Weather prediction to become better with temporary radar

More than 300 people watching the skies in September

The ability to predict storm events will get a whole lot better in Gunnison County next summer, when a state-of-the-art mobile radar unit will be in the area to study local weather patterns. The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) is also considering installing several weather monitoring stations in the Crested Butte area and is meeting with interested weather officials this week.



To top it all off, more than 300 meteorologists and storm watchers will be in town this September for a conference at Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
But there’s no telling yet if next winter will be a record snow year.
During an Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) meeting on Monday, July 28, manager Frank Kugel said a new radar installation could be put up in Gunnison next summer, either at the high school or at the airport.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warning coordinator meteorologist Jim Pringle, of the Grand Junction office, says next summer Gunnison is slated to house a sophisticated mobile radar device to study low-level storm events.
Pringle says the radar will be installed temporarily for a meteorological study that is a joint project between the NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).
CWCB water resource specialist Joe Busto says officials hope to use data obtained from the radar to gain a better understanding of how storm events occur in the area. With insights from the study, meteorologists hope to be able to forecast storm events more accurately using existing tools, such as satellite imagery and the far-reaching Doppler radar in Mesa County. The study is being funded by the CWCB’s Flood Response Fund, to the tune of $35,000. “We’re very interested in having good flood forecasts,” Busto says.
The CWCB and NOAA have been working together on the project since last fall. Busto says a contract is still being finalized but, “We’re very close to signing it.”
Pringle says the radar device employs dual ionization technology that was only recently released to the public by the U.S. military. Having a sophisticated radar on wheels is the sort of technology “that could save lives,” Pringle says.
Busto says the project was initiated because high mountain environments such as Gunnison’s are at a disadvantage when it comes to weather forecasting. NOAA’s Doppler radar on Grand Mesa is the only radar within hundreds of miles west of the Continental Divide, and is used for predicting storm events across western Colorado and eastern Utah. Because of the distance and difference in elevation between the Doppler radar and Gunnison, many local storm events go unnoticed by the radar. “When it scans around, it doesn’t see things below 10,000 feet.” Busto says of the Doppler radar.
Pringle says the National Weather Service (a division of NOAA) must rely on other sources, such as satellites and spotter observations, to monitor storm events in the area. “I’d just be thrilled to have radar coverage that’s located in that area,” Pringle says.
Busto says a conference of the Colorado Association of Floodplain and Storm Water Managers is coming up to Crested Butte Mountain Resort next month and the mobile radar project will be a hot topic. The conference will bring more than 300 engineers, public officials and meteorologists to the area to discuss challenges in weather forecasting and flood management.
During Monday night’s UGRWCD meeting, board member Steve Glazer made another announcement related to local weather forecasting. Glazer said that the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic had received a grant to install a series of weather monitoring devices in the area. Glazer said a number of interested groups, including the National Weather Service, Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, Bureau of Reclamation, and the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies will be meeting with RMBL officials this Thursday to discuss how the grant will be used, and where weather stations should be located.
RMBL information technology specialist Dan Jones says the planning for the weather stations is in a very preliminary stage, and the meetings should lay some groundwork for what will be done. “We’re not really sure what we’re going to do other than establish a series of weather stations,” Jones says. “When we get a little further down the road here, and it’s not going to be too much longer, then we’re going to put together some basic info that lays out the specifics of what we’re doing.”
The grant is being awarded by the National Science Foundation.

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