in 58 counties and parishes in southeast Arkansas, northeast Louisiana and central Mississippi.
This is one of the most active weather regions in the world, with the potential for disasters produced by tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and even ice storms.