PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- It doesn’t take a meteorologist to know the 2019 monsoon has been a pretty lame one.

We have had few storms and very little rain compared to the historical average.

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As of late-August, we’ve picked up just a tad more than a quarter-inch of rain. That’s more than 85% below that average for this time of year. Yikes!

So this year I haven’t been using the radar for a lot for rain but instead other things that may be in the air or on the ground.

The other day I spotted something on the radar and knew it wasn’t rain.

Chaff seen on radar

Chaff seen on radar.

But what was it?


Picture of chaff.

It was near Gila Bend and other areas with vast open desert. In these areas, our military occasionally conducts training missions and in some cases, aircrafts deploy what is called chaff.

Chaff is a military countermeasure aircrafts deploy to confuse enemy missiles. It is made up of small pieces of aluminum or plastic.

Sometimes the radar can "see" what we call non-meteorological targets, like chaff deployed from a plane.

And it doesn’t stop there. Radar can see a whole array of non-meteorological targets.

Bugs, or a flock of migrating birds, have been detected by radar in the past.

How about cars? Yup. The radar beam will sometimes hit and relay what looks like rain but is actually a interstate filled with cars.

The same goes for mountain ranges, clusters wind turbines and smoke from large wildfires.

Wildfire smoke

Wildfire smoke seen on radar.

Rio Vista in the Bay Area is infamous for showing radar returns that look like rain to an unfamiliar eye, but are actually the radar beam hitting a wind turbine farm.

So while the radar has been pretty sleepy when it comes to storms, you never know what else it may spot out there as it is scanning the skies.


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