What is a Weather Radar and How Does it Work


The dichotomy of the primitive times and modern times can be ascertained by the contrivance of a number of things. One of those things would be discovering the means of keeping surveillance on the course of the weather. A few centuries ago, if you would’ve told someone that determining the accurate weather change is possible, the people might’ve been amused by such folly.

In primitive times, people observed the sun's color to determine whether tomorrow is going to be a sunny day or a rainy day. This mindset evolved tremendously to the point where we used science to know about weather conditions changes.

man predticts weather by seeing sun

Today, there are several weather channels through which weather stations can relay weather forecasts by means of radio waves and the internet.

However, now, the meteorological departments cannot only give us the figures on weather particulars, but we can get that information from various devices mounted right in our backyards. Nevertheless, for a spot-on weather forecast, we usually rely on government-owned weather stations as their means of ascertaining whether conditions are highly advanced and are under development still.

But how do these weather stations know when and where will it rain? And how much is it going to rain? Can they determine other fast approaching phenomena? To answer these questions, let us understand what a device called ‘Weather Radar’.

what is weather radar

What is Weather Radar? 

Weather Radar is a type of radar that enables the user to locate the places where precipitation is likely to occur and also deduce the type and the measurement.

weather radar

Precipitation can be primarily classified into Rain, Snow, and Hail. The use of radar systems can be traced back to the time of World War II. Officials used radar for a number of things like tracking enemy aircraft and such. While undergoing such surveillance, they noticed peculiar echoes picked up by the radars. It was later discovered that the echoes were weather interceptions.

After the end of the war, a few military scientists worked on this observation and made further developments. The one factor that pushed people to make a breakthrough in the development of weather radar was hurricanes. Hurricanes were hitting the coastal cities of the states, which caused much destruction and despair. Naturally, finding a means to mitigate the effects of such catastrophes became imperative.

During the 1950s, operational weather radars were established and widely used. Since then, National Weather stations across the world have been making use of weather radars to ascertain changes in weather. This has allowed several lives to be saved from the grasp of destruction on a massive scale.

The discovery has been revolutionary as it laid the foundations for large-scale weather forecast and enabled the meteorological department to save many lives from possible destruction of lives and livelihoods. All of this because of a chance observation.

How does a Weather Radar Work?

As we have read so far, the people during World War II used radars to identify foreign aircraft. Instead, they picked on the movement of precipitation. This has been revolutionary as it saved innumerable lives since then. But what is the mechanism of determining precipitation? The weather radar consists of a dish with the dome for protection. This simple structure of a weather radar helps in deducing the location and amount of precipitation.

You may know how a simple radar works. The signals are sent from the transmitter and are received by the receiver. This is how the weather radar works too.

In weather radar, the transmitter discharges pulses of the microwave. Once the circular waves are transmitted, the precipitation disperses the microwaves and send some signals back to the transmitter. The receiver of the radar then detects these signals. 

In such a way, the radar can pick up precipitation movement and draw figures accordingly. It can also deduce the amount of precipitation by measuring the intensity of the signal received and the time taken to receive the radiations. This data is then displayed on a map which has different color variation. The analysts deduce the precipitation amount from these variant colors with light colors depicting light precipitation and dark colors depicting heavy precipitations.

With the advent of dual-polarization, the weather radars can now see the size and shape of the things that are falling from the sky. This allows the analysts to see whether it is rain, snow, or hail. This development has been highly significant as not only can it differentiate between rain, snow, and hail, but also tell us if there is a tornado approaching.

Without the weather radars, today, we would not have been able to sense the approaching natural disasters. Because weather radios receive emerygency weather alerts using weather radar only. Prior to this development, sensing the tornadoes or any such calamity was difficult because of natural interferences such as heavy rains.


The weather radars have saved numerous lives around the world and will continue to do so. Weather Radars are instrumental for the observation of weather and relaying weather forecasts to people everywhere through their networks, prominently National Weather Service. 

One instance where it was proven that Weather Radar is one of the most vital discoveries of all time was when it forecasted the tornado that took place in Bryan, Texas, in 1956. The forecast was made 30 minutes before the tornado hit the city. The forecast alerted the inhabitants and gave them time to take necessary precautions to save their lives.

This is one of the many instances where weather radars have proven to be enormously helpful. Even today, almost a century after the discovery of radars, we continue to make developments in this field. 

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About the Author


I am Tim, a weather enthusiast who loves to watch hurricanes and all other harsh weather conditions. I studied B.Sc(Meteorology) at the University of Miami. With excellent knowledge of Weather Forecasting, Meteorology, and Environmental Science, I am currently working in San Francisco as a Meteorologist. Also, I am a member of The Weather Channel and AccuWeather. In this blog, I will write a detailed review of Weather instruments that you need for survival and other activities.