Gaps in the National Radar Network

The network of WSR-88D radars installed from 1991 to 1996 is one of the great achievements of weather science and the National Weather Service, Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Defense deserve great credit for making it happen.

However, there are gaps in the network, one of which has been in the news recently. So, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at this topic.

Here is a map of the WSR-88D radar coverage:
This map does not include gap coverage from the FAA's Terminal Doppler Weather Radar. Outside of tornado alley, coverage 6,000 feet and below is adequate. How much would it cost to fill the most important gaps? Here are some rough figures:

  • C-band radars, including a tower, cost about $600,000 each, far less than the NWS's primary radars. 
  • I have picked the top twelve gaps to fill based on meteorological threat, population and comers. For example much of America's coal comes from Wyoming's Powder River Basin which has terrible coverage. The top 12 are circled below. 
  • So, picking the top twelve sites would cost about $7,200,000 for the radars and towers. Round up to $10 million for up-front costs. Small by government standards.  
The gap northeast of Dallas (purple rectangle) may be filled by the north Texas CASA project. 

The U.S. Senate is considering the House's bill to provide additional funding for weather forecasting and weather research. Considering the small amount of money (by federal standards), this should be a priority for the additional funding.


  1. Any idea how this coverage compares internationally? I would presume that the US has several factors "going for it," the least of which you discuss in Warnings (i.e. initial development spurred by an almost a Malcolm Gladwell Outlier-esk nature), plus the combination of geography and national wealth.

    One would think that Japan would have the wealth but poor geography. The contient of Africa (perhaps with the exception of a few countries) and many parts of Asia would have desirable geography but insufficient means and infrastructure. South American countries would have struggles with both geography and infrastructure .

    Russia is way too vast, plus there aren't many people "out there." Same goes with Canada (could they just use the overlapping US radar for a good portion of of the population (but clearly not the whole thing).

    And unless there's an EU network of RADAR, no other individual countries would likely be able to have an effective network that tracks storms over long distances... because most countries aren't that big.

    I may be wrong though... that's why I asked!

  2. Radar varies considerably by nation. Until recently Russia only had one radar that covered Moscow. China has a good network.


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