The grasshopper swarm in Las Vegas was so big it looked like a storm on weather radar

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LAS VEGAS – On Friday night, meteorologists in Southern Nevada looked at the pulsing green images on the weather radar and discovered there was much more than the raindrops of scattered thunderstorms swirling on the screen.

Insect swarms,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Kate Guillet.

Most of the flurry found on the screen, she said, was a sprawling swarm of pallid-winged grasshoppers now plaguing the neon lights, streets and sidewalks of Las Vegas

The service posted a photo of the radar images to Twitter Friday night, showing what looked like a large storm moving east-to-west across the Las Vegas Valley.

While some of the activity in the northern sector of the radar display included rain, a majority of the green coloring in the southern half of the Las Vegas represented an insect invasion so large it registered on weather radar.

“Haven’t seen something like this in a long time,” Guillet said.

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Biological targets

The National Weather Service upgraded its radar system in the spring of 2012.

Enhancements made the service’s weather sampling capabilities much more sensitive, able to differentiate between large raindrops, small raindrops – and sometimes even biological entities.

The most common “biological targets” captured on weather radar in Southern Nevada are birds and bats.

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An unsettling number of pallid-winged grasshoppers have been spotted all over bright lights, streets and sidewalks throughout the Las Vegas Valley. USA TODAY

Grasshoppers on the move

A wet spring expedited the insect swarm’s northern migration, but the bugs are not dangerous. 

“They don’t carry any diseases, they don’t bite, they’re not even one of the species that we consider a problem,” said Jeff Knight, an entomologist with the Nevada Department of Agriculture. “They probably won’t cause much damage in a yard.”

The grasshoppers are attracted to ultraviolet light. That’s why the insects are often found swarming glowing bulbs of white light.  

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The jumpy bugs are likely to remain in transit across Southern Nevada over the next several weeks, Knight said.

The state has records as far back as the early 1960s of Nevada grasshopper invasions. In three decades as an entomologist, Knight has seen the insects visit southern Nevada four or five times.

In 2010, state agriculture officials gear up for a springtime invasion of crop-eating grasshoppers in northern Nevada. 

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Follow Ed Komenda on Twitter: @ejkomenda

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