We get our first peek at where our new weather radar is going

By:  Keith Eldridge & Scott Sistek, komonews.com

LANGLEY HILL, Wash. -- The weather approaching the coast has always contained a little bit of mystery to meteorologists. We could always see the clouds on the satellite images, and observation sites along the coast could tell us if it was raining at the airport.  But we were never able to see inside the clouds offshore from an approaching coastal storm, because coverage from the current Doppler radar situated on Camano Island is blocked by the Olympic Mountains.

Soon, that blind spot will be no more.

We got a tour Tuesday of the spot on Langley Hill where the National Weather Service's new Doppler radar is being built.

"This will be a nice additional piece of information that will really let us get another view into the storm as it approaches the coast," said Brad Colman, Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service office in Seattle.

Photo shows current gap in radar coverage over the central Washington coast.

For example, when the floods of 2007 struck, there was no way to know 20" of rain had fallen in Southwestern Washington.

"And this (radar) will now give (meteorologists) the opportunity to say 'Oh wow, this is going to be worse. These two storms are merging. There's going to be an issue here,' " said Grays Harbor County Director of Emergency Management Chuck Wallace.

Congress approved $9 million for the radar, an effort led by Sen. Maria Cantwell.

The radar will also be the first in the nation with new "dual polarization" technology which will scan storms vertically in addition to horizontally. That will allow forecasters to better predict the type, intensity, and duration of precipitation. Most Doppler radars in use today provide only a horizontal view of storms and precipitation.

How did Washington get to be the first? Cantwell and NOAA were able to obtain an existing radar from the Air Force, formerly used for training, that could be modified to operate with the dual polarization technology available. By updating an existing radar rather than purchasing a new system, Washington was able to secure the radar a year earlier and within budget. The target date for completion is September 30 -- just in time for the rainy season that begins on Oct. 1.

The National Weather Service plans to eventually upgrade most of its weather radars to the dual-polarization capability.