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News / Northwest

Weather forecasting tech company plans 2 X-band radars to cover NCW gaps

By Emily Thornton, The Wenatchee World
Published: April 4, 2024, 7:43am

WENATCHEE — Detecting storms below 10,000 feet is quickly taking shape.

“We have no real time data on the weather,” said Jim Kuntz, Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority CEO, referring to parts of Chelan and Douglas counties with a gap in weather radar coverage.

However, Kuntz said during a Chelan County Tri-Commission meeting March 26, the port, Chelan County and others made “enormous progress” in addressing the issue of the missing weather coverage after it was brought up in August.

Kentucky-based Climavision plans to install 200 radars in the next four years, including up to four radars in Washington at no cost to the community, said Tara Leigh Goode, Climavision vice president/strategic partnerships and radar operations. The weather forecasting technology firm received $100 million from The Rise Fund, TPG’s global impact investing platform, to fund the buildouts and upkeep, Goode said. Fort Worth, Texas-based TPG Inc., previously known as Texas Pacific Group and TPG Capital, is an American private equity firm.

She also said siting efforts began in Chelan County and radars are ready and stored in a warehouse. Since 2021, Climavision has installed 26 radars in 14 states, installing two to three per month, she said.

“When we are saying, ‘We’re trying to find a home for the radar,’ we’re literally looking for a community or a public agency that will help us find the site for the radar… It is ‘Help us find a home.’ We will get your public safety community the data. We’ll commercialize it in other ways to help us underwrite the cost of that radar.”

Five Doppler radars — which are no longer made — are used by the National Weather Service to monitor real-time weather conditions for the state: Spokane, Pendleton, Grays Harbor, Seattle and Portland. None of these provide coverage on weather conditions below 10,000 feet on the northeastern slopes of the Cascades, which creates a gap in coverage. Doppler radars west of Central Washington get “trapped by the (Cascade) mountains,” said Jason Detamore, Chelan County Public Works Department environmental manager, during an Aug. 8 Tri-Commission meeting.

The WSR-88D (Doppler) was first built and tested in 1988, according to the NWS website. The NWS also has the “Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) system, which is a network of 160 high-resolution S-band Doppler weather radars.”

Climavision’s weather radars are solid-state, dual-polarimetric, X-band, which transmit and receive “pulses in both a horizontal and vertical orientation,” according to the National Weather Service website. “As a result, the returning frequencies provide measurements of the horizontal and vertical dimensions of targets, supplying forecasters with better estimates of the size, shape, and variety of targets.”

“One of the most important things for us to do is, as we build out this radar network, we want to make sure that this data is available to the (National) Weather Service,” said Apoorva Bajaj, Climavision government business development executive. “If they have access to this real time information in their hands then they can issue better watches and warnings. They can combine this information with what they already have and do a better job.”

He added Climavision entered into two agreements with the NWS.

“The first is… a cooperative research and development agreement, where we work along with their (NWS’) top laboratories… where they’re looking at, basically how to integrate our data into different products and services that they use currently, and giving us feedback on what we can do to improve the quality of this privately-owned system,” Bajaj said. “But we also realize that as we are rolling out this network, that the need is now to address this gap and to get the data in the hands of the forecast offices right now, as these radars go live, so we do have a contract, a data contract with the Weather Service through the (NWS) Office of Observations out of Washington, D.C., through a program… (where) they pay a small amount right now to access the data from our radars, as they would like.”

About 20 NWS offices have access to 12 or 13 radars out of Climavision’s current 26 radars, he said, and the NWS will access more as they come online.

Goode said Climavision can ready a site for its X-band radar in four weeks, depending on community support, with installation taking as little as three days. From there, it takes 30 to 45 days to get weather information into public safety hands, she said.

“We have two radars planned for North Central Washington that will provide coverage to the whole region,” Goode wrote in an email to The Wenatchee World. “We’ve just received some possible site suggestions and they vary in exact location. I haven’t had a chance to dig into them yet, but they would provide low-level coverage for Chelan and Douglas County and neighboring counties.”

“Topography in the area is challenging, so we expect this will take some time,” she added. “I would love to have them online in 2024. It will be dependent on a lot of factors, but our goal would be to have two online in 2024.”

“I am going to work on my ‘radar tetris,’” Goode wrote in an email to Kuntz. “As I noted, the radars are ready, and with siting traction and possible client traction through PUD and others, we may have an opportunity to bump you all ahead in our schedule.”

In exchange for a location for the radar, Climavision provides cities/counties access to a live radar viewer through a URL.

“This is something commissioner (Jim) Huffman talked to me about day two of getting my job here, to pay attention to this, and it’s finally coming around,” Kuntz said. “We have a lot of areas that simply do not get coverage and that’s unacceptable. We have a less reliable system; we cannot do any predictive forecasting and it impacts our ability of emergency folks to respond.”

He added the NWS tried re-angling radar beams in Spokane and Pendleton earlier this year to see if they could detect anything in the lower spots, but it didn’t work, so NWS suggested Chelan County work with a private company.

Kuntz also said local politicians “were very interested in seeing this system deployed in North Central Washington.” Wenatchee Mayor Mike Poirier said he went with the port earlier this year to Washington, D.C., to talk with U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, and U.S. Sens. Kim Schrier, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.

“This is very important to our communities and the city of Wenatchee,” Poirier wrote in an email. “It will allow detailed and early detection of weather, including fire, and give the city a better preparedness to have resources to save not only property, but possibly lives. The city of Wenatchee will continue their support, along with the Port, to better our community.”

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