UMaXX Radar on Orchard Hill Providing Weather Data to the National Weather Service Eastern Regional Headquarters

UMaXX radar tower
UMaXX radar tower sits on campus, at the top of Orchard Hill.

An advanced weather radar array on Orchard Hill is now providing a data feed to the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Eastern Regional Headquarters. Data from the radar will be used by NWS regional forecast offices – principally in the Boston, Albany and Portland areas.

The UMass eXperimental X-band radar (UMaXX), is a collaborative effort between the Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory (MIRSL) and the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), both part of the College of Engineering.

“In the Pioneer Valley, the beams from the current NWS NEXRAD radars in Boston and Albany are scanning about a mile above the ground,” says Stephen Frasier, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and co-director of MIRSL. “Scans that high can miss important weather features. In contrast, the beams from UMaXX scan much lower to the ground and provide more detailed data.” 

While the NWS is getting its own special feed for CASA data, it is also available on the web at emmy7.casa.umass.edu/umaxx/.

Already some local television meteorologists are using the data. Jacob Wycoff from Western Mass News says it has been very helpful. “As a broadcast meteorologist, we need to make decisions in real-time to alert our viewers,” Wycoff says. “The UMaXX radar has been crucial in filling-in the radar gap, allowing us to be more accurate and confident during severe weather.”

MIRSL students and engineers recently installed two radar systems, UMaXX and Skyler, atop the Orchard Hill tower on the UMass Amherst campus. UMaXX uses current technology. A pedestal spins an antenna that moves up and down and sends out two electronic beams. Skyler, a phased-array radar on loan to UMass from Raytheon, represents next generation technology. Skyler has no moving parts. Instead, a flat panel – about the size of a big screen TV– emits 2,560 electronic beams that can be configured and steered electronically.

Frasier and his students are using the two radars to characterize how phased-array radar observations differ from current technology. He’s been awarded a grant for this research by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences.

Frasier says, “A benefit of this research is that the local NWS gets to use the UMaXX data as storms occur in the [Pioneer Valley] region. We are building on an existing collaboration that CASA has developed with the NWS in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where they operate a network of similar X-band radars.”

The Texas-based NWS forecasters regularly use the CASA data to issue tornado and flash-flood warnings for the greater Dallas-Fort Worth region. CASA and Raytheon have developed standard processes and file formats so that X-band radar data (such as that produced by CASA) can be observed on NWS decision support software.