We want our Weather Radar! Update!

Doppler radar

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

Update from La Plata County regarding OUR Doppler Radar!

This week’s storm reminded us of how much we miss a radar in our area. We had moderate to heavy snow showers in the area for almost 24 hours. Yet, when we looked at the radar products, all we saw was a big empty void.

I sent this original article almost two years ago. Progress has been slow but things are progressing. See the final section of this article for the update.

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.

image001

UPDATE: January 9th, 2024 from La Plata County Public Affairs

Baron Weather was awarded the contract for construction of the radar pedestal and installation of the radar dome.

  • Baron Weather required a permit from the FAA for use of a crane used in construction of a steel tower on airport property.  There was a delay in that permit, but it has been secured.
  • In process of applying  for FCC license.  Once the FCC has processed the application, there will be a public notice in the Durango Herald. There will be 30 days allowed for public comment and an additional 15 days for the FCC to review comments.
  • Prep work has been completed to pull fiber to the pad area.
  • LPEA has installed a transformer.
  • Baron Weather’s electrical contractor is in the final stages of completing the electrical design drawing.
  • Materials, including the pre-fab shelter and computer components, the tower steel and the radome, have been ordered.
  • On schedule for the factory acceptance test (FAT) to be completed in February at Baron Weather’s testing site. When everything passes the FAT they will be shipped to La Plata County for construction.
  • Groundbreaking is anticipated to take place in January (if ground is still workable).
  • Site Acceptance Test (SAT) to be completed in April. When the SAT is passed, Baron will hand over the Radar to the County.

Pagosa Weather will keep you up to date on any changes with this project.

– Arleen

Pagosa Weather Blizzard Level Sponsor

Pagosa Weather Storm Sponsor

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Arleen Pro

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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