August 08, 2011

A New Chapter In Pacific Northwest Weather Forecasting

With all the depressing news these days, some good news is more than welcome.  And I have very good news:  some important Northwest weather history was made last week: the new coastal radar was turned on and we have received some of the first images.  After nearly twenty years of local lobbying for this device, it is now a reality. 

Lets not beat around the bush.  Here is one of the first images from the new Langley Hill radar, showing  conditions around 7:38 AM on Wednesday August 4.  This is from the lowest scan (.5 degree above the horizontal).  The clutter suppression capabilities are not fully operational right now, so you are seeing some returns from the Olympics and the mountains of SW Washington.   But look offshore--the greens and darker blues are from some very light rain over the Pacific.  Can't wait for the first real weather system!   There are some weak returns over the ocean near the coast, that might be reflections off the Pacific, but can't be sure from one image.

Just for comparison, here is what we have now--an image at the same time from the Camano Island radar.  See a difference over the ocean?

The radar will be tested and calibrated over the next month and then will be taken down for two weeks in September to add an important new capability:  dual-polarization.  This will allow the radar to differentiate precipitation types far better and will provide superior precipitation estimates over the mountains.    By the end of the September the radar should be back online and the output available through the web and on the media.

But there is one more upgrade.  This radar will be the first and ONLY National Weather Service radar in the U.S. to scan horizontally---called zero degree elevation angle.  This will allow the radar to see much farther over the ocean and to see better at low levels.  The NWS folks have decided to delay adding this capability until early November to insure it works properly.  At that point, the radar will be complete and ready for the storm season, which hits hard after the first week in November.

As I have mentioned on a number of occasions, Senator Maria Cantwell played a major role (in fact THE major role) in getting the resources for the radar.  Her office has put out a press release with more information today and it can be found here.

And don't forget the web site dedicated to the new radar (found here).  This site is updated regularly.

Weather this week---no major systems.   No major offshore flow/warm-up situations, so don't expect 80s and 90s west of the Cascade crest!  Lots of morning clouds with afternoon burn off.

Yesterday, with cool air over the Sound and warm air above, there were some really good superior mirages, with surface objects looming vertically.  I saw it clearly at Richmond Beach park, north of Seattle.  Greg Johnson of Skunk Bay Weather sent a nice video of it from his location in Hansville:


  1. Sorry, Cliff, but given the weather we've had for most of the spring and summer - I can wait for the first real weather system, thank you very much!

  2. Yea! Our Cyclone rich weather may actually get national recognition and being able to get a good picture of the weather along our coastline will be a huge boon for the beach front economy. Having an edge on predicting the November wind storms is a huge bonus too.

  3. FINALLY! Congrats to everyone who made this moment possible.

  4. Cliff,
    do you have a matching image from the Oregon radar? this should also help them with visibility at the mouth of the Columbia, correct?
    Also, will the standard radar imaging made available by the NWS combine the Camano island and Langley Hill radars into one image?

  5. Will the outage in the radar for testing result in much forecast error from the time the radar is operational until it being taken (approximately two weeks) off line for improvements/testing in late October?

  6. I, too, am excited for the first real wet storm of the season to see what this radar can do! How exciting!

  7. just got back to seattle and all i heard was how wet it has been. why all this talk about how wet its been, when both june and july were below average rainfall in seattle? with the coast being well below average rainfall for the past 3 months. overanalyzing and complaining about our nearly perfect weather, but maybe itll stop the flow of people from all the places with truly horrible and very abnormal weather(sorry texas)

  8. Cliff
    In the winter I live at Mt Baldy BC, just over the border from Oroville wa.We get amazing superior mirages in the winter that look like the southwestern landscape on steroids. Thanks for telling and showing me what they are!
    Mt Baldy Weather Guru

  9. I wrote Senator Cantwell a thank you email for this. :)

  10. When can we expect the data from this new radar station to be incorporated into the NWS Marine Forecast?

  11. ...I wonder if the SR 520 Pontoon Construction Project in Aberdeen had anything to do with getting the station going. Floating Bridge Pontoons will depart Grays Harbor and will be towed into Lake Washington. An accurate forecast will be essential when it comes time to make the go/no-go call to leave Grays Harbor and cross the bar into open ocean.

  12. "why all this talk about how wet its been, when both june and july were below average rainfall in seattle?"

    People I've heard have been complaining more about the clouds and the cold - even when it hasn't been raining, it hasn't been our typical summer weather. Cliff's written about this pretty recently as well...

    July 30: Dry Time and Low Clouds

    July 28: The Cold Truth

    July 25: Heavy Showers and Thunderstorms

  13. Why in the world do we need that Radar? We have the Weather Channel! ;^)


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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