Maryland Tanker Truck Explosion Smoke Plume Caught on Radar

Oak Hill, WV (WOAY-TV): A deadly tanker truck explosion Saturday in Frederick, Md., was actually caught on radar! Meteorologist Chad Merrill explains below.

Although the video is a bit blurred, what you see is the Sterling, Va., radar focused on Frederick, Md., and the animation of a doppler radar product known as Base Velocity. The circle highlights the origin of the smoke plume along the Route 15 corridor in Frederick. The smoke plume then quickly pushed southeast (follow the circle plotted separately on the radar for tracking purposes) as it was carried away by gusty northwest winds.


Base Velocity is a doppler radar product used to determine if air is moving towards or away from the radar and at what speed. As meteorologist, we can decipher radar is picking up on some sort of blob, but in this case it’s not precipitation. The prevailing northwest wind pushed the smoke plume pushed southeast.

The event was so extreme that the radar beam from the Sterling, Va., radar (located 26.5 miles south of Frederick, Md) was able to pick up the smoke plume emanating from the explosion. Similarly, the State College, Pa., radar was able to pick up on the smoke plume from Flight 93 that went down in Shanksville, Pa., on 9-11-01.

Saturday’s explosion in Frederick, Md., is just a prime example of how doppler radar products can detect more than just precipitation. A variety of radar products are used to determine precipitation type, droplet size and distribution, precipitation intensity and movement of air particles. These products help meteorologists differentiate precipitation types, hail size, rainfall intensity, wind gust and tornado potential (particularly in severe thunderstorms).

Incidentally, radars can detect the location wind turbines, such as these stationary echoes that never move on the Milwaukee radar between Beaver Dam and West Bend (video taken on March 4, 2023) and even flocks of birds and insects!

The mouse cursor was used to highlight the stationary echoes that are always present on the Milwaukee radar because of the radar beam interference with the large wind turbines.

Sponsored Content