West End Doppler radar work expected to begin this week

COPALIS BEACH — Workers are expected to begin this week to clear Langley Hill in northern Grays Harbor County for construction of a Doppler radar facility.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — or NOAA — and the Langely Hill landowner have signed the lease for the property, the office of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, announced Friday.

That keeps the facility — the state’s first coastal weather-monitoring tower — on track for a September opening.

Work could begin as early as Wednesday to clear the two-acre forested Langely Hill site three miles east of Copalis Beach, Cantwell’s office said.

The new radar system will help forecasters in predicting the severity of winter storms as they approach the North Olympic Peninsula, the National Weather Service has said.

Western Washington’s only other Doppler radar is located on Camano Island.

That facility can track precipitation in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but it can’t detect low-level weather bearing down on the coast because the radar’s reach is largely blocked by the Olympic Mountains to the southwest, causing large gaps in weather data of storms that gather offshore. 

The new coastal radar will help close the data gap so that forecasters can better-determine wind speed and rainfall of incoming storms to give more accurate and timely warnings to residents.

The 125-mile radius will cover such West End towns as Forks, LaPush, Neah Bay and Clallam Bay-Sekiu, as well as giving forecasters a better view of what’s coming for the whole Peninsula, Ted Buehner, meteorologist at the Weather Service’s Seattle office, has said.

The system will be one of the first in the nation using “dual polarization” in civilian weather forecasting.

The dual polarization technology provides an in-depth look at weather systems, scanning vertically as well as horizontally.

The new facility will use an Air Force training radar facility that has been retrofitted.

Once the site, which was selected in late January, is cleared, a road fit for heavy machinery will be created, utilities to power the radar tower will be added, and support concrete will be poured.

A study released in May 2009 demonstrated the gap in Washington state’s weather radar coverage.

Cantwell, who has championed the coastal radar system for years, secured a $2 million down payment for the radar system in 2009.

An additional $7 million was included in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act.