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Local Doppler station helps warn of tornadoes, droughts

[MAY 6, 2000]  Bats use a form of radar to hunt for food. The National Weather Service office on Route 10 east in Lincoln also uses radar Doppler, to be exact to hunt for changing weather conditions in order to provide the public and many agencies with weather information vital for our economy, travel, food, leisure and survival.

According to Rod Palmer, warning coordination meteorologist at the local NWS office, Lincoln's station is one of 120 Doppler stations throughout the country that provides the most accurate and up-to-date information for use in short-term and long-term forecasts.

"The entire program was a 10-year project that cost $4.5 billion dollars," he said. "Each station has a range of about 125 miles. The radar beam starts out at just under 12 inches and widens out. By the time the beam has reached the 125-mile perimeter, it has spread to about 10,000 feet."

 

The Doppler antenna, located under the fiberglass dome that sits on top of a 100-foot tower, sends out 800 "flashes" per second and receives 800 signals back in that same second. The information is analyzed, and forecasts and predictions are based upon computer-generated schematics.



[Doppler dome]

 

"Particularly during this time of year," Palmer said, "conditions can produce severe thunderstorms that may in turn spawn tornadoes."

The information that the Lincoln service provides to its 35-county area gives the earliest possible warning for the public to seek shelter if such conditions occur.

"Portable weather radios that have the feature of automatically sounding a weather warning when the NWS issues one are extremely beneficial," he said.

Palmer cited an example when a storm hit at night and, although ample warning was given, people were asleep and weren't able to respond quickly enough. A number of fatalities occurred due to the lack of preparedness.

"Weather warning radios should be as common in homes as smoke detectors," Palmer said. "In 'Tornado Alley,' people need as much warning as necessary," he added.

One aspect of storms that people overlook is that straight-line winds traveling in front of a storm can be as devastating as tornadic winds.

"Winds pulled into thunderstorms enter on the southwest side and then rise dramatically and eventually come down as downdrafts and exit ahead of the storm, with winds that reach high velocities," Palmer said. "Such winds are capable of throwing all types of debris at violent speeds that can crash through windows and penetrate walls. Any time a warning is issued, individuals must move away from windows and go to an interior portion of the house," he added.

 

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Areas in Oklahoma are incorporating a "safe room" in homes to provide adequate protection from such storms. The rooms are constructed in such a manner that they would withstand major damage.

Besides issuing severe weather warnings, the NWS office provides ongoing information about winds and conditions at higher altitudes. The information is used by various airports and other agencies.

"We also send hydrogen-filled weather balloons aloft to determine various atmospheric conditions and then relay that information so that maps can be made for the use of pilots," Palmer said. "Such maps," he added, "are now internationally consistent so that a pilot can read a map that originated in any country."

A staff of 23, including 10 meteorologists, a data acquisition officer, a science officer and others, compile the information that is gathered and distributed. Help in gathering information during severe weather episodes is provided by trained weather observers who relay actual conditions and movement of these storms, Palmer said.

"We get calls from contractors and farmers wanting information on imminent rainfall possibilities with respect to when it may start and end and where it's going. It can save contractors money by calling off workers if weather conditions are going to deteriorate during certain construction phases," he said. "Owners of racetracks have also called to see if the weather that appears menacing is actually going to affect their operations," Palmer added.

 


[Lincoln National Weather Station]

 

Currently, the interest is on the 90-day outlook and if drought conditions are going to materialize.

With the efforts of the Lincoln office and all the other Doppler stations that collect, analyze and distribute weather-related information, the NWS can draw a clearer picture of weather and its impact for use by other government agencies and the public and private sectors, so that appropriate steps can be taken in the event a drought occurs.

We cannot avoid the weather that comes in all forms, but NSW offices such as the one in Lincoln compile the most accurate database so the effects of all types of climatic conditions can be minimized and dealt with in a safe and logical manner.

 

[Fuzz Werth]

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