January 27, 2009

Coastal Weather Radar

It is time for all those interested to push for a coastal weather radar in our region.

As I have discussed in this blog and in a web page on the topic, http://www.atmos.washington.edu/~cliff/coastalradar.html , the Pacific Northwest has the worst radar coverage of any coastal location in the continental U.S. (see graphic, red indicates no coverage). The only weather radar in western Washington is on Camano Island and its beam is blocked by the Olympics, so there is virtually no coverage over the coast and nearshore waters. We have some of the most active weather in the U.S., but we can't see the details of the storms coming in. Here in Seattle we can plan our days and understand the weather using the weather radar...in Gray's Harbor county you can't. We can't get see heavy precipitation on the SW and W windward slopes of the Olympics, or the coastal mountains of SW Washington. There have been a number of short-term forecast failures that could have been prevented if we had such a radar.

Strong support for the radar exists in the coastal communities, from environment groups, to the forestry industry, to the fishery community, and local municipalities.

The radar would cost around 4.5 million, plus installation costs and land--no more than 6-8 million in total. The region could save that in a single major storm, if the forecast could be improved (e.g., the major flooding in December 07 on the Chehalis). A location somewhere between Westport and Pacific Beach would work. Several of our senatorial and congressional delegation have been supportive, with Senator Cantwell taking a lead (see the web page for more info on this).

There will be hundreds of billions spent on infrastructure improvements for our nation. Wouldn't improving the weather prediction and warning infrastructure for our region be an exceptionally wise use of such funds? And the project is "shovel ready." Radar hardware vendors could deliver and install the unit within a year.

I would be happy to answer questions about this in this blog. But I am suggesting that you contact our U.S. Senators (Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray)...asking for their help (contact info is at http://www.atmos.washington.edu/~cliff/contact.html). Also contact your local congressperson...with those in Norm Dicks district (who have the most to gain) taking a lead.

After so many years of inferior weather radar coverage along the coast and offshore, it is time to fix this serious problem. Perhaps the growing community of those interested in NW weather can finally make this happen. Thanks, cliff


  1. Cliff,

    I am ready to write my representatives.

    Where would the ideal location or locations be, in your opinion to locate such a facility, for both the best coverage and the easiest land acquisition?

    Alan Negrin

  2. Alan,
    Westport would be excellent...but it could be as far north as Pacific Beach. ...cliff

  3. Done. I hope they listen.

  4. Cliff,

    Let's not shoot low. Aim High.

    Tampa just received a new radar called "Klystron 9"

    Why can't we get this? It would be a great test of this radar in a non tropical location.

    See the link below for more info on this radar.


    "This is the most powerful radar that we've ever produced," said Robert Baron Sr., the president and CEO of Baron Services, which developed and built Klystron 9. "It's 1.25 million watts of power and it is the cleanest signal that we've ever produced."

    Klystron 9 combines, for the first time in history, a dual Polarimetric radar, Klystron tube, Pulse Compression technology, and a 1.25 million watt transmitter.

  5. Hi Cliff,
    What happened to the Q13 Neah Bay Doppler?
    Did that fill the bill or is it gone for good reason?

  6. Thanks Cliff for the continual interesting subject matter, Question, I thought that one of the radio/tv stations[KOMO} had a radar on the coast? Why not share. I know that might sound naive, but was a thought.I live very near to Possession Pt. on Whidbey, and look out southwest over Cultus Bay towards Kingston. So always have a clear shot of what is coming, unless it is one of them dang Canadians coming from the north!

  7. KCPQ has a radar at Neah Bay. Unfortunately, this is not the answer:
    1. It is low powered, low resolution.
    2. Too far north...you will notice you only see from central WA coast north on it.
    3. It breaks down frequently and they can't send out digital output.
    4. I have tried for years to get the data from the radar from them and they said it couldn't be done.
    Anyway, that radar just can't do the job..cliff

  8. anonymous: if it's sneaking up behind the Olympics you don't see it either.

  9. Cliff -- This is the first time I've seen a post of yours defending a costal weather station based on economic stimulus needs, and, to my suprise, you make a good case.

    I'll consider this.

    I remain adamant that the city of Seattle should NOT invest more money in snow removal equipment, given how infrequently we get snow storms that require extensive removal. This depression we're entering is going to be long and deep, and there are absolutely no signs whatsoever that "we'll someday recover." Therefore, no money for snow removal, but instead for human priorities -- food, water, shelter.

