Roger’s Runway: Know Your NEXRAD
Having Next Generation Radar (NEXRAD) in the cockpit has improved safety and increased situational awareness over the last couple of years. When Garmin introduced the GPSMAP 396, pilots discovered it’s an inexpensive way to see actual weather in the airplane. However, understanding the data on the screen is an important part of the decision making process.
NEXRAD has two modes — Clear Air mode and Precipitation mode. The Clear Air mode is the most sensitive mode and scans the air the slowest in a given time. The Clear Air mode is so sensitive that it can easily pick up birds, bugs, airplanes, and airborne dust causing false returns to the radar station. Since the Clear Air mode is usually used to detect snow because snow is less reflective than rain. Precipitation mode is less sensitivity. It is used to detect rain and hail since rain and hail are highly reflective. The Precipitation mode scans the air faster and also at higher tilts angles. In Clear Air mode the maximum tilt for the radar is 4.5 degrees, while in Precipitation mode the radar will go to 19.5 degrees. This allows meteorologist to see the entire storm instead of only a small cross section. If you want a better understanding of how the NEXRAD radar works, check out NOAA National Weather Service website.
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