The height column in the storm attribute table corresponds to the vertical height of the maximum reflectivity (dBZ) for a certain thunderstorm cell. The output should normally be a four-digit or five-digit number displayed in feet above radar level (ARL).

The National Weather Service radars originally display a height in composite reflectivity as a one-digit or two-digit number with a one-digit decimal. Multiply this number by one thousand to correctly format the output. For example, if a radar displays the height as 15.6, the actual height is 15,600.

Radar operators use the reflectivity height to determine the structure of a thunderstorm, and where the most intense portion of the updraft is. The reflectivity height may also be combined with other products to form an algorithm regarding the potential for damaging downburst winds. Those in the aviation industry may also find the height of the maximum dBZ useful so pilots can avoid flying planes into extreme turbulence. In general though, aviators attempt to avoid strong and severe thunderstorms, as well as give them a decent amount of room.

A radar cannot detect the maximum reflectivity (dBZ) height well, or possibly at all, if a thunderstorm is close to the radar site. Beams are unable to extend into the updraft at such a degree from the radar's transmitter.


Jordan Gerth, May 2007