Cantwell Statement on Coastal Doppler Radar Construction Progress

Cantwell: ‘Pacific NW will be safer because of this technology’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) released the following statement regarding the ongoing construction of Washington state’s first coastal Doppler radar system in Grays Harbor County. The state-of-the-art Doppler radar is scheduled to be operational by September 30, 2011. Today, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hosted a media availability at the Doppler radar site, Langley Hill, for press to tour the site and witness the progress of the radar construction.

“Over the last weeks, we’ve been reminded yet again of the importance of using forecasting technology to save lives during weather emergencies,” Cantwell said. “We know from big storms that have hit the Pacific Northwest that they can have a serious impact on our communities. I have fought long and hard to get our state fully covered by the best weather radar technology so Washingtonians can better prepare for storm impact on lives and property.

“I’m pleased that after several years of fighting for our state’s first coastal Doppler radar, we’re getting to the point where the foundation has been laid and the system is being implemented for an on-time opening this September,” Cantwell added. “The Pacific Northwest will be safer because of this technology which will help close the weather coverage gap.”

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 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 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. 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.