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Mystery Radar Blob Reveals Odd Man-Made Phenomenon

After sleuthing, and several wacky explanations, scientists have identified the culprit
Friday, Oct. 25, 2013

An image of a mysterious blob seen in weather radar on June 4, 2013, in Huntsville, Ala. (Credit: Baron Services)​

On June 4, meteorologists in Huntsville, Ala., noticed a "blob" on their radar screen that looked like a strong thunderstorm, despite the fact the sun was shining and not a drop of rain could be found within a few hundred miles. After some sleuthing, and several wacky explanations, the scientists have identified the culprit.

"Our operational meteorologist spotted it on radar immediately and initially thought he was caught off-guard by a pop-up thunderstorm that wasn't in the forecast," Matthew Havin, data services manager at weather technology company Baron Services, told LiveScience in an email. "Soon after that point we had numerous people from around Huntsville (and even other meteorologists from other states) calling and e-mailing us trying to determine what was going on at the time."

And some of the theories put forth to explain the mysterious blob were doozies, from the conspiracy theory that it was the result of a top-secret ground-based transmitter to interference from a nearby utilities substation. [See Images of the Mysterious Radar Blob]

"My favorite explanation that we heard right away from someone in the general public was that it was caused by 1,000 ladybugs that were released by the Huntsville Botanical Garden earlier that morning," Havin said. "It would take many millions of ladybugs to really show up on a weather radar, and it wouldn't look the same as what we were seeing," said Havin, who described the radar-blob tale at the annual meeting of the National Weather Association this month in Charleston, S.C.

When the team looked at the blob using standard weather radar, all indications were it was a strong thunderstorm. Then they turned to so-called dual-polarity technology developed in the last few years by the National Weather Service. This advanced radar allows scientists to scan in both the horizontal and vertical directions.

They found the blob was not nature-made, after all, and was likely so-called military chaff, or reflective particles used to test military radar.

"What we were able to see from the dual-pol radar data looked similar to military chaff cases previously, but the primary difference was that the winds weren't blowing the stuff away," Havin said. "The releases were happening primarily below 3,300 feet [1,000 meters] above the ground and the low-level winds that afternoon were almost nonexistent (less than 3 mph [4.8 km/h]), so the chaff was basically pluming outward over a good portion of the Huntsville metro area."

In fact, the chaff was visible on their radar for more than nine hours, and the news stories lingered even longer.

"Officially, Redstone Arsenal disclosed that it was a military test using RR-188 military chaff," Havin said, referring to aircraft used to spread a cloud of aluminum-coated silica in the case of RR-188.

The cloud can confuse radar-guided missiles, for instance, so they miss their targets.

"My goal was just to show in greater detail how the weather that day was causing things to look the way they did with the chaff release," Havin said of his talk at the NWAS meeting.

Follow Jeanna Bryner on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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hambrock7

geeez, ok, I made 5 alarm chili..

October 26 2013 at 10:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
punnster

Then been using chaff like that for decades to confuse radar. It's less harmful than that tinsel you put on your Christmas tree.

October 26 2013 at 4:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jragga

the military again. this might be the next scandal, it seems the military has way too much freedom to do things, test things and move dangerous things about without notifying anyone one about it. chaff? and huge cloud of chaff? so the military was probably behind all the wildlife mass deaths in the past also, and all the ufo sightings too...

i think it's time to reign them in...

October 26 2013 at 2:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
queennabidabi

http://www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/env_assessment/projects/Y2004/1159/environmental_effects_of_radio_frequency_chaff.pdf

October 26 2013 at 12:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
queennabidabi

http://www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/env_assessment/projects/Y2004/1159/environmental_effects_of_radio_frequency_chaff.pdf

October 26 2013 at 12:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hf2hvit

NOW THAT WE KNOW, THEY'RE GOING TO KILL US!!!

October 25 2013 at 11:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Deck Deckerman

What the missiles can't destroy... Lung cancer will. Sheesh. Thanks for experimenting over populated areas without their knowledge. Why am I not shocked???

October 25 2013 at 9:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Deck Deckerman's comment
BARRY AND KATHY

Please don't say such dumb things. You make my head hurt.
It's just innocuous reflective particles of silica (fine flat sand).

October 25 2013 at 10:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to BARRY AND KATHY's comment
DrNoneck

Actually, Deck is correct. Look up a lung disease called silicosis. It's caused by small micron sized jagged particles of silica breathed by miners and people working with cement. Since, aluminum is easily oxidized, the coating could wear away in the lungs leaving silica to enter cells. I hope not too many people stayed outside that day.

October 25 2013 at 11:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
Lisa

Haarp! chemtrails.. weather modification.........
ITS ALL EVIL!!!!!!!!

October 25 2013 at 9:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
danrbas

Sounds like something Odumbo would do!

October 25 2013 at 8:24 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to danrbas's comment
BARRY AND KATHY

How can a person as stupid as you call Obama dumb?
Boggles the mind.

October 25 2013 at 10:53 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to BARRY AND KATHY's comment
gmgpjandon

Stupid is as stupid does. Right?

October 25 2013 at 11:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down
ticknert2

He's smarter than any CON.

October 25 2013 at 11:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
msducks

OH, is THAT what it was! Well, I don't know about you but I feel SO much better now. (is there a rolling eyes smiley?) I dunno, just looking at it, seems like a whole lot of "chaff", which is what .... tiny particles left by planes? Chemtrails? I read that it's been a problem since radar was invented, but I'm going out on a limb and say it was probably a problem before that, we just couldn't see it.

Breathe! The fresh (koff) air!

October 25 2013 at 8:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to msducks's comment
BARRY AND KATHY

It's small flattened silica (sand) particles which reflect radar. Kind of like going to the beach, no chemicals.

October 25 2013 at 10:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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