Weather blog: When rain isn’t rain, on radar

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) Doppler radar is an amazing tool for meteorologist. It shows us where it is raining, the severity of the rain and the Doppler part of the radar lets us know if a storm has rotation and movement to help us determine if the storm is severe or could produce a tornado. In the last ten years, radar technology has gotten so advance that we can determine what kind of precipitation is in a clouds as well as if what we see o radar is actually precipitation or not.

Tuesday May 8, 2018 there was a return on radar near Shoshone around 5 and 6 p.m. that looked like a strong storm. After moving the KMVT Sky Cam to the north over Shoshone we could see there were no clouds to the north, so then and there I knew it wasn’t rain but what was it? What we were seeing on radar was military chaff. Chaff is small reflective fibers, usually made of aluminum foil or aluminum coated fiber glass, dispersed by aircraft in large quantities to reflect and disrupt radar signals. Military aircraft deploy this to disrupt radar signal so aircrafts can hide from enemy radar.

I had not dealt with military chaff until I moved to Idaho back in 2011. It was shortly after I started that I saw a large, what appeared to be a cell around Mountain Home and Hagerman. It wasn’t moving much but skies were clear. I called the National Weather Service in Boise to try and make sense of what I saw and the truth was, it was military drills using chaff.

Along with military chaff, new updates in radar can also allow meteorologist to see other non-precipitation objects. Sometimes we can see large swarms of insects, or flocks of birds. Other times, especially here in Idaho during wildfire season. We can detect large dense blumes of smoke.

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