An update on Level 3 super-resolution radar imagery

WSR-88D Radar
The National Weather Service is going super-resolution with level 3 radar data. Here’s what that means for you.

I wanted to give you an update on my earlier article on super-resolution radar coming from the National Weather Service. Currently, we provide it to our customers by the exact same process that the National Weather Service will be providing it early next year. As you might recall, they had the ability do it, except for one issue: satellite bandwidth. That issue has now been resolved, and they will now have the ability to send out the data in a timely matter starting on February 22, 2022, in full…but they will be sending it out starting in groups to make sure the satellite feed can indeed handle it starting on February 2. I am not expecting any issues, though.

So, let’s go over some questions people may have about this change.

1. Will super-resolution level 3 radar data now be available to everyone, not just AllisonHouse subscribers? Yes. The National Weather Service will make the data publicly available on their websites as well.

2. Since #1 is true, why in the world would I need AllisonHouse for super-resolution radar data? That’s a great question, and the answer is, for multiple reasons:

A, The super-resolution data will be sent via satellite to their websites, as well as to us. We have several satellite dishes across the country to get the data. If ours goes down, or misses a piece of data, we automagically pluck it from another dish instantly. If any of you have ever had satellite TV or Internet, you know what happens when significant precipitation (rain, ice, snow) gets on the dish. With our setup, we have industry-leading quality reception that ensures we have ZERO data loss. That cannot be said for the NWS websites.

B. The data files are not huge, but they are 4 times larger than before. That means that the NWS servers will have a significant risk of getting bogged down. We use our own servers, preventing this issue from occurring.

C. Our amazing ingest software gets us the data in *milliseconds* after it is sent by the National Weather Service. That means there is no real delay of the data from us to you.

3. OK, but will this require a software upgrade? It depends. For GRLevel3, absolutely yes. But Mike Gibson is fully aware, and will have an update out to handle it. For others, it depends. One thing is for sure: don’t worry about it, but watch for any updates as we get to February 22 to avoid any data loss on your end.

4. So what is “super resolution” anyway, and how will it help me? It’s the highest version of resolution you can have that the radar puts out. This was only available to Level 2 data users, such as through RadarScope, and GRLevel2/GRAnalyst. The resolution is a quarter kilometer x 1/4 degree per pixel. Having said that, at distances beyond roughly 90 miles, you will notice little difference between super-resolution and standard resolution data as the beam width of the radar gets larger as you get farther from the radar. But obviously, if you are closer to the radar, you WILL notice a big improvement in resolution, and you’ll be able to see small features a lot better, such as “hook echoes” on supercell thunderstorms, outflow boundaries, sea breezes, and sometimes warm and cold fronts.

5. Do I need to upgrade my laptop/desktop to handle this? The answer is “it depends”. If you’re using a computer that is 8 years old and have a low-end video/graphics card, slow load times and animations could be a problem for you. For those of you who have decent speed on your laptops and desktops now (or faster), chances are you’ll be fine.

6. Do I need to upgrade your mobile phone to handle this? If you are using RadarScope and aren’t having problems, then no. Otherwise, any smartphone made in the last few years should be just fine.

7. Will my Windows-based software and super-resolution work on Windows 11? Yes.

8. Will there be a cost increase at AllisonHouse for this? No.

9. Will radar mosaics go “super resolution”? Not in the near future. Those are designed for you to see “the big picture”. Having said that, they ARE derived from Level 2 super-resolution data, so you can still see hook echoes on supercells, but not other features as described above, or at least not in super-resolution. Radar mosaics tend to filter out fronts, lake and sea breezes, outflow from thunderstorms, etc.

So, there it is in a nutshell. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have on this, to the extent that I can. And here’s a quick reminder: The old WSR-57 and WSR-74 radars in this country were super-resolution, had only one color, and couldn’t be transmitted to much of the public due to cost. If you wanted a paper copy via fax machine of it, a company charged $1 per image back in the 1970s. That’s $7 per image, adjusted for inflation, in 2021.
How far we have come!

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