Most operational hail detection algorithms for single-polarisation radars are based on the analysis of the vertical profiles of radar reflectivity. At KNMI (Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute) and RMI (Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium) the probability of hail is derived from the height of the freezing level and the 45-dBZ radar echo top height (maximum height of the 45-dBZ echo). Echo tops are affected by errors in the measured reflectivity itself and by errors in the height assigned to these reflectivities. This study investigates the quality of radar echo top heights as a function of range and explores the implications for hail detection.
The method is based on the comparison between reflectivity measurements from two radars on the vertical cross-section extending between these radars. In a first step, sampling errors related to the radar Volume Coverage Patterns are analysed using idealised storm profiles. Subsequently, real reflectivity data for 25 thunderstorm episodes are compared. It is found that the quality of the maximum reflectivity measurements strongly deteriorates with range and that about half of this degradation can be attributed to overshooting effects. Height assignment differences between the two radars are limited to about 0.5 km. Errors on the reflectivity measurements strongly affect the frequency of 45-dBZ threshold exceedances. However, once the threshold is exceeded, errors in measuring the 45-dBZ echo top heights generally affect the derived probability of hail by less than 20%.