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Doppler Radars Up Again In Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on Puerto Rico on September 20th, as a category 4 storm.  Winds reached 155 mph causing massive destruction across the island.  Power was knocked out to all 3.4 million residents.  So far, only 30% of power has been restored.  Many businesses have failed to reopen due to power outages and a lack of generators.  The closed businesses have led to a rise in unemployment.  And many residents are still struggling to get food, water, and medicine.  Roads and bridges have been destroyed.  Reaching remote parts of the island is difficult.  And communication is still a problem.  1,360 of 1,600 cellphone towers were knocked out by Maria.  Many have not been repaired, causing spotty cellphone service.  And from a weather standpoint, the island has been lacking adequate radar coverage since the storm.  The hurricane destroyed the two Doppler sites on the island that provided Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with live radar images.  The lack of active radars created a massive data gap that hindered weather forecasting and warning operations.

(Courtesty Puerto Rico NWS)

(Courtesy Puerto Rico NWS)

But now, through a collaboration of NOAA and the Department of Defense, coordinated by FEMA, two U.S. Marine Corps radar units have been installed in Puerto Rico.  These radars will be invaluable in helping the National Weather Service and NOAA produce accurate forecasts.  They’ll also provide real-time coverage of any weather systems and storms moving over Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The radars will be temporary.  They’ll be used until the FAA radars are back in service.

The X-band Doppler radars arrived in San Juan on October 21st.  U.S. Marine Corps meteorologists and radar technicians will operate the equipment.  One radar is located at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station.  That facility is east of San Juan, on the northeastern coast of the island.  The other radar is in Aguadilla, which is on the western side of Puerto Rico.  Both radars will effectively cover the entire island.

((Courtesy NOAA)

(Courtesy NOAA)

Personnel from the National Weather Service Radar Operations Center in Norman, Oklahoma was also on-site, to connect the radars with the National Weather Service forecast system.  This will allow the NWS Forecast office in San Juan to utilize the radar imagery for forecasting and warning purposes.

The radars are mobile, have relatively short ranges compared to larger radars, and are not intended to be a permanent solution.  But they will provide valuable real-time radar data until the FAA’s larger and more powerful WSR-88D radars are back online.  The mission has been authorized by FEMA through November 24th.  Extensions are possible if the FAA radars are not operational by then.

For WeatherNation:  Meteorologist Matt Monroe

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