Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wake Up Call



I woke up this morning to the sound of thunder. It’s that time of year in Georgia. Warm, delicious days followed by thunderstorms proceeding the cold front that brings back the frost. Once we kick the temperature up a few more degrees we’ll be looking for tornados.

Anyway, I (of course) went to the computer to download the latest radar information. Only this time, I was using my wife’s laptop because mine is in the shop (just a broken hinge.) Because I didn’t have my usual preferences bookmarked, the web site brought up the “Base Reflectivity” radar data.

If you don’t know what “Base Reflectivity” is -- you’re the reason I’m writing this entry. Here is what a “Base Reflectivity” image looks like.



Here is what a “Composite Image” looks like.



The images were taken at the same time -- it’s the same storm front. Do you see how different they look ? That difference can get you killed.

If you fly or if you’re a controller, educate yourself about this system. It’s a great system but what you don’t know can hurt you. Go to the National Weather Service’s tutorial about weather radar. Go read one of my articles about NEXRAD. If you’re a controller you can read about your system on this blog. (Nobody says pilots can’t read it too.) If you own a NEXRAD device for your airplane, find out if it displays a composite or base reflectivity image.

As I’ve tried to point out in so many ways, all the technology in the world doesn’t do us any good if we don’t have people that understand it, interpret it and use it safely.

The facts are that we have the best weather radar data we’ve ever had in the National Airspace System. Yet we have more thunderstorm-related accidents than ever. Our technology isn’t saving us, it’s killing us. Until we learn to approach the human factors side of the system with the same zeal with which we pursue the technical side, don’t expect that to change.

Don Brown
February 26, 2008

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