New radar will help with coastal weather 'blind spot'

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by GLENN FARLEY / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @GlennFarley

KING5.com

Posted on May 3, 2011 at 7:08 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 3 at 7:23 PM

COPALIS BEACH, Wash. -- It's a sunny day on the the Washington coast, but when storms head in, especially during the winter, people who live in towns like Ocean City can't see what's coming on weather radar.

"We're in a no man's land," said Carol Davis, owner of the Sunrise Market for 34 years. "We get to experience the weather, but we don't know what it's going to be."

You can see it on TV weather forecasts, online, or even on your smart phone. It looks like a big, widening wedge running to the southwest over many coastal counties and out to sea. The reason, is that the Olympic Mountains blocks the signal from the radar located on Camano Island. 

Sometimes people think it's sunny in Grays Harbor County, or at least nor raining.  The reality, is that it's a blind spot. It's usually just as rainy or windy as it is everyplace else around it you can see. 

"There's a giant gap over there," said University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass on the subject of Grays Harbor County. He's been a major proponent of putting a second radar near the beach that will fill in that gap. 

Meteorologists say it's important because the blind spot is in a bad space, because a lot of our worst storms come out of the southwest. 

Grays Harbor County's Deputy Emergency Management Director Charles Wallace doesn't want to see a repeat. 

"It just kind of sat here for a while, so they did know it was here but they didn't' know how bad it was until they started getting other reports from people saying, wait a minute, they are getting hammered over there."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's  National Weather Service are putting up the radar, which is under construction now. The actual radar machinery is currently at a NOAA facility in Norman, Oklahoma where the lightly used training radar is being upgraded with the latest dual-polarization technology, which will convert it into one of the most advanced weather radar's in the country. 

The dual-polarization will help forecasters better distinguish between what is rain, and what is snow, which could have a major impact on flood forecasting in the Olympic Mountains, says Brad Colman, the meteorologist in charge for the Seattle forecast office.

But it won't just benefit Seattle, said William Schneider, the Science and Operations Officer for the National Weather Service in Portland, Oregon. He points out that the radar near Portland has some blockage issues as well, but both Portland and Camano are well inland. The new coastal radar will extend meteorologists ability to see 100 miles or more out to sea.

The radar is expected to be on line by late September, plenty of time to warn us of impending Pacific storms.

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