Doppler Weather Radar Coming to Grays Harbor

 It would be just in time too, forcasters tell us a neutral El Nino Southern Oscillation is expected next winter, which historically provides the most powerful coastal storms. As Mcdonnal tells us, the term Neutral year is a bit misleading;

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Without influence from La Nina, or El Nino temperatures, Neutral years tend to be more active in terms of wind storms, flood events, and low elevation snow.


So by the start of the next storm season, we will finally be able to see the details of incoming storms and weather systems. This is fortunate–next year will probably be a neutral El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) year…neither El Nino nor La Nina. Such years are the ones when the most powerful storms hit our region (but no guarantees storm lovers!!)

Now the details.
Doppler Location
First, the location of the radar is now public knowledge: Langley Hill in Grays Harbor County (see map). A wonderful location, with clear views out to the Pacific Ocean (see coverage map below for .5 degree elevation angle). And the radar will able to see the heavy precipitation on the windward side of the Olympics and over the Willapa Hills. The National Weather Service is close to signing the final paperwork for leasing that site.

Doppler ViewSecond, the National Weather Service now has our radar in hand. This is not a new radar, but one used for training purposes by the military (and the only one available) and identical to the radars used by the NWS over the rest of the country (known as the NEXRAD or WSR-88D radars). I was told it was “lightly used” , sort of like buying a used car from an elderly grandmother. It will be completely refurbished and updated before installation. Using a preexisting radar not only saves money, but the NWS folks know how to maintain and service it. They were nervous about getting a new radar–one different than the current network.

Dual PolarizationThird, our radar will be one of the first in the nation to be updated with dual-polarization. All the current radars are single polarization, which means the electromagnetic radiation it emits has only one orientation–horizontal (see figure). In dual polarization, two orientations (horizontal and vertical) are emitted and received. Why is this good? Well, by getting the two orientations all kinds of magic is possible—determining the shape and type of precipitation, getting a much better handle on the intensity of precipitation (especially in terrain), and more. Eventually all the NWS radars will have it, but this will be one of the first.

HeightFourth, our radar will be the ONLY one in the nation using a zero degree scan angle. Weather radars scan in two ways. First, they constantly turn in azimuth (0 to 360 degrees). During the first scan the antenna is directly at an angle .5 degree above the horizon. Then it does a scan at 1.0 degrees, then 1.5 degrees, etc. Here is a figure that shows you the height of the radar beams for the various scan angles close to the radar (up to 120 nautical miles, 220 km).Now the lowest scan is near the surface close to the radar, but get 100 km out and the beam is 1000 meters up in the air! And at 200 km out the beam is 2000 meters (over 6000 ft) above the surface. So you are missing what is happening lower down. These radars can view 300-400 km out, so you can miss a lot at low levels, particularly at a distance. And WE want to see as much as possible at low levels over the Pacific!


Several of us have pushed the NWS to do something special with this radar, allowing a zero degree angle, and they have agreed. This will allow us to see much farther out at low levels than normal and will be a boon for viewing weather out over the Pacific. Again, no other NWS radar in the country has this capability–hopefully our radar will inspire the NWS to try this elsewhere.

During the next few months, a lot of action will begin at the site. Trenching for utilities, putting down a concrete pad, erecting a building for the generator, putting up the tower, and more. The radar should be installed midsummer. By late September a local meteorological revolution will occur and for the first time one of the stormiest areas in the country will be able to see incoming storms. And folks in the coastal communities and those in the marine industries of the Washington Pacific coast will have what the rest of us have enjoyed for years…decent weather radar coverage, with all the safety and economic benefits. Finally, I should note that Senator Maria Cantwell deserves credit for getting the resources to make this happen.


With good radar coverage, incidents like the New Carissa grounding (on the Oregon Coast), will hopefully be less frequent.

Son Assaults Father, Then Steals His Car

ABERDEEN, Wash. – An Aberdeen man is in custody for assaulting his father, and stealing his car Wednesday afternoon.

The Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Department tells us the sister of the 35 year old Aberdeen man contacted authorities when the father and son began fighting outside of a residence in the 3900 block of Aberdeen Lake Road. The son fled the scene in the father’s 1984 Cadillac El Dorado.

Aberdeen Police pulled over that stolen vehicle near Junction City Thursday afternoon and arrested the man for theft of the vehicle and Domestic Violence Assault.

Spring snow too little, too late to keep BPA prices down

“This is a bad situation that has just gotten worse,” said BPA Administrator Steve Wright. “We had hoped a wet spring would help snowpack across the Columbia River Basin, but that didn’t happen. We are now looking at the fifth lowest runoff since the hydro system has been in existence.”

BPA does not expect to make significant changes in the short term because the agency is dipping into its reserves to cover costs. This depletion of reserves, however, reduces BPA’s ability in the future to handle additional financial risks, such as another below-average water year.

BPA’s internal expenses are projected to be at or modestly below start-of-year estimates and hence are not contributing to the problem.

The Northwest is unique in its reliance on hydropower, which in good years provides ample clean, renewable and low-cost electricity. Snowpack, rather than rain, is most critical since the hydropower system has limited storage for water. In an ideal spring, the snow melts gradually so that water is available to power generators at federal dams throughout the summer. This surplus generation can provide upwards of a fifth of BPA’s total revenue in an average year. With reduced snowpack, the fuel to power the dams is running low. By April, snowpack building season is pretty much over.

The April forecast from the National Weather Service’s Northwest River Forecast Center called for 69 million acre-feet of runoff from January through July as traditionally measured at The Dalles, Ore. The reduced runoff results from a persistent El Niño weather pattern that brought unusually dry conditions to the Northwest this past winter.

BPA has been aware of the El Nino pattern and the likelihood of low runoff. Because of this, the agency has worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation to manage reservoir storage very conservatively.

BPA is a not-for-profit federal electric utility that operates a high-voltage transmission grid comprising more than 15,000 miles of lines and associated substations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. It also markets more than a third of the electricity consumed in the Pacific Northwest. The power is produced at 31 federal dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation and one nuclear plant in the Northwest and is sold to more than 140 Northwest utilities. BPA purchases power from seven wind projects and has more than 2,800 megawatts of wind interconnected to its transmission system.

Low runoff cuts hydropower, revenue forecasts

The reduced estimates result from a persistent El Niño weather pattern that has brought unusually dry conditions to the Northwest. The February forecast from the National Weather Service’s Northwest River Forecast Center called for 79.2 million acre-feet of runoff from January through July as traditionally measured at The Dalles, Ore. That represents 74 percent of the 30-year average of 107.3 MAF and would be the lowest runoff since 2001. 

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