New radar will boost tracking of storms nearing Washington's coast

By:  AUBREY COHEN, seattlepi.com
Source: Seattle PI

Washington got the first images from last week from a new radar system that will allow for better weather forecasts, particularly of storms nearing the coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association announced Monday.

NOAA turned on the new NEXRAD high-power, high-resolution, long-range Doppler radar radar on Lagnley Hill, about 3 miles east of Copalis Beach in Grays Harbor County. The radar is set next month to be one of the first in the country to get upgraded with dual-polarization technology, allowing better storm tracking.

"Too often in the past, our weather radar coverage gap meant that forecasters didn't have the most complete data set possible to help Pacific Northwest communities prepare for big storms," U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a news release. "This new, state-of-the-art radar technology will enable Washingtonians to better prepare for the impact of the big Pacific storms on businesses and  homes."

Western Washington's only other Doppler radar is on Camano Island. But the Olympic Mountains largely block its reach, causing big gaps in data on storms approaching the coast.

Cantwell, former chairwoman of the Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee, got funds for a 2009 study that documented the issue and then for the new radar system. Last year, she announced that the NOAA would install the system a year earlier than planned because an Air Force weather radar radar became available.

The new radar will let forecasters better determine wind speed and rainfall of incoming storms to give more accurate and timely warnings to residents. The dual-polarization technology "provides an in-depth look at weather systems, scanning vertically as well as horizontally, enabling the National Weather Service to better predict the type, intensity, and duration of precipitation," Cantwell's office said.

While the radar will only be turned on intermittantly for testing and troubleshooting over the next month or so, the Seattle and Portland Weather Service Forecast Offices will get to see the data that comes in. Regular operations are set to start by Sept. 30, at which time data will be available to public. The radar site is only open to the public on special occasions.

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