    But thanks again for presenting a thoughtful case for the coast weather station.

  10. $150 million for a football stadium? How about a 5% for radar fund?

  11. Where does Norm Dicks stand on this? Its his district.

  12. My e-mail:


    It is beyond silly, and dangerous, that there is no weather radar on the Washington coast -- a region frequented by rapidly changing and often powerful weather patterns. A coastal radar is a $6-$8 million dollar infrastructure improvement that would VASTLY increase our weather forecasters' ability to predict incoming storms, and to potentially prevent--through early warnings--some of the massive and obviously frequent weather-related damage that affects our region. Surely, between the stimulus package currently being debated, and President Obama's stated intention to use public works and other infrastructure projects to increase our odds of coming out of this recession quickly and in one piece, money can be found for this project. If this cannot be done, I don't know what can be.

    I look forward to your response, or even better, to prompt action.

  13. Ok, i buy a weather radar....cuz if they can justify bailout for Ethanol (on top of current subsidy) or bailout for contraception, what the heck...

  14. I agree that a coastal radar would be a good idea to see rain coming, but not knowing specifically what's coming makes life fun and interesting here on the coast!

  15. Before I write, can you explain exactly how a radar that shows current echoes will help give a better forecast into the future??? I'm missing the connection.

  16. Norm Dicks is supportive...and he is certainly in a powerful position that could help make this happen. I spent an hour with him two years ago and he understood why it was necessary. As noted earlier, his constituency would have the most to gain by this acquisition.

    I believe the economic case is overwhelming for the radar..cliff

  17. Anon:

    I am an amateur weather foamer (meaning I am rabid, and foaming at the mouth) but I think I can help. First, a weather radar sees what is happening some distance off-shore (75-100 miles; perhaps others can help refine this guess). They can use the radar to not only predict what is going hit nearby, but get an indication of the structure of the approaching storm, and wind-speeds within the approaching storm.
    From Westport to Chehalis to Seattle what can really impact wind forecasts in the strongest storm is the "bent-back occlusion" or "scorpion's tail" located generally south-southwest to west of the main low pressure center. Any radar information on this part of the storm is obscured by the Olys--sure it is coming, but where is it, and how fast are the winds? This will also help predict rainfall and help folks anticipate flooding--even an hour or two of forewarning may allow folks to prepare. Right now we are limited by existing radar coverage.
    More information can improve the accuracy of the current forecast, and more importantly, provide data for the future forecasts since a new radar station provides new input to improve the models. We all benefit from advance warning, from utilities preparing for damage, to flood warnings from heavy rains coming our way.
    My two cents.

  18. Cliff, the most compelling reasons that have made me realize that we need better coastal radar have come from you when you cite specific past storms that were surprises. Would you mind sharing once again several examples of past weather events that would have been predicted with coastal radar, and which caused damage, injury and death that would have been avoided had those events been predicted with coastal radar? Thanks again.

  19. A radar is best employed to track severe convective activity (tornadoes, hurricanes etc) to support immediate evacuation/take shelter warnings. This is a time where minutes of warning will save lives. Along our coast's we very rarely are faced with these features of weather. I am not at all convinced that this is the smartest investment of monies to improve weather warning support for our coastal communities and western Washington population centers. Protecting our coastal fleets both commercial and recreational is a top priority. The best service we can provide them is very accurate winds and seas predictions 18-24 hours in advance of severe conditions. Radar will not support that need. Improving advance forecast(24-48 hours) will permit better defensive emergency planning (prepositioning of power crews, start up of sanding operations,etc. School closures, etc.) Radar won't accomplish that objective.

    The smarter investment may be to enhance the offshore bouy network, invest in research to improve model skill or install a year round automated upper air measurement system with year round applicability.
    So my overarching comment is to invest $$$ that will directly improve forecasts 24-48 hours in advance of severe storms.

    Sorry to be the wet blanket but sometimes we just can't get he return we need from tools like radars.

    I know that the University would love to have these systems to support their own research. I hope they are finding ways to use the existing radars but to my knowledge they are not using radars to stimulate operational corrections to forecast models. When that is accomplished, a radar make some sense.

    I hope these comments will also make to the congressional offices.

