If you have ever driven along U.S. Highway 60 between Amarillo and Pampa, you have undoubtedly seen the large white ball that sits on top of the tower next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. The building at the base of the tower is our local National Weather Service Forecast Office, and that large white ball is our local Doppler weather radar. If you have lived in the panhandle for any amount of time, you know how valuable weather radar is to keeping our community informed and safe from severe weather. Starting on Tuesday, September 15, the radar will be shut down for maintenance. So what happens if we see severe weather breakout?

The good news is that we won't have to worry. The Amarillo radar, called KAMA WSR-88D, is actually part of a network of 159 weather service radars across the country. With that many radar sites in place, it allows for overlap between National Weather Service local offices. If Amarillo needs weather radar information, we will be covered by radar sweeps from Cannon Air Force Base, Lubbock, Frederick, Vance Air Force Base, Dodge City, and Pueblo. Multiple radar sites can be overlapped on a map to create what is called a mosaic image. That allows you to see radar information for a very wide area and not just the coverage of one radar tower.

During the 5 day outage, maintenance crews will be replacing old and/or damaged radome protective panels. This will help keep the 23-year-old radar operating smoothly into the future.

The WSR-88D is considered by many to be the most powerful radar in the world, transmitting at 750,000 watts (an average light bulb is only 75 watts)! This power enables a beam of energy generated by the radar to travel long distances, and detect many kinds of weather phenomena. It also allows energy to continue past an initial shower or thunderstorm near the radar, thus seeing additional storms farther away. Many other radar systems do not have this kind of power, nor can they look at more than one "slice" of the atmosphere. During severe weather, the NWS WSR-88D is looking at 14 different elevations every 5 minutes, generating a radar image of each elevation. That's about 3 elevations per minute, or one radar image every 20 seconds.