Cantwell Announces WA State’s First Coastal Doppler Radar is Operational at Opening Celebration

State-of-the-Art Doppler is the First in the Nation Using ‘Dual Polarization’ Technology to Improve Detection of Severe Storms in the Pacific Northwest Cantwell: ‘Starting today, Pacific Northwest communities will be safer because of this technology’

COPALIS BEACH, WA. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) declared that Washington state’s new coastal Doppler weather radar is operational at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Langley Hill in Grays Harbor. The new coastal Doppler radar is going online a year ahead of schedule and is positioned west of the Olympic Mountains to improve the detection of severe storms approaching Washington’s coast. The state-of-the-art Doppler radar is the first fully operational Doppler radar in the nation equipped with dual polarization, the latest enhancement in radar technology for civilian weather forecasting.  

Western Washington’s only other Doppler radar is located on Camano Island, but the radar’s reach is largely blocked by the Olympic Mountains, causing large gaps in weather data of storms approaching the Washington and Oregon coast. 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.

“We’ve finally crossed the finish line in making Washington state’s first coastal weather radar a reality,” Cantwell said. “For years we’ve worked tirelessly to strengthen our detection of coastal storms blocked from our view by the Olympic Mountains. Long before the December 2007 winter storm devastated Western Washington, we knew this gaping blind spot left our communities vulnerable. Too often in the past, our weather radar coverage gap left forecasters without the complete data set  necessary to prepare Pacific Northwest communities for big storms.

“But because of the strong support this effort has enjoyed, that all changes today,” Cantwell continued. “This new, state-of-the-art radar technology will enable Washingtonians to better prepare for the impact of big Pacific storms on businesses and homes, saving lives and property. The Pacific Northwest will be safer because of this technology.”

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 all of its weather radars to this capability. Washington state will be the first in the nation to have all of its Doppler radars equipped with this state-of-the-art technology. In addition to the coastal Doppler radar, Washington has two others – one on Camano Island and one near Spokane. The National Weather Service plans to have both those Doppler radars upgraded with dual polarization by the end of October.

“The Langley Hill Radar is the first addition to the nation's weather radar network since the 1990s and will enhance the National Weather Service's effort of building a weather-ready nation,” said Jack Hayes, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service. “The radar will be equipped with dual polarization technology, providing significantly more information and clearer pictures of precipitation and severe weather to help National Weather Service meteorologists provide more accurate and timely forecasts. I applaud Senator Cantwell's efforts in fighting to make this new radar a reality to help Washingtonians better prepare for severe storms.”

In June 2010, 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 needed for military training. By updating existing radar rather than purchasing a new system, Washington is getting radar coverage significantly faster and nearly $3 million under budget.

The National Weather Service (NWS) is using the $3 million that was saved to develop new scientific algorithms that will most efficiently interpret the unique, high quality weather forecasting data produced by the dual polarization technology. Once the dual polarization algorithms are developed, the NWS will implement them nationwide in all 160 Doppler radar systems that are scheduled to be upgraded with this state-of-the-art technology over the next three years.   

In August, Cantwell stated that the Doppler radar had been plugged in for the first time. It then began sending test weather data to the National Weather Service’s Weather Forecast Offices in Seattle and Portland. The radar was turned on specifically for testing and troubleshooting before it became fully operational today.  

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.