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Stories and Tales of the Weather Service - Technology Tales

Radar Detection of the Florida Hurricane Banner

Radar instruments developed for war purposes may play an important part in future weather forecasting and also make permanent records relative to the nature of storms and their movements for use in the science of meteorology. The entire progress of the recent September hurricane in its gradual curve up Florida was recorded on film by Army radar equipment at Orlando, Fla. Photographs of each radar scope were taken each 15 seconds by electrically operated cameras. Some of these pictures are reproduced in Life magazine for October 1.

Echoes from frontal thunderstorms observed from a Radio Set SCR-584 mobile radar unit located at Spring Lake, New Jersey. In: "AAF Manual 105-101-2 Radar Storm Detection," by Headquarters, Army Air Forces, August 1945. Library Call Number M15:621.384 U58r.

The use of radar to detect storms began at least as early as August, 1943. Before that, radar technicians had noticed "ghost echoes" on their relatively primitive scopes but did not realize at first that they were caused by thunderstorms. Later they did, and Army and Navy meteorologists soon learned how to use radar sets to follow other types of storms and they later developed better techniques of detection. But the size and violence of the September 15th storm, and its closeness to the radar station, resulted in some striking observations of the structure of hurricanes. Throughout the period when the hurricane was near Florida the general shape of the disturbance was plainly seen on the micro-wave set, whose energy was reflected excellently from the rain areas contained by the storm. The storm was seen to be in the shape of a figure six with clockwise spiralling "tails." At one time six distinct "tails" were observed, three of which were detached and were moving northward ahead of the storm's center. These were deduced to be rows or rings of rain-bearing storm clouds, or "line squalls," eight to ten miles in width and from three to five miles apart. When the hurricane was abreast of the radar station, and the center only a few miles away, the radar revealed that the eye of the storm, the calm area in the center, was 12 miles in diameter, and the lack of echoes proved that there was no precipitation within it. The height-finding radar set revealed that the dense cloud masses surrounding the eye extended up to an average of 18,000 feet. -- S.S., Oct. 12.

[Bulletin of the American Meteorologi cal Society, Volume 26, December, 1945. P. 451.]

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