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.
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).
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.
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.