Vertical reflectivity profiles: averaged storm structures and applications to fan-beam radar weather detection in the U.S.
The FAA is deploying over 100 next generation airport surveillance radars (ASR-9) at selected major airports across the country. Like previous ASRs, the ASR-9 utilizes dual broad elevation fan beams Figure 1) along with a rapid scan rate (12.5 RPM to exercise its primary function of detecting aircraft over a 60 nmi radius. In addition, the ASR-9 has a separate dedicated weather reflectivity channel which allows air traffic controllers to display quantitative precipitation intensity reports corresponding to the NWS six-level intensity scale on their PPI display. The 30 second update rate of the weather channel coupled with the large sample volume swept by the ASR-9 fan-beam combine to provide timely and useful indications of precipitation intensity within the terminal airspace. The PPI display of precipitation intensity which is presented to the air traffic controller is essentially a 2-D representation of the 3-D reflectivity field sampled by the fan-shaped beam of the ASR-9. Since the antenna gain varies with elevation angle (Figure 1), the parameter reopned by the ASR-9 weather channel represents a beam-weighted, vertically averaged estimate of storm intensity. Previous research has shown that the vertically integrated reflectivity automatically reported by fan-beam radars such as the ASR-9 correlates well with estimates of vertically integrated liquid water content (VIL), a useful meteorological parameter which is a measure of overall storm intensity. Dobson found a linear relationship between W and fan-beam reflectivity from 30 to 60 dBZ assuming the beam is filled with precipitation (see discussion in Section 4). If the beam is non-uniformly or only partially filled with precipitation, then the inherent vertical integration introduced by the fan-beam may cause an underestimation of the storm intensity. This beam filling loss is most acute at long range, where the vertical extent of the beam intercepts more than 10 km of altitude. The magnitude of this error depends on the complex interaction between the vertical reflectivity structure of the storm and its interception by the fan-shaped beam. If the shape and altitude extent of the vertical reflectivity profile (such as could be provided by a pencil-beam radar) are known, then a suitable adjustment can be calculated and applied to the fan-beam reflectivity estimate in order to produce the desired reflectivity report. The six-level weather thresholds are stored in processor memory for each range sate as functions of receive beam (high or low). The thresholds can be adjusted to compensate for beam filling losses. The adjustments initially implemented in the ASR-9 were derived using a reflectivity profile model which assumes the maximum reflectivity of the storm is distributed constantly from the surface up to 4 km, and then falls off at 3 dBZ per km above 4 km. The success of the reflectivity correction depends on how well the model profile matches actual storm profiles. If regional variations in general storm morphology are significant, then different beam filling loss correction models may need to be developed for specific regions. Understanding the significance of these regional variations in storm vertical reflectivity structure and their impact on ASR-9 weather report accuracy provided the motivation for this study.