WIUM Tristates Public Radio

WIU's New Tool for Watching the Weather

Sep 7, 2019

Western Illinois University added a new piece of equipment that it said will benefit students as well as people living throughout the region: a dual polarization Doppler radar.

“We have the latest technology. Students will have once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to analyze storms coming through,” said Redina Finch, a Professor of Meteorology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Geographic Information Sciences at WIU.

“No other university in the State of Illinois has its own dual polarization Doppler radar.”

She said the equipment will allow students to see locally how a storm is evolving and then use larger weather maps to figure out why.

“It is a radar similar to what the National Weather Service uses except ours has a smaller range and it has much higher resolution in this area,” said Finch, who added this area has been in a “radar hole” because of its distance from the NWS radar in the Quad Cities.

“By the time the National Weather Service beam gets this far – about 80 miles from their radar – it’s only seeing the middle and the tops of the clouds.”

Redina Finch
Credit Rich Egger

Finch said WIU’s radar imagery will soon be live-streamed on the web. That will allow the NWS to access Western’s weather data.  That online information will also be available to emergency services personnel and residents throughout the region.

She said the NWS will still be responsible for issuing storm warnings.

The Doppler radar sits atop Memorial Hall, which is where the previous and outdated weather radar was located. Memorial is a tall building (five stories), it sits on a hill, and they knew from the old equipment that the 360-degree view from the roof is “pretty good,” according to Finch.

“This radar (the dual polarization Doppler radar) sends out a vertical beam and a horizontal beam simultaneously. What this does is it looks at the raindrops of precipitation and it sees what shape they are. So for the first time we can pick up the difference between large rain and hail.”

Finch said the new radar can also look inside storm clouds to detect rotation, which the old equipment could not do.

She said the equipment is covered by a dome that’s made of a special material that allows the radar energy to go out and come back in with the signals forecasters need.  The dome is white and features the WIU bulldog logo. It looks a bit like a bell tower.

The University said the radar was paid for in part with money from a trust fund gift from WIU Professor Emeritus John F. Blauvelt, who taught at WIU for 45 years. He passed away in 2016.

McDonough Power Cooperative also contributed to the project, and some money was raised through a crowd-funding campaign.