Today, Senator Maria Cantwell announced that the new coastal radar would be installed one year earlier than initially planned--thus, it should be in place by September 2011. (see her press release--http://cantwell.senate.gov/news/record.cfm?id=325432)
The National Weather Service has found an available WSR-88D radar unit (these are the radars that currently comprise the current national radar network) at Keesler Air Force Base and will update it with dual-polarization hardware. This unit will then be moved to Grays Harbor county and placed on one of the three potential sites identified in the recently released siting report. The top location is Langley Hill, located northwest of Hoquiam and about 3.5 miles east of Copalis Beach.
When I learned about this proposed plan a few months ago, I was a little nervous about accepting a used unit, when Senator Cantwell had secured enough funds for a new one, but I am now convinced that this is the best approach. First, the WSR-88Ds are proven units for which the NWS has deep experience. They know how to repair them and two local offices (Seattle and Portland) would have technicians that would be available. Second, the units have been updated over the years and the dual-polarization option (which allows identification of precipitation type and better estimation of rainfall intensity) would be installed from the beginning. Third, I talked to radar experts around the country (including at the National Center for Atmospheric Research), who all agreed that this approach would be best and that the unit would be state of the art.
Having the radar in a year early is a great benefit. Many are worried about flooding and the stress on the Howard Hanson Dam. Last year was an El Nino year--which typically doesn't bring major flooding. But next year will be different, since the El Nino is rapidly fading and heading towards a neutral or La Nina year. It would have been nice to have had the radar this coming winter, but certainly the followed year will be a non-El Nino year and thus threatening.
The National Weather Service has also compromised on an essential issue...they are now willing to run the radar with a zero degree elevation angle. Sounds complicated, but this means that the lowest radar scan will be horizontal, not at the NWS's typical .5 degree angle). This zero degree angle will allow MUCH better coverage offshore and at low levels.
This new radar will revolutionize weather prediction in our area and I would like to again acknowledge the major role played by Senator Cantwell. She not only appreciated the crucial need for this radar but secured the funding as well.
This is one piece of infrastructure that will pay for itself many times over and save lives. No longer will mariners venture offshore with a poor understanding of coastal conditions. No longer will coastal residents be denied what those of us in the Puget Sound area enjoy--detailed knowledge of where it is raining. No longer will forecasters be surprised when our computer models fail. And no longer will there be uncertainty regarding precipitation on the Olympics and the SW coastal mountains. This will be a major public benefit, and I suspect you will see it on your local weather broadcast nearly every night in the winter!