Meteorologists Baffled by 50-Mile Wide Radar Anomaly in Midwest

radar anomaly

On Dec. 10, a mysterious, 50-mile-wide radar anomaly passed from southeastern Illinois into Kentucky, eventually breaking up after lingering in the air for over 10 hours. The National Weather Service (NWS) and local meteorologists were baffled by the stream, asking the public to report on Twitter if they noticed anything visible in the skies.

The strange anomaly appeared around 3 p.m. CST as a blip on NWS doppler radar just south of Olney, IL, before continuing to expand as it moved south through Indiana and across the Kentucky border. The phenomenon was quickly given the hashtag #tristatewx, with speculation ranging from a flock of birds, to secret military operations, or an explosion of material raining down from space.

The most likely explanation though, is a military countermeasure called chaff, developed during WWII to scramble enemy radar. Doppler radar works by measuring the reflectivity of precipitation in the air, so in order to confuse radar the military realized it could release other types of material, including thin aluminum and metallic glass fibers to allow aircraft to travel undetected.

Aside from the questionable nature of chaff – regarding its environmental safety and the general lack in public knowledge of its use – it’s a common occurrence for meteorologists, who are typically forewarned by the military when it’s released.

In this case however, neither the Air Force nor any other branch took responsibility or gave notice to the National Weather Service that it would release chaff.



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