High-Tech Radar System Coming To Coast


A new radar system that will eliminate a regional weather blind spot and give forecasters better information about storms approaching from the Pacific will be in place in September of next year, a year ahead of schedule, Sen. Maria Cantwell's office told KIRO 7 Eyewitness News.

While visiting the KIRO 7 Weather Center on Wednesday, Cantwell also told KIRO 7 Chief Meteorologist Rebecca Stevenson that she has acquired an Air Force base Doppler radar that is more advanced than any now operating in the country.

Placed on the coast near Hoquiam, the radar will close a gap of radar coverage of weather coming in from the ocean.  Right now, forecasters can't see many storms rolling in because radar coverage is blocked by the Olympic Mountains.

"It'll give forecasters like yourself much more accurate information about the storm and its impacts on the residents of Western Washington," Cantwell told Stevenson.

Those impacts can be severe.  In December 2007, a powerful wind and rainstorm blasted Western Washington, pounding coastal areas and flooding the Chehalis River.  The storm killed eight people and caused $1 billion in damage.  Because of a lack of coast radar, forecasters didn't have a good idea of the storm's intensity.  That will soon change.

"It's extraordinary good news," said University of Washington Atmospheric Scientist Cliff Mass.

Mass was one of the early advocates for the new coastal radar.  He said the latest-generation device will allow forecasters to peer into the heart of a storm.

"The radar is able to figure out what type of precipitation it is -- whether it's a snow crystal or a raindrop.  It will also help determine how heavy the rain is," Mass said.

The radar system was being used by the Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, Cantwell's office said. Because the Air Force is sending its radar trainees elsewhere, the system is available for the Washington coast.

The National Weather Service said the system will be the one of the first state-of-the-art "dual polarization" radars used in civilian forecasting. The dual polarization technology provides an in-depth look at precipitation at varying altitudes, enabling forecasters to better predict the type and intensity of precipitation.

It's just the kind of information Westport fishermen like Steve Westrick need to know.

"We've got caught in a couple of 30 knot blows and seas well over ten feet," Westrick said. "So if we had advance warning of that it would help a lot."