Andrew climbs up the First Warning Doppler tower

By Andrew Freiden - bio | email | facebook
Posted by Phil Riggan – email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - There's only one member of our NBC12 First Warning Weather team that works 24 hours a day.  It's our First Warning Doppler Radar, scanning the skies from 80 feet above our television station.

The same way you can focus sunlight and burn paper, you can get burned by this thing, especially if it comes across your eyes.

Engineer Rick Wagner lays out the danger, starting with the high power of the transmitter, required to see storms up to 300 miles away. But a flip of the switch removes that threat.

And the constantly rotating radar dish inside that protective ball needs to be stopped too, before I head up.  But Rick's biggest concern is the climb.

"As long as Andrew gets hooked on the safety line, I'm good to go," he said.

The safety line is a thick steel cable, that runs all the way to the top and a special clip ties you in.

The connector is rigged to clamp down on the wire, stopping a fall if you lose grip on the ladder.

Looks simple enough but it's a hard climb.  You have stay uncomfortably close to the ladder so the safety clip doesn't lock you place.

And the 80-foot climb can be unnerving as the tower shakes.  After reaching the top, it's time to sit and relax below the radar.

It is a tight squeeze in here, only a few feet to maneuver. I could see our photographer and engineer hanging out below.

It's a breathtaking view -- and that's for a reason.  The radar needs to be above the tree line so it has a clear view of the skies. Before you go inside the dome, clip onto the tower with two separate safety lines, before releasing from the cable.

It's a cool place to be -- after 10 years of looking at the output it's neat to be right next to it -- right next to First Warning Doppler radar.

The big plastic ball is like the skull protecting the brains of the radar.  The transmitter/receiver at the base actually creates the radar beam and the huge rotating dish collects the data coming back in, after the radar beam bounces off rain, snow, or anything else.

A cooling fan is another important part. It's really the only part that breaks and needs  maintenance.

Which means someone has strap in and start climbing.

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