Doppler on Wheels Arrives on Florida Tech Campus

Students Chase Severe Weather with the ‘Biggest Dish on the Road’

Doppler on Wheels at Florida Tech
The Doppler on Wheels at Florida Tech, ready for action. Photo: Jeff Colvin


Doppler on Wheels Weather
Here comes the rain…the DOW is on it. Photo: Jeff Colvin

Thanks to meteorology professor Steven Lazarus, Florida Institute of Technology students have a rare opportunity to chase lightning storms and fronts with the Doppler on Wheels (DOW) through Sept. 11.  Lazarus was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to bring the mobile radar, often referred to by weather geeks as “the biggest dish on the road,” from the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colorado, to campus. The Doppler on Wheels also comes with a technician, Alycia Gilliland (who made the 2,000-mile trek with the vehicle to Florida) to operate the DOW’s powerful equipment during chases.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students,” says Lazarus. “Only a handful of schools in the country get access to these vehicles.”

Every morning, around 8 a.m., students meet with National Weather Service forecasters in Melbourne to develop a Doppler on Wheels deployment strategy based on what’s brewing in the atmosphere.

“For meteorologists, good weather is bad weather,” says Bryan Holman, a graduate student pursuing his Ph.D. in meteorology at Florida Tech. Some days are “better” than others for chasing down a storm and a decision is made if the mobile radar will be deployed that day. Students then plan, design and implement radar scan strategies for various phenomena such as the sea/lake/lagoon breezes, thunderstorms and coastal showers. When the optimal time and location are chosen, the chasing begins. Four students travel in the DOW to the heart of a front with more students following behind in a van filled with other weather equipment to complement the DOW’s radar data such as weather balloons and rain gauges.


Florida Tech students set up weather instruments in anticipation of a storm in the area. Photo: Jeff Colvin

You can follow the DOW’s adventures and learn more about the project on Twitter at #DOWFIT.

And, for some real-time interaction with the Doppler on Wheels,  the public is invited to two exciting events on campus:

  • Doppler on Wheels – The Biggest Dish on the Road: 3:30-4:45 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, Evans Library Pavilion, Auditorium Room P133. This free lecture in the Weekly Seminar Series of the Department of Marine & Environmental Systems presents Joshua Wurman and Karen Kosiba from the Center of Severe Weather Research. (Discovery Channel fans may recognize Wurman from his recurring role on the reality series Storm Chasers). The atmospheric scientists will talk about their adrenalin-charged experiences chasing super cells, tornados and other intense weather with a Doppler on Wheels
  • Doppler on Wheels Open House: 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Sept. 8, Olin Engineering Complex parking lot, across from Panther Dining Hall. The DOW radar will be open to the campus and general community during this free event. A technician will be there to answer questions about the vehicle, its equipment and weather data gathered during a storm chase.
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