Violent storms and heavy rains are becoming an increasingly pressing concern in today's world, with climate change posing ever greater risks for society. In the Netherlands alone, it is estimated that extreme weather will result in €745 million in damages per year. Yet, one of the biggest problems with extreme weather events is that we still poorly understand them. Thanks to the new PHARA project, funded by NWO for €3.5 million, this could be set to change. PHARA aims to create a 3D weather radar, which would be the first of its kind to measure the growth process of cloud particles.

"Typically, weather radars provide only a 2D image of clouds, which means it shows the density of cloud particles  at a specific time and place," explains professor Olexander Yarovyi, who will lead the PHARA project. "However, by upgrading such an image to a 3D version, including a vertical profile of the cloud through time, it would be possible to better understand how particles move, collide and coalesce. This gives us, for the first time ever, insight into the potentially extreme behavior of storms."

The first, immediate challenge for the PHARA project is undoubtedly building the radar itself. To meet the project's goals, a multi-beam full-polarimetric radar with both mechanical and electronical beam scanning needs to be developed and realized. A set of dedicated algorithms, starting from multiple orthogonal beam forming and till meteorological parameter extraction should subsequently be developed, and of course also embedded into the radar. A digital backbone, which is able to support very high-data rate, will be realized for data acquisition, storage and distribution. The radar must be built on a movable platform, allowing it to be positioned in a variety of locations. This mobility will ensure that the radar can quickly collect data on emerging and storms. Additionally, the radar will need to be sturdy enough to withstand harsh weather conditions, such as intense winds and heavy rain, that typically come with monitoring a storm.

The PHARA project is a big team effort, with TU Delft and its and CiTG faculties playing a significant role, along with many other organizations: TU Eindhoven, TNO, Robin Radar, Astron, KNMI, and the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. Each member of the team brings a specific specialization to the table, from manufacturing to meteorological expertise.

The second challenge that the PHARA project team faces will be developing the tools and models required to calculate the behavior of clouds particles, their motion and their growth. This will require close collaboration between partners across the board, ensuring that the team can fully capitalize on each other's expertise. By combining the knowledge of the various team members, the PHARA project aims to create a comprehensive understanding of the behavior of clouds and storms and the factors that influence them.

Finally, the third challenge for the PHARA project will be the development of an interface that integrates well with the already existing Dutch ecosystem of weather monitoring. One of the key goals of the project is that PHARA is usable by any party involved in weather forecasting. It will require a team of experts in computer engineering and data analysis, who will work closely with the radar designers and meteorologists to ensure it meets the PHARA project's needs.

"In short, the PHARA project represents a massive opportunity to advance our understanding of extreme weather and its possible impact on society," summarizes Olexander Yarovyi.