May 04, 2011

Progress on the New Coastal Radar

For those of us who worked on getting a coastal radar for over a decade, it is a great satisfaction to see work progressing rapidly now.

The Langley Hill site, 3 miles east of Copalis Beach on the WA coast, is now being prepared. The trees were cut down, the site was leveled, and the concrete pad with bolts for the tower have been installed (see images).

This project is moving quickly, as it must if the radar is going to be operational by the end of September. I am now building a web site, dedicated to the new radar, that will have constant updates. Not quite done, but a lot of content is already there:

One reason we need the radar is that the offshore buoys are rapidly destroyed by winter storms. Here is the latest buoy map, the red boxes represent buoys that are broken or lost.

Wintertime problems with the buoys was one reason that the crabbers and other fisherfolk were strong supporters of the radar.

At the UW we are now preparing a next generation data assimilation system that will be ready to take in the coastal and offshore radar data and use it to improve forecasts throughout the region. I am hopeful this system will greatly enhance 0-12 hr forecasts, including snow events like those of last winter where the position and intensity of coastal lows were important and often poorly forecast.

Finally, let me note the amazing amount of snowpack we have right now and I wanted to share a startling graphic. Here is the cumulative snowpack supplying Seattle's watershed (Cedar/Tolt combination) this season. The snowpack is JUST peaking now...and it is currently as high as it has been all winter. In a normal year it peaks April 1---we are peaking May 1-ONE MONTH LATE! And the snowpack is clearly well above normal now. Just as amazing is that we were well BELOW NORMAL on 1 March. The last two months we have seen a record-breaking accumulation.

No guilt in watering my lawn this year. But first it has to get warm enough for my grass seed to germinate.

Sustainable Seattle will be hosting a symposium about the effects of climate change on the Pacific Northwest's rivers, glaciers, snowpacks and shorelines, and the impact of all this on our infrastructure and communities. The event will be on May 12 in Magnuson Park, featuring a range of speakers from government, academia and the private sector. See for more details, including the full list of speakers and online registration.


  1. I looked @ your link to radar tonight and saw many echo "beams" coming left to right across WA, OR, and ID between 19:17 and 20:05 if you loop the radar. Can you explain what those are and if the new radar will help identify the source? Thanks!

    I used this link:

  2. Re: Snow pack & lawn watering - it has to warm up enough to melt before you can water the lawn - will spring/summer ever arrive?

  3. Just because there is sufficient water to water your lawn doesn't mean its free reign. All that potable water you use has to be treated with chemicals, filtered and pumped to your garden hose! Now if you were collecting rainwater from your roof, that's a different matter.

  4. Nice job on the coastal radar web site. Good info there.

  5. Associated Press/Seattle Times reports ending of La NiƱa in a month or so- what effects will that bring? I am very comfortable with the extra moisture (bigger fresh water supply) and reasonable temps compared with the rest of the world!

  6. So you are getting the Radar with
    the sea state and surface winds option? Day for Day the bouys are far more critical to forecasting and fishing than the radar.

  7. Mjgrota,
    Don't get me wrong, I like buoys. But they have their issues. First major storm..they are gone. They only represent single point values and don't give a comprehensive view. They don't help over land--particularly defining precipitation on the mountains that cause flooding. The best system has both.


  8. Cliff, I recognized a few of the images from the late 1990's. Glad to see that after all these years the radar is finally being put into place. As you know there are still a few holes in coverage south of Washington, especially on the Oregon coast that could be addressed by an additional coastal radar or a lower scan strategy at the Medford location (if I remember right from our paper). Maybe they've already done that, it's been a few years (12!) since I've looked at any of this. Hope things are well in Seattle. BTW, we could use a few radars here in Colombia to help with our precip, landslide, and flooding issues. My son's school was almost wiped out from a landslide here in Medellin last year. Take care, Ken

  9. Do you think the risk of flooding this spring will be higher due to the higher-than-average snowpack? I assume it'll warm up one of these days - will it all melt at once and flood the Snoqualmie and friends?


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