Not sure this is the right place for this, but how come I look at the radar sometimes and, despite it clearly raining at my present location, it doesn't show any precipitation? Example is right now at KEWR, it's raining. I can verify that by standing outside. But looking at the radar from several sources (NOAA, weather.com, several iPhone apps) there is nothing on it.

I know about the whole tilt thing but KEWR has a terminal radar quite close as I recall most airports do.

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    $\begingroup$ Right now your METAR is saying KEWR 010251Z 03012KT 5SM -DZ BR BKN007 OVC012 14/13 A3025 RMK AO2 SLP243 P0000 60002 T01390133 58001, the -DZ BR means "light drizzle" and mist. It is possible the weather radar doesn't show light drizzle or mist as precipitation. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 3:49
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    $\begingroup$ As for the "why": WX radar detects echo (Doppler shift), so the size of the droplets, their distribution and their relative velocity affect the detection. Small droplets may not be reflective enough. In addition see Doppler dilemma. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 13:09

2 Answers 2


The National Weather Service's 148 WSR-88D Doppler radars can detect most precipitation within approximately 90 mi of the radar, and intense rain or snow within approximately 155 mi. However, light rain, light snow, or drizzle from shallow cloud weather systems are not necessarily detected.—wunderground

As Ron Beyer commented, the METAR KEWR 010251Z 03012KT 5SM -DZ BR BKN007 OVC012 14/13 A3025 RMK AO2 SLP243 P0000 60002 T01390133 58001 shows light drizzle.


Drizzle is a trifecta with WX radar.

First the extremely small particles tend to be stealth, and have much much less reflectivity than larger droplets or snow.

Second, drizzle tends to be low to the ground, and to the radar processor, may look like the ground to anti-clutter algorithms. The low to the ground can also impact how much energy is radiated there, also an anti-ground clutter measure.

Third, drizzle by it's nature tends to be rather stationary. The air it is in is normally stable, and there is little movement for a Doppler processor to pull out. The radar processor handles echo data, not just Doppler data, but the Doppler data is used to enhance the sensitivity of the unit. Generally it works well for moisture which is moving, but drizzle has little motion. Except downward, which is orthogonal to the radar, and therefore not a factor.

Similarly, most clouds, and smoke may not show up on WX radar. Birds may, as their radar cross section (RCS) is larger, then tend to move, and they tend to move as a mass of points, all which make them more easily trackable with radar.

In summary, the reasons why Doppler WX radar tends to not show drizzle well are: 1. Extremely small particles, 2. drizzle is low to the ground, and 3.drizzle is stationary and therefore not enhanced by Doppler processors.


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