Charlotte Weather Radar Study Passes Senate

WASHINGTON – Last night, the Senate unanimously passed an amended version of The Metropolitan Weather Hazards Protection Act. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), directs the National Weather Service (NWS) to study areas of the country, including the Charlotte metropolitan area, with inadequate weather radar and develop a plan to improve radar coverage. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is a cosponsor of the final bill.

“Our nation has an excellent weather radar system, but there are holes we need to fix,” said Senator Burr. “Weather radar coverage is dangerously deficient in the Charlotte area; my bill is an important step forward to addressing this public safety concern. Just this week, a tornado touched down in Mecklenburg County. Unlike the disastrous tornado event of 2012, we received a warning, but it underscores the reality that Charlotte can experience sudden weather shifts, and we need all the tools available to keep residents safe. I’m glad Senator Maria Cantwell and I could work together to pass this important legislation in the Senate, and I’m looking forward to working with Representative Robert Pittenger to pass this bill in the House.”

Charlotte is currently covered by a NWS Doppler radar that is 94 miles away in Greer, SC. However, no other city of Charlotte’s size currently has a radar situated more than 58 miles away. The current location results in a majority of the metropolitan area being without radar beam coverage below 10,000 feet. Due to the circumference of the earth the further a radar is away from a given point, the higher the radar beam scans the atmosphere, leading to lower resolutions and an inability to detect the low-level dynamics of severe weather. Rowan, Cabarrus, and Davidson Counties have an even more pronounced problem with limited radar coverage because of the location of the radar.

This map from Brad Panovich, Chief Meteorologist WCNC-TV, clearly shows the gap in quality radar coverage over Charlotte:



Local meteorologists believe that the lack of quality radar coverage has made it difficult for the NWS office in Spartanburg to detect severe weather, specifically tornadoes. These meteorologists who understand the intricacies of weather in the Piedmont believe that the lack of a NWS Doppler radar in Charlotte contributed to the lack of a warning for a tornado that affected Mecklenburg, Rowan, and Cabarrus Counties in March of 2012 that damaged 192 homes. The failure was not the fault of the NWS, as it can be very difficult to detect rotation in the thunderstorms that tend to effect North Carolina; however, the lack of a Doppler radar for the Piedmont enhances the problem. This legislation will give the NWS, local and state officials, and news outlets the tools they need to protect our citizens.

Letters from three area meteorologists are available here: WGHP, WCNC and WBTV