Charlotte/Douglas Airport Radar to Prevent Crashes Also Helps Spot Storms

The National Weather Service says a radar unit installed to warn pilots of damaging winds also helped alert Carolinas residents about approaching severe weather caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy earlier this month.

The radar unit at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport was installed in early 1996, in part, in response to the wind shear-caused crash of a US Airways jet near the airport in July 1994. The weather service office in Greer, S.C., recently began using the Terminal Doppler (TDWR) radar in conjunction with its own Doppler radar unit.

Severe weather caused by Cindy's remnants July 7 in the western Carolinas gave the Charlotte radar a good test, said weather service meteorologist Vince DiCarlo.

"It seemed to work really well," DiCarlo said. "We compared it to our radar, and it seemed to verify. It will help boost our radar capability in the Charlotte area."

Since late 1996, when federal budget cuts forced the National Weather Service to close its office in Charlotte, the western Carolinas have relied on the Greer office for forecasts and warnings.

DiCarlo said the TDWR radar will help the Greer-based meteorologists do a better job of spotting potentially dangerous weather in the Charlotte area.

Of the 14 flash-flooding events from Cindy, the weather service issued advance warnings on 13. And of 14 severe thunderstorm and tornado events, the weather service issued advance warnings on 12.

DiCarlo said the weather service also issued false alarms for 13 flood warnings and eight for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. One of those tornado false alarms was issued in Mecklenburg County after radar detected possible rotation in a thunderstorm.

The weather service's false alarm rate of about 44 percent was well under the nationwide average of 55 to 60 percent over the past three years.

DiCarlo said the service, on average, gave residents 16 minutes of lead time in warning of severe storms and tornadoes, and 57 minutes in flood warnings. He said three Iredell County families who were in their homes and sought cover did so after hearing tornado warnings on Charlotte TV stations.