Weather Service Doppler Radar Gets Innovative Upgrade
by Gus Jarvis
Aug 23, 2012 | 1276 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Grand Junction Forecasters Expect to Better Identify and Understand Rainfall Types and Amounts

WESTERN SLOPE – Thanks to new radar technology being installed next month, forecasters at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office will soon able to better identify and understand the type of precipitation falling in the region, and improve rainfall estimates.

The technology upgrade at the Doppler Radar station, situated at an elevation of 10,000 feet on the Grand Mesa, is part of the National Weather Service’s vision to build a “Weather-Ready Nation” to better protect lives in the event of severe weather.

Current radar technology measures only the horizontal dimensions of clouds and precipitation droplets.

The radar upgrade will incorporate a technology called dual-polarization, or dual-pol, that transmits and receives pulses in horizontal and vertical orientation. By receiving energy from horizontal and vertical pulses, forecasters will be able to obtain more detailed information, including better estimates of size, shape and the variety of targets.

“The forecasters at our office are pretty excited about the prospects of the dual radar,” says Warning Coordination Meteorologist Jim Pringle. “We haven’t had an upgrade of this magnitude for a long time. The original Doppler Radar that exists on Grand Mesa was the first radar in Western Colorado, and it was built in 1995. Now, 17 years later, we are getting this new upgrade, and we are pretty excited about it.”

The new dual-pol radar technology is expected to result in improvements in the estimation of precipitation rates, the ability to discriminate between precipitation types such as rain vs hail, and the identification of non-meteoroidal returns like chaff, ground clutter and smoke plumes from wildfires.

While multiple forecasting improvements are expected from the new and improved technology, Pringle says the full benefit of the dual-pol radar will not fully be realized until forecasters and research meteorologists develop real-time expertise.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” he says, “because this technology is not new for the forecast office. Once we start using it, we will learn a lot and we will be able to see how much better it does, for our purposes, here, in the summer and winter. The biggest unknown is that most of the research on this technology was done out in the plains.”

Pringle says the ability to provide better forecasts and information, especially during the summer monsoons when flash-flooding is a regular occurrence, is part of the National Service’s “Weather-Ready Nation” vision.

“This is the National Weather Service’s effort to make the people of the United States better prepared to deal with hazardous weather,” he says. “Part of that is having better capabilities to monitor how much rain is falling in certain areas. This new technology will give better precipitation and rainfall estimates.”

The dual-pol technology will be installed, over a two-week period, beginning Sept. 17. During the installation period, radar data from the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office will be unavailable. Surrounding radar will still be in operation at locations in Salt Lake City, Utah; Riverton, Wyo.; Cheyenne, Wyo; Denver, and Albuquerque, N.M.

The Doppler Radar on the Grand Mesa has a reach of nearly 120 nautical miles. or @gusgusj

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