December 31, 2020

National Weather Service Weather Radar Disaster

There are few more important weather data sets collected by the National Weather Service than weather radar.

  • It shows where it is raining/snowing and how those areas are moving.
  • It tells us about severe weather, such as intense, rotating thunderstorms.
  • It even tells us about bird migration and how the winds are moving.

Critical, important information that saves lives and greatly improves weather prediction.  And information that allows us to stay dry and enjoy outdoor activities.

To give us this boon, the National Weather Service spent over 3.1 BILLION dollars to install 122 Doppler weather radars across the country (see below for the network).  They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain this complex system.

To view the weather radar data, one previously had a variety of options.  You could go to the National Weather Service web site, where there was a serviceable but degraded resolution interface (see below), visit university of private sector websites,  or you could purchase/acquire a radar app for your smartphone, which (to be honest) is what most professional meteorologists do.

But now the problem.

The clunky, but workable, old National Weather Service radar displays depended on Adobe Flash to work and Flash would no longer be supported after 2020.   So they came up with a replacement.  

And the replacement is a disaster--essentially non-functional.   It either fails to bring up the radar imagery or does it so slowly to be useless.   You can find it here:  

Try loading it and animating an image (the key function that everyone needs).   You will immediately see the problem.

The negative reaction regarding this inoperative radar web site has been substantial, including an article in the Washington Post and a tsunami of negative comments in social media.

Software engineering has never been a strong suit of the National Weather Service and they have had problems on their online weather web sites for year and software issues have plagued their numerical weather prediction efforts for decades.   Even today, local National Weather Service offices lack sufficient communication bandwidth to secure all the high-resolution weather products they could use profitably.

Recently, the National Weather Service, crippled by lack of an ability to get data out to the national community, has started to restrict access to their servers, a move that could undermine the use of its model data by the private sector (including major weather companies like IBM/WeatherChannel, Accuweather, and others).

A key issue is that the National Weather Service insists on using early century data distribution technology, using their own servers for national distribution of large data sets.

The solution to the National Weather Service data problem is obvious, particularly to the technologically inclined among this blog's readers: make use of cloud distribution of the weather radar and other large data sets.

It turns out that the National Weather Service is ALREADY moving the FULL weather radar data set in REAL TIME to Amazon Cloud Services. The radar data is already there (see below, NEXRAD is the radar data).

So instead of distributing radar data through their own servers, the National Weather Service should have their radar web site hosted in the "cloud", where the data is already resident.  

A modern approach that would afford essentially instantaneous access to the vast NWS radar data set.  The same is true of the other important data sets created by the National Weather Service (such as forecast model and weather satellite information).

So for those of you looking for weather radar data, what can you do?

Or if you want national radar information, try out the NOAA/NWS Aviation Center radar site.

Another possibility is the College of DuPage radar site.

For me, a good weather radar app is the key and the one I used is Radarscope (see below).   Inexpensive and very easy to use, and available for both Android and iPhone.  Plus you get access to the most high-resolution data.

The deeper question, of course, is how National Weather Service management missed such an obvious failure mode and why the National Weather Service software engineering and modeling has been allowed to fall well behind the state-of-the-art.  

Perhaps it is time for a private sector Weather-X.  But that should be a subject of another blog.


I will do a new weather podcast tomorrow!  The New Year forecast, plus I will explain, why there are wind gusts.


  1. Professor Cliff, What are the plans or prospects for filling in those gaps on the national radar map? PS That radar is glacierly slow!

  2. " distribution of the weather radar..."

    True, by definition. Cliff, you have a great sense of humor. Love it!

  3. I use an app called Windy. It's best for pilots and kite surfers as it gives you many overlays of information. You also get a choice of weather models like GFS 22km, MeteoBlue, NAM 5km, and ECMWF 9km which is the one I use mostly. You can even compare all the models all at once. The basic free version gives you packs of 3 hour predictions up to 5 days (or maybe 10, it defaults to 5). Paid version is $18.99 per year which gives you 1 hour increments up to 10 days. The free version is pretty good. I only upgraded because I want to support the company to improve the app. Oh and you can also access it online via the website which is mind blowing. It's become my default weather app. Everyone should try this weather app out. http://

  4. What would it take to straighten them out? Few rely solely on their computer monitoring? And yes, their radar is horrible. Good thing I've got i-Devices with independent radar apps.

  5. Cliff,how about tommorrow touching on the world record high pressure readings in Mongolia this week,followed by the North Pacific record low readings today in the Aleutian Islands? Why has the atmospheric wave pattern been so extreme lately?

  6. Site seemed to work for me. The animation was as good as or Wundermap. It just needs to load first. Or am I used to our DSL speeds?

  7. Thank you for the information, it seems like some of the IT related issues is not just a NOAA or NWS issue but on the federal government side with lack of robust IT services in some instances. I have been using an app from a company out or Oregon called My Radar the company is ACME AtronOmatic LLC. I like many of the features of the app including a comprehensive aviation section and ability to use with Triplit accounts.

  8. I can't say I've ever bothered trying to use the NWS radar more than maybe a couple times. Tons of much better alternatives online.

  9. Agree 100%, and I have switched to DuPage, a wonderful site. The NWS does a great job day-to-day but their higher management keeps stubbing their toes on big projects. Remember the satellite fiasco that cost the Administrator his job in the 90's? Look at the modeling situation, which you have pointed out. Thing is, they take their best forecasters and promote them into management where they flounder.

  10. If you like desktop weather software like I do you can try and buy GRLevel3 which is another NEXRAD style program and one I use to track severe thunderstorms and weather around my area.

  11. Windy like Bing/Google traffic maps uses JavaScript technologies. It works well and looks good

  12. Privitising the NWS will not be an improvement, as whomever "'purchases'" it will pay pennies on the (taxpayer) dollar and will be motivated by profit rather than service.

    The tax burden to fully fund NWS is minimal as a percentage of income.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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