  20. Let me address the comments of WXFXSTR. First, he/she is not correct about the use of radar for assimilation into models...RUC is now doing that and the UW is testing this at this point. The beauty of the radar is that all the detail and information secured offshore would then move on to land..improving forecasts downwind. Over the western side of the mts..the radar would improve predictability for the first 6-12 hr...but that is critical. There are many examples of failed major forecasts that could have been changed radically if such a radar existed. Feb 7, 2002 is an example and documented in the book.
    A group of NWS types opposed to the radar often bring up the issue of more buoys. I am not opposed to more buoys..but they have major problems. First, they can't provide detailed 3D structure of incoming systems...only radar can. They fail during major storms. The December 2007 storm tooks out half of the coastal buoys for the whole season! They are only at a single level (the surface) and thus don't give us structures aloft..which are critical for getting the forecasts right. They are extraordinarily expensive..much more so than a radar. And it is VERY expensive to maintain them and their initial costs are high. Finally, satellites give us other ways of getting surface winds (scatterometers)...and thus we already have a handle on the surface conditions offshore. A coastal radar offers a last line of protection for our communities to insure no major storm or weather feature can make landfall without us knowing what is occurring. The occasional major forecast failures of the NWS are a strong indications of the need for such radars. And finally I ask: why is the NOrthwest the only coastal region of the continental U.S. without radar coverage. Why isn't the SE or NE happy to have some buoys instead of coastal radar? And why should we be blind to the heavy precipitation on the coastal mountains of our region...when resulting floods has done hundreds of millions of damage during the past few years? Anyway you cut it, the need for the coastal radar is compelling. Finally, I have talked with upper management of the NWS, which now agree that the radar is needed.

  21. Cliff -
    Could you respond to the question of Anon at 0726-
    Would you mind sharing once again several examples of past weather events that would have been predicted with coastal radar, and which caused damage, injury and death that would have been avoided had those events been predicted with coastal radar?

    Also you weaken your case when you state the Norm Dicks is supportive. His ability to freely spend taxpayer money on earmarks is something that certainly won't be tolerated in these economic times.

  22. Anon...I gave an example in the previous post...Feb 7, 2002...a major storm with hurricane-force winds that hit the coast with no warming. The Thanksgiving Storm of 2001 is another. A weaker, but important event was the snowstorm bust of last month. So there are dozens and dozens of examples.
    I have no idea what you are getting at regarding Congressman Dirks. That fact that after he was presented the information he seemed supported is certainly a positive. We are not talking about an earmark here, but rather inclusion in the omnibus economic package now being shaped in congress. Anyway, I don't share you feelings about earmarks...they are not all bad.

  23. OK; a weather-related question. I was out in North Bend yesterday at 11:50 a.m (heading to a noon meeting, hence the time specificity). Got out of my car and a micro-burst of wind came through so strong that it whipped my car door out of my hand and slammed it so that the car rocked. A colleague was not as fortunate, he parked 'facing the wrong way' and the wind slammed his door OPEN, springing the door out of plumb. It appeared to be blasting down the Pass out of the east. Was this a case of a high pressure system on the east side blowing in beneath the low over the PS lowlands?

  24. Cliff. I am for the coastal radar. Like so many of us here. I was wondering what the CASA team came up with though. What recommendations they wrote up. As far as the event of December 1-3, 2007 “beam blockage” was one factor along with data buoy malfunction that generated the short term forecast deviations especially the problems it gave the EMS in Grays County. As for the event as a whole it sounds like the NWS gave a good lead time with accurate 3-5 day down stream forecasting. So yes, any resolution increase would be great. Like going from digital video to High Definition Video. There is no argument in that. But the public should also not wait till the last minute for the worst. The weather is getting angry. Best to prepare for he worst when someone tells you a beast is coming to town to play. But put er up…

  25. I would think increased radar coverage on the coast would also provide a year-round benefit to the fishing industry and people involved in water sports (i.e. surfing).

  26. Plus the NWS will be on the hot seat even more. "How could you get that one wrong with that new nifty radar" I can hear it now....

  27. Okay, I'm fiscally conservative and I'm converted - anybody who doesn't think coastal radar would be an investment bringing huge returns should check out this site:

  28. When we know what's going to happen weather-wise, that will be one sad day. We enjoy weather because the surprise of it is wonderful.

  29. Just to wax philosophical...perhaps some of the mystery is lost when we are not longer surprised by the evolving weather. On the other hand, understanding what is happening as one looks at the clouds or views a satellite picture is deeply satisfying...and the protection of life and property is of course invaluable. Just shut off your computer and TV if you don't want to know I guess...cliff

  30. off topic...does anyone have good info on Jim Foreman (the person, not the phenomena known as yellow parka shouting snow when its 35 and maybe going to snow)?

