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Officials in Charlotte, N.C., Considering CASA Units to Resolve the City’s Longstanding Radar Gap

Dark storm clouds

A news story by Brian Murphy in the August 7 Charlotte News & Observer says officials in Charlotte, N.C., are considering installing weather radars designed by the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), developed at UMass Amherst and currently employed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where they are used to detect tornadoes and other severe weather. The CASA radars have a short range and can see weather events much closer to the ground than conventional weather radars.

The News & Observer article explained that Charlotte is one of the largest metro areas in the country with reduced coverage from the Next Generation Weather Radar deployed by the National Weather Service. The article added that this issue had catastrophic results in 2012 when fast-moving tornadoes swept into the Charlotte area without adequate warning time. Three people were injured in Charlotte when the twister, with winds of 135 mph, made impact by Reedy Creek Park. After this event, local meteorologists asked lawmakers to make changes.

The article noted that the Charlotte area currently has coverage only as low as 10,000 feet, but radar data at lower atmospheric levels can help detect small-scale tornadoes and other dangerous weather events. Enter CASA! In a recent meeting, Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, hosted a discussion in Charlotte with local meteorologists, the director of the National Weather Service, representatives from the City of Charlotte and Mecklenberg County, and researchers from the University of Massachusetts.

In addition to a plan of the National Weather Service to change the angles of Doppler radars at facilities in nearby Greer and Columbia, S.C., to provide coverage in Charlotte at approximately 3,000 feet, officials in Charlotte are seriously considering deployment of less powerful, but cheaper and quicker-updating CASA radar in the area to solve their longstanding radar gap.

As the News & Observer explained, “CASA radars have a 25-mile radius, can look at lower levels of storms, and can refresh images every 30 to 60 seconds, according to the [Fort Worth] Star-Telegram. The technology was developed at the University of Massachusetts and has been deployed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas.”

The article added that “A deployment of three CASA radars could give Charlotte and neighboring areas toward Guilford County enough coverage, Ridenhour said. The system would not only help with storm warnings, but would be able to track rainfall accumulation and rainfall rate, a key measure for storm water and emergency services worried about flooding and infrastructure issues.” (August 2018)