How to read weather radar | Understanding colors

How to read weather radar |  Understanding colors

Be more weather aware by knowing when rain can quickly flood roads.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Satellites and local weather radars are some of our most valuable tools for tracking the weather. They are so valuable that many people have them on their phones within weather apps.

But if you're not a meteorologist… you may not know exactly what the different colors mean or what they look like in person!

light green

This color can be misleading. Most of the time, light green means sprinkles, fog, drizzle, or very light rain. Impact is usually only measured in an official data site.

However, light green can sometimes mean no rain at all because it is raining overhead but the rain is not reaching the ground. This is referred to as virga.

dark green

This is strong light rain that is starting to turn moderate. Rainfall of up to a tenth of an inch is possible over the course of an hour.

For dark green, the windshield wipers will turn on approximately every three seconds. Small puddles can form and this rain is beneficial for lawns and gardens over the course of several hours, because it slowly saturates the soil.

Note: Some applications will have a different switch with which to invert these green colors.


Yellow is moderate rain that can reach three-tenths of an inch per hour. This means you'll need an umbrella and your windshield wipers to be wiped down frequently.

Larger puddles will begin to form and this rain over several hours will create larger puddles.

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Orange heavy rain. Precipitation rates begin to increase significantly at this point in the spectrum. This color typically results in up to one inch of rain falling per hour while the windshield wipers are in motion.

Drains can be overcome and large ponds will occur quickly. This rain is enough to flood sidewalks, streets, and squares – especially if it is over a long period of time. Orange also reduces visibility to a mile or less.

To get the latest weather alerts, download the WCNC Charlotte mobile app and enable push notifications.


Time to break out the rain boots! Red color on the radar is associated with heavy rain. Your windshield wipers can't keep up, making it difficult to see as rain falls at rates greater than 2 inches per hour.

Red to maroon colors on the radar flood streets, squares and sidewalks in minutes. Drains fill up, causing water to rise quickly.

Radar colors can be beautiful but also deadly, so be sure to stay on top of the weather with the WCNC Charlotte weather team by downloading our free mobile app. You can stay safe and track the rain live with us.

Contact Chris Mulcahy at And follow him Facebook, X, Instagram And Tik Tok.

WCNC Charlotte's Weather IQ YouTube channel provides step-by-step explanations from WCNC Charlotte meteorologists to help you learn and understand weather, climate, and science. See previous stories where you can raise your weather I.Q YouTube playlist below And subscribe to get updated when new videos are uploaded.

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