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Name: Peter V.
Status: student
Age: 20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2002

I have just read a piece published by Scientific American detailing a new forecasting system developed by MIT. The system is called an Integrated Terminal Weather System (ITWS) it uses a variety of sophisticated algorithms and data from seven different radar sources. How can radar predict climatic changes?

Dear Peter-

Radar does not have the capability to predict climate changes. A weather radar is an observational instrument, whose main use is the detection of precipitation.

The Integrated Terminal Weather System takes data from a variety of weather sensors, including weather radar, and can display the current state of the atmosphere near and around an air terminal. These displays can be "looped," that is, shown in a rapid time sequence, to make the clouds and precipitation to appear to be moving on the display. Very sophisticated presentations of clouds, precipitation, visibility, and winds are possible with the ITWS, and it is an important tool in detecting low level wind shear near airports. Low lever wind shear is very dangerous to aircraft if the pilots are unaware of its presence.

Wendell Bechtold, meteorologist
Forecaster, National Weather Service
Weather Forecast Office, St. Louis, Missouri


Remote sensing of the atmosphere is becoming increasingly more accurate and therefore useful for monitoring weather conditions. NEXRAD radar is certainly the most visible of the remote sensing tools used, although there are dozens, including microwave radar (used on satellites, as well as on the ground), micropulsed lidar, sodar (like sonar, but for the atmosphere), microwave radiometer, infrared temperature sensing, etc.

These tools can provide information for making better short-term weather forecasts and they may help in monitoring climate change, but the information from them will not, in itself, allow us to better predict climate change. Only long term trends (measured with these tools), applied to climate models, can allow us to try to predict climate change.

David R. Cook
Atmospheric Research Section
Environmental Research Division
Argonne National Laboratory

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