NWC REU 2017
May 22 - July 28



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Assessment of Dual-Polarized Radar Coverage in the Terminal Airspaces of Commercial Airports

Jacqueline Waters, Heather Reeves, and Alicia Keys


What is already known:

  • Weather accounts for a large number of aircraft accidents with a wide range in variety.
  • Previous studies have focused on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) core 30 airports, non dual-polarization radars, and radar uncertainty.
  • Various radar algorithms are being or have been developed today in hopes of mitigating threats in the terminal airspace.

What this study adds:

  • Assessment of all 337 conus commercial airports which will be compiled into a webpage for the FAA.
  • Analysis on four deficiencies regarding radar coverage in the terminal airspace including limited nearby coverage, beam blockage by terrain or other ground-based features, cone of silence issues, and limited upstream coverage.
  • Case study analysis shows how two common radar problems, beam broadening and overshooting, vary depending on airport to radar distance, VCP mode, and beam blockage.


The advent of dual-polarization in the WSR-88D radar network allows for the development of new forms of artificial intelligence to detect various hazards that may affect aircraft as they travel into and out of terminal air spaces. The efficacy of these algorithms for individual airports is limited by the distance between the airport and the nearest WSR-88D radar. In this study, an assessment of the radar coverage for all commercial airports with more than 10 000 enplanements per year is performed. Three deficiencies are identified and discussed. These are: beam broadening and overshooting, cone-of-silence issues, and beam blockage. Airports that suffer from these issues are identified. Among the airports most vulnerable to beam broadening and overshooting are several core 30 airports. Some core 30 airports may also suffer from cone-of-silence issues for certain VCP modes. Beam blockage affects most airports in the western United States. The effects of these problems on interpretation of winter weather and hydrometeor habit, in particular, are also investigated. Beam broadening and overshooting are especially problematic for resolving important vertical gradients in the dual-polarized radar observations that allow the user to rightly infer the hydrometeor habit. Of lesser importance are cone-of-silence issues. This appears to be mainly a problem when there exists a gradient in hydrometeor habit over the terminal air space.

Full Paper [PDF]