Putting Us on the Radar

Purdue's first X-band weather system lives in Wang Hall's 'radome'


On her first day driving into work as a new assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Robin Tanamachi pulled in to her parking space, looked up, and saw a radar dome staring back at her.

It had to be a sign. It was the fall of 2015, and the Seng Liang Wang Hall rooftop radar dome — or “radome” — was an ideal spot for the low-power weather radar that Tanamachi, an expert in meteorological radar analysis, would acquire as part of her agreement in coming to Purdue.

Low atmosphere Burmuda Triangle

Radar beams from the three nearest systems in Indianapolis, Chicago and Fort Wayne cross about 3,000 feet over Greater Lafayette, because of the Earth’s curvature. Weather phenomena like tornadoes, winter storms, and microbursts occur beneath those beams, which means the West Lafayette forecast is more likely to mirror the lower atmosphere in Indianapolis than its own.

Sirens for non-events and “sneaky tornadoes” come with living in an area where there is no such data. “Purdue is in sort of a Bermuda Triangle of radar coverage,” Tanamachi says. That’s not unusual. Gaps in low atmosphere weather data are common, but stations equipped with the X-band radar to cover them are rare.

The radar dome during installation

More eyes on the storms

This June, the top half of the radome was removed for installation of the XTRRA, a research-grade X-band polarimetric Doppler weather radar system that will fill large radar gaps in the lower atmosphere. It is the first system of its kind at Purdue and feeds into the National Weather Service data — providing more accurate weather reports for Purdue and a surrounding area of up to 50 miles.

Real-life data for meteorology class projects, the ability to closely monitor conditions at the Purdue University Airport, opportunities for engineers working in remote sensing — the new radar’s benefits for the Purdue community and its researchers are measureless.

Tanamachi is principal investigator on the proposal to acquire the radar, which will be used for her research about severe weather precursors. And there will be many more eyes on the storms. Purdue researchers will use the radar to explore the genesis of tornadoes, winter road conditions — and other projects in atmospheric sciences, engineering, agronomy, aviation, hydrology and data science.

Other faculty on the radar acquisition proposal include Professor Dimitrios Peroulis (co-PI) from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), Professor Ernest M. Agee (co-PI) from EAPS, Assistant Professor Daniel T. Dawson II (co-PI) from EAPS, Professor James V. Krogmeier (co-PI) from ECE, Professor David J. Love from ECE, Associate Professor James L. Garrison from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics and ECE, Professor Thomas Q. Carney from the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology, and Associate Professor Michael E. Baldwin from EAPS.