Radar Attenuation


Eddie sez:

Let's get this straight: attenuation is a good thing. It is what makes the radar useful in the first place. If you really know what your are looking for, it will help you identify a thunderstorm from hundreds of miles away. And that's good.

Everything here is from the references shown below, with a few comments in an alternate color.

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Radar Attenuation

Radar Beam Reflection


Figure: Radiated beam reflecting off rain drops, from Honeywell Radar Training, Part 4, Slide 4.

Attenuation is the idea that the radar signal loses some of its strength as it travels through the weather. It serves two vital purposes:

  • The signal that progresses returns at a later time, milliseconds later, allowing the radar receiver to interpret the signal as further distant.
  • Radar attenuation can produce radar scope shadows which indicate dangerous weather, potentially dangerous terrain (depending on your altitude), or cities which will be below your flight path. Knowing how to tell the difference is a vital skill every all-weather pilot should master.
  • More about: Radar - Techniques.

Radar Shadow Technique


Figure: Radar attenuation shadow technique, from Honeywell Radar Training, Part 4, Slide 7.

You need to aim the tilt down far enough to paint lots of ground clutter and then look for returns. The entire beam has to fall into the weather.

More about that: Radar - Beam Width.

A large return with no shadow is more than likely a city. A large return with a shadow is probably a lake, a tall mountain, or a thunderstorm.

Honeywell Airborne Weather Radar Training, Rev E, 12/09/02, Honeywell Inc. Commercial Flight Systems Group, Phoenix, AZ.

Honeywell Primus 880 Pilot's Guide, Pub. No. A28-1146-102-03, Revised January 2006, Honeywell International Inc. Commercial Electronic Systems, Glendale, AZ.