DISCUSSION: On September 1, 2016, WCNC (Charlotte, NC) Chief Meteorologist Brad Panovich acknowledged a peculiar feature inside of Hurricane Hermine while using the ZDR Dual-Polarization Differential Reflectivity Doppler Radar. Meteorologists operate Doppler Radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging) to detect precipitation, thunderstorms and other weather characteristics. It helps forecasters to predict tornadoes and pinpoint the exact location of precipitation. Dual-polarization radar exhibits unique abilities that allow it to distinguish precipitation from non-meteorological objects such as insects, birds, ground clutter and debris. The radar transmits pulses that are oriented in the vertical and horizontal directions. Once the pulses hit an object, it returns two-dimensional information back to the radar. Differential reflectivity (ZDR) is utilized to identify the shape and size of an object. It can detect airborne tornado debris, hail, storm updrafts and rotation. Thunderstorms accompanied with deep rotating updrafts are often a good indication of storm-producing tornadoes.
The Dual-Polarization radar image (below) detected a cluster of objects that was situated in the core of the northeastern part of the hurricane’s eye (i.e. the center of the tropical cyclone). The eye is the region of calm winds (less than or equal to 15 mph), which dynamically organizes beneath a vacuum of sinking air that is characterized by pleasant weather conditions. Also, the eye is encircled by an eye-wall, which is composed of strong-to-severe thunderstorms whose impacts often consist of heavy rainfall and excessively strong winds.
Simultaneously, Hurricane Hermine was drifting north-northeast at approximately 14 mph while maintaining maximum sustained wind speeds of up to 80 mph. Birds often travel inside of hurricane eyes to avoid the devastating winds which are situated within and beyond the eye-wall. Inside the eye of Hermine, a bird flock attempted to seek refuge in the core of this storm. More interestingly, the flock migrated in the same direction as the hurricane was moving just to survive throughout the duration of the storm.
Nonetheless, this isn’t the first time a Dual-Polarization radar detected birds inside of a hurricane. In July 2014, the University of Alabama Huntsville Severe Weather Institute Radar and Lightning Laboratories used ZDR and Dual-Polarization reflectivity to distinguish birds versus hurricane precipitation within Hurricane Arthur. In the eye of Arthur, scientists concluded that a pink cluster of non-meteorological objects on the radar was a flock of birds seeking refuge. Similarly, as Chief Meteorologist Brad Panovich reminisced on the Hurricane Arthur case, he used radar reflectivity and ZDR to comparatively identify that a flock of birds were present on the radar within Hurricane Hermine. To learn more about other high-impact weather from across North America, be sure to click here!