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OU Deploys the World’s Most Advanced Weather Radar

Horus radar looks out over horizon at tornado. April 2023
October 10, 2023

OU Deploys the World’s Most Advanced Weather Radar

The University of Oklahoma has developed and now deployed the most advanced weather radar in the world. Led by a team of engineers and weather experts, and with funds from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, the Advanced Radar Research Center at OU has launched “Horus,” an all-digital polarimetric phased array radar capable of obtaining data with unprecedented quality and temporal resolution to help understand and predict the formation of severe weather.

“We now have an extremely advanced mobile radar system that can be sent into the field to gather data on extreme weather events,” Robert Palmer, executive director of the ARRC, the Tommy C. Craighead Chair in the OU School of Meteorology, and associate vice president for research and partnerships, said.

The Horus system is used to observe many kinds of weather events, from intense rain, damaging winds, hail, lightning, and tornadoes. By positioning the radar near storm systems, the ARRC team can capture high-resolution data that no one in the world has ever seen.

“This ARRC team is developing amazing technology that is going to change the future of weather observations. I’m so proud of what OU’s radar program is doing,” Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, OU’s vice president for research and partnerships, said.

The Horus all-digital 25-panel phased array radar
The Horus all-digital 25-panel phased array radar

A Look Back

“Conventional Doppler radars are large, mechanically rotating dishes that have produced extremely high-quality data for decades. They’re great systems, but their update times are inherently limited by the mechanical way they scan storms,” Palmer said. “With the goal of mitigating this limitation, experts in the ARRC with colleagues from the NSSL have developed Horus. The data being produced after just a few months of operations is amazing.”

After working in OU’s Cooperative Institute for Severe and High-Impact Weather Research and Operations, a recent addition to the ARRC team is David Schvartzman, who joined the ARRC team in 2020 as a research scientist and is now an assistant professor in the OU School of Meteorology. 

“I was part of the team working on the NSSL’s Advanced Technology Demonstrator, currently the largest operational phased array weather radar, when I heard that the ARRC was starting the Horus project,” Schvartzman said. “I remember thinking that a fully digital polarimetric phased array weather radar was extremely audacious and likely impossible to develop but would be amazing if successful.”

The Dean of the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences Berrien Moore III said, “Palmer and Schvartzman leading the Horus program makes perfect sense given their formal electrical engineering training and the fact that they are faculty in OU’s School of Meteorology. This interdisciplinary culture that we have created in the Norman weather community is obviously paying great dividends for the state and nation as well as for our students.”

Horus captures a lightning bolt during a thunderstorm
Horus captures a lightning bolt during a thunderstorm

Made for Weather

Unlike many other phased array radars originally produced for defense applications, the Horus system was designed from its inception to examine weather. This allows it to collect high-quality data and scan storms much faster than traditional dish radar systems.

“Horus has the most advanced technology you can possibly have on a fully digital radar today,” Schvartzman said. “I believe meteorological observations produced by this system will provide a transformational leap for atmospheric science discoveries. I’ve seen weather data from many radar systems, but I have never seen anything like the data Horus is producing.”

Working closely with ARRC engineers and students, Schvartzman is leading the charge for taking the truck-mounted Horus system into the field to gather data. As a hybrid meteorologist-engineer trained in weather radar technology, which is a hallmark of the ARRC, he understands what data are needed to advance scientific goals and how to collect it.

“I’m always encouraging field deployments because I want to show that Horus can produce the best data in the world,” Schvartzman said. “Radar meteorologists can hear about a fully digital radar and can see photos of the big truck, but until you show them the high-quality polarimetric data and prove this technology is superior, they won’t fully appreciate the significance of the Horus system.”

Highly detailed data from the Horus System’s scans
Highly detailed data from the Horus system’s scans

Data, Data, Data

The factors that make the Horus system superior are the speed at which it can scan the sky and its adaptability. Compared to Doppler radar, Horus is changing the game in weather observations.

“What really sets this system apart is its super high temporal resolution and extreme scanning flexibility,” Schvartzman said. “It’s also extremely adaptable. It can change what it’s doing on the fly and scan storms in totally different ways based on the storm type, speed, severity, and impact it could have.”

Palmer added, “Horus produces the highest quality polarimetric phased array data that we’ve ever seen. And I believe this is because we can digitally control every element in the radar and fine-tune it to produce extremely accurate data.”

Today’s Technology

The current configuration of the Horus radar consists of up to 1,600 individual radiating elements mounted on a truck for mobile use that can be deployed to scan the skies in any weather condition.

One of the primary advantages of the mobile Horus radar is its ability to get much closer to storms. In doing so, Palmer’s team can increase the resolution and data quality, capturing terabytes of data in minutes. And, because of weather-processing algorithms, Horus can produce actionable information that will help scientists understand severe weather formation.

“Right now, dish radars only give us an updated image every five minutes or so, and too much can change in that time,” Palmer said. “If we could give an update of the storm every few seconds, then we would see a much more natural evolution of the storm. That would revolutionize weather prediction.”

Bob Palmer works with a researcher to examine data for Horus
Bob Palmer works with a researcher to examine data from Horus

A Lasting Legacy

The Advanced Radar Research Center was established at the University of Oklahoma nearly 20 years ago and grew out of the foundation of NOAA being in Oklahoma for more than 50 years. During that time, the ARRC has grown from three professors and several students to 20 professors, 25 full-time engineers and over 80 interdisciplinary graduate students from engineering and meteorology while still growing and expanding expertise in a variety of applications of advanced radars.

“The Norman weather community is very important and has built the ARRC into the largest, and I think the best, weather radar program in the world,” Palmer said. “This has only been possible because of the continued investment the University has made in this program, the interdisciplinary team of engineers and meteorologists we’ve built, and the collaborative culture we’ve created.”

In addition to being a national leader in phased array radar systems, Palmer and his team are also extremely focused on training, education, and economic development to enhance the University of Oklahoma and the state.

“When you develop transformational technology in a field that’s been around for decades, you have to also provide good training and education for the world to make full use. Our students get to learn and train on the most sophisticated weather radars in the world. When this technology gets deployed nationwide, our students will be ready to go,” Palmer said. “This technology is also drawing interest from potential industry partners that will result in jobs and economic opportunities throughout the state and nation.”

“The intellectual property generated by the Horus program has the potential to change the economic landscape of the state and bring OU technology to the world,” Díaz de la Rubia said.

As they continue to work on the next generation of weather radar and deploy the Horus system to capture the most high-resolution data available, Palmer hopes to leave a lasting legacy on the weather radar community.

“Our program has grown so big and has developed such sophisticated radars that I now want to have an influence on the nation’s future weather radar infrastructure,” Palmer said. “If OU could have even a small impact on the future, I’d be very proud.”

The Horus project team published their first article on the fully phased array weather radar in a special section on fully digital arrays in the inaugural issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Radar Systems in June 2023.

Learn more about the Horus System and the Advanced Radar Research Center at the University of Oklahoma.