We want our Weather Radar!

Doppler radar

Grand Junction radar that sits up at 10,000 feet on Grand Mesa.

Some exciting news on the local weather radar!

Last night’s snow reminded us of how this area is lacking in one of the most fundamental weather forecasting tools: weather radar.  We had forecasted ½ – 2” of snow for the valley areas and 3-6” for the mountains.  This storm was an over producer!  Valley areas received 1-8” of light fluffy snow!  Winners were the Lower Blanco, Oak Hill Ranches, and Alpine Lakes (Todd would be proud).  Wolf Creek reported 6”.  This was an equal opportunity storm!

If we had radar, we would have been able to see areas upstream that were starting to intensify and possibly have updated the snowfall amounts.  At the very least we would have been able to look back and analyze what happened. 

History

Starting in 1988 conventional radars were replaced by Doppler radars (WSR-88D).  There were a limited number of radars and there have always been holes in coverage (see map below).

Map
Pagosa is the red star in the middle of no coverage in southwest Colorado.

In 2017, a study identified the 4 corners radar hole as a Tier 1 unmet need for emergency management.  Forecasters were forced to “nowcast”.  They had to call areas for ground truth reports which led to delayed warnings.

This came to a head with the 416 Fire in 2018.  Heavy rains after the fire resulted in flash floods across the burn scar areas.  There wasn’t a way for forecasters to “see” the intense showers and thunderstorms.    This was leverage LaPlata county needed to obtain a $1.7M grant for a weather radar. 

LaPlata County Board of County Commissioners Meeting, Feb 16, 2022

Pagosa Weather was invited to listen in on the meeting where the LaPlata County Emergency managers Chuck Stevens and Shawna Legarza presented a Regional Weather Radar Update.

Chuck briefed that they had assessed 14 different sites.  They have coordinated with NOAA and experts from Norman, Oklahoma in this effort.  A model of radar coverage was developed for each potential site.  Then each site was assessed for radar coverage, power, fiber, access, environmental issues, and property rights.

It is a very expensive project. Power costs to a favorable coverage area that didn’t have power were going to run $750K to $1.2M for power alone. That was before fiber and road access. OEM (operating equipment management) costs will run $40K a year after installation.

After a few years of research and deliberation, the decision was made to place the Four Corners Doppler radar at the LaPlata County Airport.  It has a good compromise of coverage for the area.  And power, fiber, and access are already in place.

Site 6 Coverage Map
Radar Coverage Map for LaPlata County airport site. Greens and blues ~ able to see less than 6K feet. Yellows & oranges ~ able to see 6-8K feet. Much, much better than we have now. With the Alamosa radar, we’ll clearly be able to see up Wolf Creek pass.

Timeline

We can look forward to the radar being operational on a limited basis next summer (2023).  As always, with projects such as this, delays can be expected but we were very happy to hear that decisions have been made and the project is going forward.  We’ll keep you updated as we receive updates.

-Arleen 

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I grew up in Montana where my love of the mountains is rooted. I was in the Air Force, forecasting aviation weather, for 24 years. I had eight assignments and my favorites were Colorado, Alaska, Korea, and Germany. I deployed a number of times including to Iraq and Afghanistan. After RV traveling for nine years, we found paradise in Pagosa. Here we enjoy playing outside in the spectacular San Juan mountains!
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4 Responses

  1. Hey, starlink has done that for me up in Idaho ( fast internet in rural area)

    And yes… always proud of ALR getting more snow than those up in closer to Pagosa!

    1. Todd, I was amazed that ALR ended up with 8″! Would have loved to see how that played out on radar. Oh, well, hopefully, I’ll get my wish in about 18 months.

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