Lightning likely to blame for bringing down Grand Rapids weather radar

Weather News

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If your radar app looks a little off, you can blame it on the lightning.

The line of strong to severe storms that rolled through West Michigan is thought to be at fault for knocking the Grand Rapids weather radar out of commission Tuesday afternoon.

Employees reported the downed radar just before 3 p.m. They say an incredibly close lightning strike was detected just before it went offline. It is unclear if the radar took a direct strike or was affected by a nearby strike.

The strike believed to have hit within 60 meters of the radar was 31,000 amps. For reference, the electricity that runs through a standard wall outlet is 15 amps.

This is the last scan that was produced before the Grand Rapids radar went down:

Weather radar is one of the most powerful tools to determine storm strength and immanent threat when storms roll through. Radar emits microwave energy at half-degree tilts over the surface of the earth to “look” for showers and storms on the horizon.

The tool looks like a giant water tower, often covered in white panels. Radar domes have been struck by lightning before, though it is not common.

It is unknown when the Grand Rapids radar site will be back online. Employees at NWS Grand Rapids say it is typically difficult to estimate how long a radar will be disabled since lightning damage can have a large range in impact.

“It can vary quite a bit. Sometimes if affects just a part or two that can be easily replaced. Other times there can be a lot of collateral damage that’s difficult to troubleshoot and/or get parts for,” NWS meteorologist T.J. Turnage said.

There are several radar sites in and surrounding Michigan, so radars in Chicago, Milwaukee, northern Indiana, Detroit and Gaylord can all be used to fill in the gaps. The data is less accurate than the Grand Rapids radar, but the composite is still quite effective when a radar goes down.

Once Tuesday’s storms finish tracking through the region, the weather will be relatively quiet for much of the coming week.

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