Published Works,  Technology Column

Tech 12

TECH #12
July 25, 1997

When storm tropical storm Danny blew into Hampton Roads last week a lot of people knew what was going on, as it happened. The seamless dissemination of up to the minute information on the storm pointed out to me how integrated high technology has become in our lifestyle. Most of us accept this marvel without ever thinking to peek behind the curtain and see how it all works.

No hype intended, but channel 13 has something worth writing about. It’s called NEXRAD. “It stands for next generation radar,” explains head WVEC weather guy Jeff Lawson “we call it Skymax.” It has a lot to do with complex formulas that determine air movement based small changes in the frequency of objects detected by radar. “When you hear a train whistle going away from you, the pitch sounds different than one coming toward you. That change in frequency is known as the Doppler effect.” Lawson told me that the previous version of Doppler radar could only show turbulence. “You didn’t know if a pink blob on the screen was a tornado or just a strong thunderstorm wind.”

During tropical storm Danny, Lawson was able to determine that a tornado had formed over Knot’s Island and was headed toward the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach. That was 15 minutes before the National weather service got the word out. “Now that’s cool.” Lawson works all day long on some of the most sophisticated gear in Hampton Roads. When Jeff goes home does he play with computers? “Naa, I have one but I never use it. I’ve never even been on the Internet.” That’s O.K. Jeff. Just keep watching Skymax for us.