  31. (for Josh-B who said "Plus the NWS will be on the hot seat even more")

    That doesn't change, whether there is data or a data void--in the end somebody has to be the authority. There are times I am on the fence as to whether to keep up a small craft advisory or go to a gale warning. Sometimes the Camano Island 88D will give velocity data that you can compare with model winds aloft. If the actual winds are already stronger than forecast by the models, sometimes you can expect stronger winds at the surface too. Westerly surges down the Strait and the strength of the mesolow in the lee of the Olympics change with the winds aloft. And the radar certainly shows the PSCZ nicely, especially in the wind data. I can imagine times when coastal data could be especially useful--for instance when you get those slow moving baroclinic zones and you haven't a clue whether it is drifting south or north. And triple points, I'd like to see those in the velocity data. Just two off the top of my head, there are probably a dozen more.

    I understand what fcstr438yrs is saying--I've been a forecaster for about twenty years and on the surface I might agree, However, whether the tool is put to use and improves skill might not be known until the $8M or whatever it is is spent. Again, speaking only for myself, that does not seem like a lot of money. The cost of Iraq to Washington state so far is $13 billion with a B--so what is that, something like 2000 times the cost of a radar.

    Now, a forecaster can certainly get by with a few buoys and Satellite imagery, plus the models. But I think if that is all you ever had--for the next 50 years, you might not ever see much improvement in the forecast. Radar data over the coastal waters surely will add to our understanding. At first, maybe you will not see much of a change--but it is possible that a few small crafts will become gale warnings (or not) based on what the radar sees. Even a small increase in skill could pay dividends.

  32. I think it is very evident why the SE and NE have different radar networks than we have in the NW. Hurricanes and an order of magnitude higher occurrence of Thunderstorms. Buoys are not cheap. But maintaining a radar is not free or cheap either.
    I will submit that our emergency preparedness needs are best served with better 24-48 hour forecasts. Invest 5 million in the work that has the best chance of improving that suite of public products and increasing the publics response to forecasts because they trust them to be measured and correct.

    It would be great to see the University's report on RUC model skill that is nudged with radar. When will that report be available?

    So If NWS agrees when can we expect to see them include this in their capital budget request?

    24-48 hour predictions must be improved to meet our regions ability to defend against our typical severe weather.

  33. I agree with you MLT. All that I am saying is give peace a chance...Just kidding. AIl that I’m saying is you better be careful what you wish for. Cliff and many others are saying the huge information we can gain from extra coverage, and I am sure they are right. But you don’t want to create a perception that this will be so great that it will be the magic solution for future disasters. You can set your self up for public disappointment. Again I think we put to much emphases on tech. I love it myself, but we shouldn’t give it all the power. It would just be another tool in the basket. I’ll be-it an important one. There is no doubt that radar has saved lives. Maybe I should just quit talking about it...

  34. wxfcstr438yrs' comment about hurricanes being the reason why the East Coast has such thorough radar coverage was right on. However, I've been through hurricanes, thunderstorms, blizzards, nor'easters, and even "cyclonic storms" (tornados that aren't actually clocked at a high-enough windspeed to qualify as "real tornados" but still take lives) on the East Coast, and then the last few WA windstorms. After all that, I'm not sure that there's very much practical difference between the damage done by the East Coast and West Coast storms. In all of the storm types I've cited, Western or Eastern, advance warning has (or would have) saved lives.

    My parents both lived through the 1938 hurricane http://www.southstation.org/hurr1.htm , and I grew up on their stories. The inland flooding was a problem, but the largest loss of life, at least in RI, was on the beaches of the southern coast (where the storm made landfall.) If the people on the beaches had had even an hour's warning that the hurricane had turned unexpectedly, they might have had a chance to survive.

    I'll always be in favor of all the high-quality prediction tools we can have. Go Cliff!
    Lyn in Lynnwood

  35. Just one more question. Are we going for dual polarization or phased array on the new system?

  36. One of the benefits of Coastal Radar prediction improvements will be to the farmers in the path of approaching storms. With a 2-6 hour warning of impending impacts they can have time to move livestock and in some cases protect crops from severe damage. Path and intensity of rainfall in real time is a HUGE benefit.

  37. I'm wondering what value a CASA like solution would have brought or could still bring? How much value is there is lower altitude data and the faster update rates? Any other value?


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