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Joe’s Wx Blog: A New Radar For KC?

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With our weather staying quiet, with the exception of the summer heat that will endure for another 5-7 days or so with minimal chances for rain, let’s talk about something else and that is a weather radar system that is being proposed for this area.

As you know this area as well as most of the country with the exception of some areas out west are covered by the NEXRAD weather radar system. Hard to imagine that this technology dates back to the 1970s was then researched in the 80s and implemented in 1990. The last radar to be installed was 1997. NEXRAD is a wonderful tool and the recent upgrade to dual-pol radar has been a boon for tornadic debris detection as well as precipitation type analysis. Interestingly the rainfall accumulations have actually done worse with this recent upgrade. The folks @ the NWS are trying to figure out why and redo some algorithms.

So on Wednesday folks from the University Of Massachusetts proposed adding to our current radar system with a network of radars that, unlike NEXRAD whose beam goes for a couple of hundred plus miles, only go for about 30 miles or so. With a network like this you would need multiple radars to cover the KC metro area. This proposed network would potentially include upwards of 6 radar installations around the KC metro area, covering most of the metro counties. The system is called CASA and it’s actually in place now in the Dallas-Ft Worth metroplex area.

So how would this system help the cause. Well while the radars potentially could help in flash flood forecasting, the “eye candy” is the tornadic detection. Take a look at this comparison between NEXRAD radar of a tornadic signature and a CASA radar network image. The CASA images are on top.

Here is another example of the images available should a tornado go into the highly data dense area of the CASA network…

I think it’s rather obvious where the tornadic circulation is located.

The data certainly would be valuable during severe weather outbreaks…so how much would all this cost? Not as much as you think…

According to a presentation to the folks at MARC, the initial investment would be close to $8 million dollars. That sounds like a lot I realize, but odds are the costs would be spread out to various municipalities who want to participate in the data collection process to help get information to their citizens. There is a feeling within the weather community that this initial cost is doable.

The problem is that these systems while automated, do have various parts that break and require maintenance. This may end up being a stumbling block. While the cost of the maintenance isn’t what I consider extreme, it would still be in the $300,000-500,000/YR range. This creates a problem because I think a lot of us could envision cities with the best intentions initially funding the maintenance situation but should there be another hiccup in the economy, I could easily see how a city would say let’s NOT contribute our share this year. That would not be a workable situation for the network overall, because then radars would fall into disrepair and the data would become compromised. So it’s either a do it or don’t situation/commitment for a 10 yr period or so in my opinion.

Then there is the question about just how much severe weather we get in the KC area. Imagine spending all that money initially with the yearly coast as well and then a season like 2012 comes along with little to no severe weather in the KC metro. A lot of folks would say to themselves and maybe out loud as well…”ummm why did we spend all that money again”. This year hasn’t been exactly that prolific as well. So now you have two years back to back with a dearth of severe storms, and now let’s say some cities start to question their previous maintenance agreements figuring that money could be used to safe some jobs or to funnel somewhere else that is just as if not more critical. Tough to argue with that thinking.

There is no doubt the data is needed during those critical times. We all can agree that while severe weather has been absent the likelihood of something like what happened in 2003 happening again in the future whether near or distant is certainly on the increase. The odds dictate such a statement and that is not hype in any which way. There is also something to be said about having a backup system serving a metropolitan area of close to 2 million people.

My feeling is that this won’t happen. Unless there is some sort of grant given by the government or it’s placed inside some sort of major piece of legislation that is specific for the KC area, I just don’t know if there is political will to do something this advanced. Add in the recurring $3-500,000 maintenance fees per year and that to me spells trouble in paradise. What do you think and do you think this would be a good expenditure of tax dollars?

Have a great weekend. Might take a blog day off tomorrow with the weather being quiet and hot!


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