Senate Passes Bill to Improve Charlotte Weather Radar

WASHINGTON – Last night, the Senate passed the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 which includes a provision instructing the National Weather Service (NWS) to identify solutions for improving inadequate weather radar covering the Charlotte area and other parts of the country.  Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the legislation earlier this month. Representative Robert Pittenger (R-NC) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Last December, the Senate passed a similar bill unanimously.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said Senator Burr. “When it comes to dangerous tornadoes, accurate weather forecasting is critical to ensuring the safety of citizens.  I’m glad my colleagues recognize the importance of providing the tools that cities like Charlotte need to prepare for potential disasters.”

“I want to thank my Senate colleagues for passing this legislation that is important to the safety of citizens in the Charlotte metropolitan region and across the country who live without quality radar coverage,” said Senator Tillis. “We must give all Americans more accurate warning when severe weather is approaching, and I hope this legislation will pass the House and head to the President’s desk to become law in a timely manner.”

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