Chasing Storms: Giant ‘golf ball on stilts’ provides weather flight with striking look at Georgia’s severe weather

  • Published
  • By Brian Shreve
  • Robins Public Affairs
There's an old saying that lightning never strikes twice.  

But, the weather folks at Robins know better, and will tell you that old myth was busted Sept. 1 when a  meteorological radar in Jeffersonville, Ga. was struck for the second time in as many years. 

So, in typical Team Robins style, electrical technicians proved they are always prepared to tackle any setback and keep the mission moving. 

Often described as a giant golf ball on stilts, the 93-foot tall Next Generation Radar is known commonly as NEXRAD. 

Its technical name is the Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler, and it tracks severe weather and other atmospheric conditions to provide real-time data for Robins and meteorologists across Middle Georgia.  

The radar is located in a rural area on Ga. Highway 96 and has been struck by lightning three times in the past 16 years, though only the past two have been described as major. 

Despite significant damage following the Labor Day strike, the radar was non-operational for only 72 hours, a considerably short amount of time given that last year, lighting had the system offline for nearly a month. 

"It's a towering Plexiglass and steel platform sitting on a ridge, so it's a target," said Roddy Nixon, 78th Operations Support Squadron senior meteorological technician. "Some of the more intense storms move through that area in Twiggs County. That's why the site was chosen. It's not unusual, but most of the time strikes aren't as severe as we've seen recently."

Nixon said the latest strike was serious enough to fry a couple of major circuit cards and pedestal units in the radar, requiring new parts and internal component replacements. 

"It had to be fixed quickly," he added. "Flight safety and resource potential made it critical to get it operational as soon as possible."

According to Capt. Tracy Pete, 78th OSS Weather Flight commander, the NEXRAD generates impulses into the atmosphere and picks up on the feedback where any interference from clouds occurs; how quickly that signal returns to the radar reveals where weather activity is located.  

"It allows us to see where cells are moving, building and falling apart," said Pete. "It's a very important tool for severe weather because of its quick changeover as far as tornadoes. Those rotations happen relatively quickly on a radar scanner, and you won't see that on a satellite."

Though the radar has been owned and maintained by the DOD since it was built in 1992, it not only plays an integral role for the base, but for the entire region and the National Weather Service in Peachtree City. 

The only other NEXRAD outside of the Robins area is located near Valdosta, and serves Moody Air Force Base.