New radar at Gateway airport to provide more precise storm tracking - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

New radar at Gateway airport to provide more precise storm tracking

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Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2011 11:40 am | Updated: 1:09 am, Mon Jun 20, 2011.

The National Weather Service now has a more precise eye in the sky.

Officials from the National Weather Service and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration unveiled an upgrade of its Doppler weather radar at Mesa's Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport this week. The dual polarization radar better pinpoints storms, calculates the amount and size of rainfall, provides more timely flash flood warnings and monitors dust storms.

The upgraded radar is an enhancement to the Doppler radar system in place and adds another dimension to tracking the weather: Doppler was only scanning the sky horizontally, but now with the dual polarization, it also will scan the sky vertically.

Its effectiveness will be reviewed in the months ahead before 131 dual polarization systems are deployed across the nation by mid-2013 at a cost of $225,000 per unit, according to Vickie Nadolski, director for the National Weather Service's Western Region. The project totals $29.2 million.

"This makes us more aware of what's going on in the atmosphere," Nadolski said on Wednesday. Technology has come a long way in many aspects and this will help us to better pinpoint areas of where severe weather can happen. The investment is into the millions, but we're hoping for huge returns."

She added that the system also will help with information for transportation when it comes to flights at the airport or traveling on the roads.

The dual polarization system, which was installed inside the National Weather Service's radar tower about two weeks ago, now is up and running as part of a six-month test run across the United States. Phoenix-Mesa Gateway is the nation's first airport to receive the technology, with five more cities to follow: Norman, Okla.; Vance Air Force Base, Okla.; Wichita, Kan.; Pittsburgh, Pa., and Morehead City, N.C.

The radar, which is being manufactured by Alabama-based Barron Services in partnership with L3 Enterprise IT Solutions, consists of a number of components attached to a 32-foot-long satellite dish inside the tower's huge dome that resembles a huge soccer ball. It's located about a mile south of the airport on South Sossaman Road. Research began on the dual polarization about 10 years ago, and the technology has been fine-tuned and tested since then, Nadolski said.

Wednesday also marked the first day of the monsoon, a large-scale shift in circulation patterns over North America that causes winds and severe thunderstorms across the Southwest. The monsoon season runs through Sept. 30. This year, Valley residents can expect above normal temperatures with dry air agitating fire conditions in some areas, according to Gary Woodall, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Phoenix.

"We're interested to see how the technology holds up in Arizona weather," Woodall said.

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