New technology helps meteorologists better detect severe weather

A recent upgrade to Doppler radar is called SAILS

Photo Courtesy: WPRI.com

TAUNTON, Mass. (WPRI) — The latest Doppler radar technology has arrived in southern New England, and it’s designed to give earlier warnings to keep you and your family safe.

A recent upgrade to Doppler radar can now be used when severe weather threatens. It’s called SAILS, or Supplemental Adaptive Intra-Volume Low-Level Scans. It may sound technical, but really it’s a pretty simple concept.

National Weather Service forecaster Hayden Frank explained to us how it works, saying the radar shoots out beams of energy at different elevation angles. The lowest angle is the most important, especially when it comes to tornadoes, such as the one that caused significant damage to Revere in late July – a couple weeks before SAILS was scheduled to be installed.

Before SAILS technology, a look at the low levels would come in every four to five minutes. With SAILS, the lowest level gets an extra scan.

“It’ll reach a certain point at the lower levels and then it’ll actually come back down, do another scan, and then jump back up to the higher elevation angle,” said Frank.

With the extra scan, warnings could be issued two to three minutes earlier.

“That may not sound like much, but in this era of social media, cell phone alerts, it’s enough to get people, if they’re outside, to at least an indoor shelter,” Frank added.

In New England, we get mostly short-lived tornadoes, and the one in Revere touched down in between radar scans. If the scan had occurred two minutes sooner, it could have made a big difference.

The SAILS technology wasn’t designed to be used in snow, in fact it’s pretty much just used in thunderstorms.

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