EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

How far into a rain shaft can mm-wave vertically pointing radars detect raindrops?

Christopher Williams
Christopher Williams
  • University of Colorado Boulder, Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences, Boulder, United States of America (

Vertically pointing radars (VPRs) provide detailed observations of precipitating cloud systems as they pass directly over the radar site. Two VPRs operating side-by-side and at different millimeter wavelengths (mm-wave) will observe the same raindrops but will have different return signals due to wavelength dependent raindrop backscattering and attenuation characteristics. These differences enable the retrieval of raindrop size distributions and vertical air motions. Yet, as the rain rate increases, the attenuation increases. Eventually, at some combination of path length [km] and rain specific attenuation [dB/km], the attenuation [dB] will extinguish high frequency VPR return signals; limiting high frequency VPRs to studying rain processes close to the ground. 

In order to estimate how far VPRs can measure into rain shafts, this study simulated constant rain rate precipitation columns and then estimated the path length needed to produced enough attenuation to drop the VPR signal-to-noise ratio below the VPR’s detection limit. This study used surface disdrometer observations and publically available T-Matrix scattering code to produce realistic VPR measurements at frequencies from 3 to 200 GHz.

These simulations found that in order to observe raindrops above a 3.5 km rain shaft, the constant rain rate needed to be less than 138, 67, 26, 14, and 4 mm/h for VPRs operating in the X-, Ku-, K-, Ka-, and W-bands, respectively (i.e., 9, 13.6, 24, 35.6, and 94 GHz). Additionally, due solely to atmospheric gas attenuation, the G-band (200 GHz) VPR return signal will be completely extinguished by 3.5 km. Preventing a G-band VPR from detecting raindrops above 3.5 km.

How to cite: Williams, C.: How far into a rain shaft can mm-wave vertically pointing radars detect raindrops?, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-6386,, 2022.