Radar Shows Millions of Locusts a Mile Deep in the Air Over New Mexico

You may have heard that Albuquerque is experiencing a bit of a locust problem right now, with millions of the pests descending on the city as a result of a long drought. But, until now, you haven't seen them on 3-D radar, extending like a thick blanket over a mile into the atmosphere.

Almost every week since The Vane started, I've sung the praises of Doppler weather radar, and one of the many things that weather radar can do is detect birds and bugs as they come out at night.

Weather radar works by sending out pulses of microwave radiation tilted at different angles above the horizon; the beam bounces back and the speed/intensity/shape of the return tells the radar what it's looking at. As the radar beam goes out in a straight line, the curvature of the earth causes the beam to go higher into the atmosphere as it moves further away from the radar site.

The fact that the beam is so close to the ground right around the radar site causes bugs and birds to show up incredibly well. Thankfully for us (but unfortunately for the good people of Albuquerque), the radar at the municipal airport west of the city is smack in the middle of the swarm.

Radar Shows Millions of Locusts a Mile Deep in the Air Over New Mexico

Above is a zoomed-in, static view of the swarm on radar around Albuquerque. The swarm is so intense in some areas that it's clocking reflectivity readings of 35-40 dBZ, or about the strength of a decent rain shower. Notable in the image is the thin line stretching from north to south, which is moving towards the west. These are locusts being bunched up along the leading edge of a gust of wind.

This is what they look like on 3D radar imagery. The swarm extends over 5,000 feet into the atmosphere in some spots.

Radar Shows Millions of Locusts a Mile Deep in the Air Over New Mexico

Here's a closer view of a smaller area immediately over Albuquerque, giving you a better idea of how the swarm is showing up on radar.

Radar Shows Millions of Locusts a Mile Deep in the Air Over New Mexico

An employee for the NWS office in Albuquerque went outside and took this video of the swarm at the office, which is located at the city's airport.

The rest of the world kindly requests that the wonderful citizens of Albuquerque please keep the bugs to themselves. Thank you.

[Images via Gibson Ridge]