Sussex County, Del. – Overlooking US Route 113 just north of Ellendale, a curious passer-by can see a structure that looks like a large golf ball or volleyball sitting atop a tall tower.
That structure is actually the National Weather Service’s WSR-88D Doppler radar. The radar is located near Ellendale and is often known as the Dover Weather Radar or its call letters KDOX.
Doppler radar is one of the NWS’s most important tools for analyzing thunderstorms as they roll through Delmarva — and according to meteorologists at the NWS, radar never sleeps.
“It’s an ever-moving piece of equipment. We have it 24/7,” said Sarah Johnson, warning coordination meteorologist at the NWS Philadelphia/Mt. Holly, NJ Weather Forecast Office.
The radar is part of the national NEXRAD network established in the early and mid-1990s.
Inside the radome (that’s what the big white ball is called) is one of the hardest working parts of the radar – the pedestal.
The pedestal is the heavy component that houses the electric motors and hardware that move the radar antenna up and down.
It has reached the end of its service life and to prevent a serious failure of the radar, it needs to be replaced.
“They actually have to have a crane that lifts the radome off the pedestal and then lifts the pedestal itself,” Johnson said as she described the work she was doing.
There are 159 NEXRAD radars in the United States. The Dover radar is part of a $135 million program between the National Weather Service, the US Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration that will add more than 20 years of life to the network.
Delmarva will lose some radar coverage at the lowest level of the atmosphere, with Dover radar offline Monday during maintenance.
That’s okay, however, as the NEXRAD radar network still covers the peninsula in Sterling, Wakefield, Va., which is covered by other radars nearby.
“That’s why the network is what it is,” Johnson said. We also have others that can be backed up in cases like this where we do some preventive maintenance.”
The National Weather Service expects the Dover radar to be back up and running after July 21, barring significant weather or other delays.