Gaggle of Geese Tracks Through Arkansas, Chasing the ISS and 14 Other Weird Things That Have Shown Up on Radar

Chris Dolce and Brian Donegan
Published: February 16, 2017

As the International Space Station soared southeastward across the evening sky Wednesday in northeastern Arkansas, the National Weather Service office in Memphis, Tennessee, spotted a large flock of geese on radar, which appeared to be chasing the ISS.

The grayish-colored reflectivity appearing in the two-hour radar loop above, spanning from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. CST Wednesday, indicates the gaggle of geese flying over northeastern Arkansas in hopes of catching up with the ISS. In reality, they can't physically catch it since the ISS is in space and the geese are likely flying just a few thousand feet above the Earth's surface.

A couple hours later, NWS-Memphis checked on the geese again. The determined animals had slipped below the main Memphis radar beam but were spotted by a smaller tower radar near the Mississippi River in Tunica, Mississippi.

This isn't the only non-weather feature radar can detect. Here are 14 other things we've seen in recent years.

1. Birds Inside the Eye of Hurricane Hermine

As Hurricane Hermine made landfall along Florida's Gulf coast, radar detected an interesting phenomenon: birds trapped flying inside the calm eye of Hermine.

Base reflectivity (left) and Differential reflectivity (right) radar images of Hermine at 10:38 p.m. EDT on Sept. 1. The red shaded area on the image to the right shows the birds swirling inside Hermine's eye just before landfall.

The birds were detected using differential reflectivity from NOAA's Dual-Polarization radar. This particular radar feature can be used to detect non-meteorological radar echoes such as birds and insects, in addition to its normal precipitation detection function.

We've seen this occur one other time in recent years during another U.S. hurricane landfall. Birds were detected on radar in the eye of Arthur as it moved near the coast of North Carolina in 2014.

2. Traffic on Interstate 20

(NWS Dalls/Fort Worth, Texas)

The NWS office in Dallas-Fort Worth pointed out on July 26, 2016, that its radar was detecting traffic along Interstate 20 southwest of Fort Worth. In the image below, the NWS said that the pink spots show cars and trucks moving away from the radar site at about 60 mph.

In cases with a warm layer of air just above the surface, and relatively cool air near the surface, Doppler radar can detect traffic, most commonly at night. But in this case, it happened in the afternoon after atmospheric conditions set up just right behind an area of thunderstorms.

3. Mayfly Hatch

Mayfly hatch on July 26, 2016.
(National Weather Service La Crosse, Wisconsin.)

At some point during the summer every year, the Doppler radar at the NWS in La Crosse, Wisconsin, lights up with echoes, indicating that a mayfly hatch has occurred.

This happened most recently on the evening of July 26, 2016, where it usually does right along the Mississippi River near the Minnesota and Wisconsin border.  The mayflies often emerge in enormous numbers, allowing radar to detect them.

You can see the recent hatch in the image above in the green echoes from near the label for the city of La Crosse southward along the river.

4. The Bat Signal

Circled are the emerging colonies of bats heading out to feed on insects June 13, 2016. (NWS-San Antonio)

This image was posted by the NWS in San Antonio, Texas, on June 13, 2016 with a caption "The Bat Signal is strong tonight!"

Each circle on the map shows an emerging bat colony detected by radar as they depart for the evening to feast on insects. This is a common summertime occurrence in central Texas.

5. Swarming Termites

The above image posted by the NWS in New Orleans on the evening of May 29, 2016. In that radar image, termites can be seen swarming near the Big Easy, captured in the shades of dark blue and light green. The image was part of a radar loop that was posted to the NWS office's Twitter account.

6. Birds Along Nebraska's Platte River

This radar image from March 2, 2016, shows birds that were observed by radar along the Platte River in Nebraska. The birds are represented by the green and blue shadings near the red line, which is Interstate 80 along the Platte River in central Nebraska. Video taken the previous day verified the existence of a large number of sandhill cranes in the area, according to a Facebook post by the Rowe Sanctuary.

7. Grasshoppers and Beetles

Grasshoppers and beetles detected by radar near the border between Texas and Oklahoma on July 22, 2015.

The green and yellow radar echoes in this image from July 22, 2015, show grasshoppers and beetles detected by radar near the border between Texas and Oklahoma, according to a tweet sent by the NWS office in Norman, Oklahoma. Since the radar is very sensitive, you would not see a huge swarm at ground level, the NWS said.

8. Monarch Butterfly Migration

(National Weather Service Reno, Nevada)

The NWS office in Reno, Nevada, posted to Twitter on March 27, 2015, the radar image above that shows the spring migration of Monarch butterflies. These butterflies were spotted using a differential reflectivity scan, which is typically used to identify different types of precipitation, hail size and tornadic debris. As shown in the example above, it can also identify non-meteorological echoes such as birds and insects. In this case, the NWS says the differential reflectivity shows objects that are much wider than they are taller, or what you would expect from the body type of a butterfly.

9. Birds Migrating

Radar loop shows bird migration on April 12, 2012. Image credit: NOAA

Tom Niziol, winter weather expert at The Weather Channel, captured this radar image of migrating birds in western New York on the evening of April 12, 2012.

Niziol says, "On the animation above I have penciled in what I describe as 'bird front' to outline the leading edge of the bird migration as it heads from the south shores of both Lakes Erie and Ontario across the water just after sunset."

You can read Tom's full article on this subject here.

10. Departing Train

NWS El Paso captures train leaving on radar.

Watch closely. Now, watch it again. That brief red streak moving to the northwest is actually a train leaving a terminal. The NWS office in El Paso captured it on its radar.

This is similar to how radar detected the interstate traffic earlier in this article.

11. Bugs 

Credit: National Weather Service Flagstaff, Ariz.

On April 30, 2013, the NWS office in Flagstaff, Arizona, grabbed this radar image detecting bugs in the green and blue shadings at the top left. The velocity image on the top right shows that the radar is able to track the direction of movement of these bugs.

12. Military Exercises

Credit: National Weather Service Jacksonville, Fla.

This image from the NWS office in Jacksonville, Florida, shows chaff in the narrow bands of green and blue radar echoes. Chaff are small pieces of aluminum which are released by military aircraft for self-defense to avoid radar detection.

13. California's Springs Fire

Image Credit: Gibson Ridge

On May 2, 2013, the smoke plume from the Springs fire near Camarillo, California, was picked up on radar. The smoke plume shows up in the green and blue shaded radar echoes south-southwest of Camarillo.

14. Wind Farm Interference

Turbines from the Bulter Ridge wind farm in Wisconsin mess with radar data.
(NWS Milwaukee/Sullivan)

Energy created by wind farms can mess with radar results. The Butler Ridge wind farm west of Milwaukee is one example. According to NWS Milwaukee/Sullivan, turbines stretch about 400 feet into the air, and sit within the line of sight of the NWS doppler radar in Jefferson County, Wisconsin.

"A small part of the electromagnetic energy radar beam sent from the radar is reflected back by the rotating turbines," the NWS said. "The radar processes this 'returned energy' as an area of precipitation and plots it accordingly on the map," which you can see circled in yellow.

MORE: Hurricane Hermine

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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