DISCUSSION: One of the major issues in meteorology right now is figuring out an effective method of communicating vital weather information to the public. In severe weather situations, it is especially important for meteorologists to issue life saving warnings and information in a timely manner. But what if something was preventing meteorologists from recognizing a threat with enough time to warn the public? This is a reality for regions within areas of poor radar coverage, also known as radar holes. In a radar hole, the area may be on the edge of one or more radar, only allowing for the top of a storm to be seen by the radar’s beam, which means any low-level rotation which may indicate a tornado would be missed. One major radar hole falls over the Charlotte, North Carolina (NC) metropolitan area, which has a population of 2,474,314 people as of the 2016 census. That is over 2 million people who are in danger of not receiving sufficient warning notice when severe weather strikes. While Charlotte may not be as prone to the occurrence of tornadoes as other regions of the country, it is still a very real possibility.
Around 2:30 am on March 3, 2012, an un-warned tornado struck the Charlotte metro area, just miles northeast of the city center. Given that this tornado occurred at night, the likelihood of the storm being reported to the National Weather Service by a spotter before it touched down would be very low to begin with. Meteorologists would have been relying on Doppler radar to determine whether to warn a storm. The nearest radar to the Charlotte metro area is outside of Greenville, South Carolina, at least 80-90 miles away from where this tornado occurred. That would put the radar beam well into the mid-to-upper levels of the storm, completely missing any low-level rotation. By the time rotation would have been detected by radar, it was already too late. Thankfully, in this case, no fatalities were reported. But this may have been a lucky break.
It is only a matter of time before another devastating tornado hits the area, and this time the outcome may not be as favorable. This is why it is is incredibly important to address the gaps in radar coverage throughout the country, especially in large metro areas such as Charlotte, NC. Increased radar coverage could end up saving lives.
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©2018 Meteorologist Stephanie Edwards