Cantwell Announces Major Step Forward in Doppler Radar Construction

With lease final, WA’s first coastal Doppler radar is on track for September to provide better storm warnings

SEATTLE, WA – Today, Senator Maria Cantwell announced a significant step forward in the construction of the state’s first coastal weather monitoring tower that will allow Washingtonians to better prepare for impending storms that gather off the North Pacific Ocean.

Cantwell announced Friday that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has signed the leasing paperwork with the coastal Doppler radar site’s land owner and can now begin construction for an on-time opening this September.

“That Washington’s first coastal Doppler radar is on track for an opening this September is very positive news for the Pacific Northwest. Washingtonians bear the brunt of storms that gather off our coast, so it’s vital that we have the best technology available making the best weather predictions possible,” said Senator Cantwell.  “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.”

Washington is among the first in the nation to receive state-of-the-art Doppler technology for more accurate storm warnings. The roughly two-acre site, named Langley Hill, is located approximately three miles east of Copalis Beach in Grays Harbor County. As soon as Wednesday, workers will begin clearing the forested site and construction will commence.

Western Washington’s only other Doppler radar is located on Camano Island, but 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 this data gap, enabling forecasters to better determine wind speed and rainfall of incoming storms to give more accurate and timely warnings to residents in harm’s way and help prevent loss of life and billions of dollars in property damage.

Senator Cantwell, former chair of the Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee, has led the effort to improve weather forecasting in the Pacific Northwest. In 2007, she obtained funds to complete a study, released in May 2009, which demonstrated the gap in Washington state’s weather radar coverage. She secured full funding for this radar system through a $2 million down payment in the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill, and $7 million included in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

Last June, Cantwell announced that Washington state would be receiving its first coastal Doppler radar a year earlier than scheduled thanks to NOAA obtaining an existing radar from the Air Force that could be modified to operate with the most sophisticated technology available. NOAA identified an Air Force NEXRAD radar at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi that is no longer be needed for military training. By updating an existing radar rather than purchasing a new system, Washington is getting radar coverage significantly faster and within budget. 

This radar 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, enabling the National Weather Service 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. The National Weather Service plans to eventually upgrade most of its weather radars to this capability.