The Radar You See on TV Versus What the Meteorologists Are Watching

One of the reasons for the huge death toll in the Joplin tornado was the fact the tornado could not be seen with the naked eye due to it being wrapped in rain and hail. Those tornadoes scare meteorologists to death because we know there are many people who will not take shelter unless they can see the tornado for themselves.

Because I am home ill today, I've had to time to follow a supercell thunderstorm that has produced a tornado intermittently from the northeast side of the Houston metro area on into Liberty County. I thought you'd like some insight into what I have been looking at.

The radar "reflectivity" data (what you see on TV) does not show a hook.  However, I was able to define the threatened areas (yellow arrows) because I was able to look at the internal wind structure.  

This is the internal wind data from the Terminal Doppler weather radar serving George Bush Intercontinental Airport. You can clearly see the rotating wind "couplet." 

Where the brown/green touches is where the tornado is located. Prior to Doppler radar, I would have been nearly impossible to track this type of tornado. 

There have been reports of damage with this tornado but we are unsure of the extent at this point. 


  1. How do the rest of us see this sort of detail? What's a good site for Doppler radar and an easy-to-understand guide for reading it?

  2. There aren't any free sites that provide the detailed Doppler wind data that I know of. Weatherunderground does have the medium resolution Doppler wind data.

    Interpreting the data is not easy. If you wish to try, here is a start:


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