The radar out of Buffalo is one of the main ways the News 8 meteorologist team looks at current weather. That could be rain, snow, ice, hail, and everything in between. On Tuesday the radar went down and stopped functioning. This can make seeing any precipitation very difficult. Here is the error message sent by the National Weather Service (NWS) in Buffalo:

RADAR stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging. Essentially a beam is sent out from the radar, it makes contact with an object (whether it be rain, birds, or an airplane) and sends a return signal. Depending on the strength of the signal, a beam is returned.

The speed at which the object is traveling can also be detected. This is a great tool within a certain range of the radar. 

Based on the curvature of the earth as the radar beam scans the atmosphere, the farther away the scan goes from the radar, the higher the scan. This means that a higher elevation is being scanned at further distances, so precipitation or other objects can be missed that are lower than the scan. The buffalo radar is reasonably close to Rochester, so most objects are detectable. Beam height is around 5,000 feet when it gets to Rochester.

Unfortunately since the Buffalo radar is down, we are resorted to use surrounding radars. The closest is run by WSYR in Syracuse. Unfortunately it is not as powerful as the Buffalo radar.

Next up is Binghamton radar, run by the NWS office there. The radar beam height is near 10,000 feet by the time it Rochester. Summertime thunderstorms can top well above 50,000 feet, so many can be seen by this radar. Unfortunately though it is difficult to catch initiation as a storm is developing, and low cloud top storms can also run “under the radar”.

There is also King City radar in Ontario, Canada available for our use. This is still far away, but a nice tool to look west of Rochester in this type of situation.

A few other tools to look at when one radar site is out would be satellite imagery. These images from space can do a fantastic job at visualizing exactly where storms are forming even before they produce rain and are detected by radar.

One of the last, and most important tools to use is your eyes. It is the number one rule in meteorology when forecasting. First you must look out the window, or even better get outside and look around!