The trouble with tornadoes is this – they are difficult to predict. Sure, we do have the relevant tools in place at the moment to figure out generally just where and when tornadoes are going to strike, but won’t it be better if such systems could be more accurate in their prediction? The phased array radar comes in handy here, where it comprises of a fixed, flat antenna that is composed of thousands of transceiver elements which send and receive pulses simultaneously. The relative delays between the pulses will help shape the direction of the beam radiating from the array, where this electronically steered beam will then scan the whole sky in under 60 seconds, with the agility that allows forecasters to redirect it to focus on specific areas instantly.

Basically, it is touted to give “forecasters information almost like a movie, as opposed to taking snapshots of the atmosphere” – according to Doug Forsyth who leads radar research at the NSSL (National Severe Storms Laboratory) anyways.

This technology has seen action on the battlefield before, with U.S. Navy ships relying on phased-array radars to detect missile threats. Guess such tech, when migrated to other uses, works well when properly applied. For example, forecasters last year looked at the one-minute storm updates from the new radar managed to issue a 21-minute warning before tornado touchdown, which is 13 minutes prior to those who received the standard 5-minute updates. Implementing the technology is tough though, as it will require another 2 decades or so simply because of the astronomical cost, where each of the 4000 elements in the Navy’s phased-array antenna costs a whopping $2,000 – that amounts to $8,000,000 for the entire antenna!

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