U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, deserves credit for recognizing the gaps in our radar system and getting the money appropriated to build the first coastal Doppler radar system. It is under construction in Grays Harbor County and should be operational by Sept. 30.
Given the climate changes we’ve experienced in recent years and the extremes in weather patterns, the new Doppler system might well save lives.
In 2007, Cantwell secured $100,000 in federal funding to study Washington state’s radar needs. In May 2009, that federal report by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association showed that Washington state bears the brunt of some of the worst storms in the country, yet has the worst radar coverage of any coastal state. Cantwell joined representatives from the National Weather Service, the NOAA, and state and local officials at a community forum to announce the study findings and pledge her support for a new coastal radar station.
The study found that a gap in coastal radar coverage makes it difficult for National Weather Service forecasters in Washington state to predict large, dangerous storms. The report concluded that additional radar coverage would improve public safety and reduce negative economic consequences from hazardous weather through improved real-time analysis and prediction.
At the time Cantwell said, “The improved weather forecasting system recommended by the National Weather Service will be able to track and observe storms 100 miles off our shores and will provide more accurate short-term forecasting. This will improve real-time analysis and prediction of storm systems and give Washingtonians the opportunity to brace themselves for the impact of massive storms like the back-to-back storms of 2007 and 2008.”
Cantwell was successful in convincing President Barack Obama to put the state-of-the-art Doppler system in his budget request.
Congress appropriated $2 million in the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill as a first phase, then finished the project with a $7 million appropriation included in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act.
The foundation for the new radar system is under construction at Langley Hill, which is near Copalis Beach, north of Hoquiam and Aberdeen.
Western Washington’s only other Doppler radar station is located on Camano Island. But the radar’s scan is largely blocked by the Olympic Mountains, Cantwell said. That causes large gaps in weather data of storms that gather offshore.
She said the new radar will help close this gap and enable forecasters to better determine wind speed and rainfall amounts that will be generated by storms sweeping in off the Pacific Ocean.
The Doppler radar system should be operational before this fall’s storms begin pelting the coast — a full year ahead of original plans. That’s because the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration obtained a radar system from the Air Force that can be modified to operate with the most sophisticated technology available. By updating the existing radar rather than purchasing a new system, Washington is getting radar coverage significantly faster and within budget, Cantwell said.
The Doppler system will be the first in the nation using so-called “dual polarization,” meaning it can provide 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 said.
That’s going to be a real plus for those of us living in the Evergreen State which is frequently hit with one storm after another, often resulting in lowland flooding and occasionally causing widespread damage.
Washington residents can do little more than cuss and discuss the rain, but it will be good to have the coastal radar system in place to give all everyone a more accurate picture of the severity of storms headed their way.