April 21, 2024

Groundbreaking radar technology aims to close weather data gap 

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Jake Sias
Grant County Herald

Wendell has welcomed the installation of a new weather radar array, setting a precedent for advancements in meteorological data collection in the region. Located on the town’s water tower, the radar system comes courtesy of Climavision, a Kentucky-based company specializing in weather technology. This radar array is unique for the area as it operates on X band frequencies, making it the first of its kind in Minnesota. 

An agreement between Wendell, Grant County, and Climavision stipulates that data collected by the radar will be freely accessible to the county. The radar fills a crucial gap in coverage, providing data for lower altitudes that were previously not monitored effectively. Existing radars cover only high-altitude weather systems, between 6,000-10,000 feet, within our general area. This new installation promises to enhance local weather monitoring capabilities by focusing on lower-level atmospheric conditions.

As part of a pilot program, Climavision has extended an invitation to neighboring counties to utilize this new source of weather data for one year. If the participating counties find value in the collected data, they have the option to either subscribe for continued access or install similar radar systems in their localities. Importantly, this partnership will not result in any costs for Grant County; maintenance and service are the responsibility of Climavision.

While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Climavision are still in discussions about how to best incorporate the data into local forecasts, the immediate use-case will be in emergency services. Particularly as winter approaches, the radar could play a vital role in ensuring road safety by providing timely and accurate weather updates.

X band radars have unique characteristics that set them apart from the other commonly used S band and C band radars. Despite having two to three times less peak power compared to S band radars, X band radars are the least expensive among the three types. They also offer the highest sensitivity for a given peak power and antenna size, a feature that enhances their data-gathering capability. Additionally, they have the lowest susceptibility to ground clutter contamination, although they face the challenge of higher attenuation by rain.

X band radars have specific nuances when it comes to data interpretation. For instance, polarimetric variables, which help in understanding the size, shape, and orientation of raindrops, need corrections to account for the weakening of the signal as it passes through rainfall, known as “attenuation.” These variables can also be improved by measurements which add another layer of information to understand precipitation. X band radars are less prone to errors caused by resonance, making them more reliable for classifying different types of weather phenomena. However, they do face challenges, such as issues in distinguishing between the range and velocity of detected objects.

Despite these challenges, X band radars are particularly effective in measuring the levels of rain or snow that has fallen over a specific area. They can deliver accurate precipitation estimates up to about 18.5 miles. Among the different radar bands, X band is superior in using the KDP variable, which is essential for estimating rain rates. The KDP-based measurements from X band radars tend to have fewer errors, making them the most accurate among the three bands for measuring rain rates.

While residents of Grant County may not immediately experience more accurate weather forecasts on their mobile devices, the radar’s data will play an essential role in emergency response plans. As Climavision plans to expand, this inaugural installation in Wendell could serve as a model for future radar systems throughout Minnesota and beyond.

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