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Satellite-delivered weather - does it show clouds?

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

The satellite-delivered radar image that you view in the cockpit on your portable or panel mounted display is derived from the network of NWS WSR-88D NEXRAD Doppler radars. This is the source of the image, but keep in mind that the product you see in the cockpit is not the same as what comes out of these radars. But does it show the presence of clouds not producing precipitation?

Ask yourself this question.  Do you want a radar that shows clouds that are not producing precipitation-sized drops or ice crystals?  Your answer should be no. The visible and infrared satellite images do a fine job telling you the whereabouts of clouds.  Instead, we want the radar to tell us which clouds are actually producing precipitation in the form of rain, snow, ice pellets, hail and virga.  Clouds would only be a nuisance in most cases.

But from time to time the WSR-88D will indeed show the presence of non-precipitating clouds.  As shown on the left, the radar image from the NWS radar site from the  Midland/Odessa weather forecast office (WFO) shows both precipitation and non-precipitation returns.