Crucial radar that failed during Laura is down for Delta. ‘You’re operating blindly.’
Lake Charles, Louisiana, could take another hit from a major hurricane that is now threatening the Hurricane Delta, but the city will do without a radar system for the storm, which is bad news for Gulf Coast residents, according to a senior meteorologist.
If the hurricane delta lands near Lake Charles, the city, which was destroyed by Category 4 Hurricane Laura almost six weeks ago, will be able to do without the sophisticated NEXRAD radar system.
Laura took out the radar system. It is not expected to be back online by March 2021, says the National Weather Service.
"We have a storm and that would be the main radar for it," said Rocco Calaci, a Gulf Coast meteorologist who helped write specifications for the NEXRAD system in the 1980s.
“If NEXRAD is not present in Lake Charles for a period of time, the NWS will not be able to provide real-time information and forecasts. This means that hurricanes, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, rain, or other weather conditions are not covered. "
And the Gulf won't have any data from Lake Charles to feed into hurricane models that provide storm forecasts that begin days before landing. The Lake Charles NEXRAD outage is one of several radar outages during recent hurricanes.
The National Weather Service is conducting a nationwide $ 150 million renovation of NEXRAD that went online in 1992. However, the failure of Lake Charles was entirely due to the storm, according to the NWS. Equipment malfunctions caused two mobile radar failures - both prior to and during the Category 2 Sally landing on September 16.
Radar lesson learned after Hurricane Katrina
Jessica Schultz, assistant director of the NWS Radar Operations Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said the winds from Hurricane Laura pierced the radome-shaped, domed housing of the Lake Charles radar system, which sits on a pedestal and protects the radar antennas. The NWS suspects that a flying object pierced the radome, they said.
She said the radome is rated for wind speeds of 124 miles per hour. A higher wind force would mean a thicker cover that would interfere with the antenna signal, she said. Lake Charles was only the third radar system to be damaged by a typhoon or hurricane in the history of the NEXRAD program, Schultz said.
The closest NEXRAD to Lake Charles is located about 49 nautical miles away in Fort Polk in Leesville, Louisiana, Calaci said. The NWS also has NEXRAD in Houston, Slidell and Shreveport.
Mississippi residents learned after Hurricane Katrina that wind speeds from weather data can be critical to insurance claims if NWS anemometers fail during landing. Private transport companies only cover wind damage, not damage from flooding. Therefore, wind speeds are essential to demonstrate structural failure by wind as opposed to water.
Calaci well remembers the wind-water battles in hundreds of lawsuits against insurance companies for being a homeowner appraiser.
Failure of weather service equipment
In daily weather newsletters, Calaci has claimed that the weather service is understaffed and understaffed for budget reasons.
On September 17, he wrote, “As for the outage, we saw the NEXRAD's weather equipment in Mobile go offline during the height of Sally's landing, and the weather equipment in Mobile, Pensacola, and Destin to name a few. I have no idea why these locations stopped transmitting data, but it is obvious that no fail-safe measures have been taken. "
Schultz said she doesn't know why the weather equipment in Pensacola and Destin is offline. In Mobile, she said an engine failed and needed to be replaced with a replacement engine the day before Sally landed, causing about six hours of downtime.
An hour after Sally landed, she said, a transmitter went off. The second error took about 10 hours, but the technicians were able to make the necessary repairs.
While the timing was unfortunate, Schultz said, none of the mistakes were storm related.
NWS has a maintenance program for NEXRAD radar
Although NEXRAD is out of date, the components are continuously maintained and updated, says Schultz.
"Although these radars have been in operation for more than 25 years, they are not old and aging systems," she said. “They were constantly updated. The three agencies invested in bringing these systems to peak performance for the next two decades. "
She said a nationwide redevelopment program, the Service Life Extension Program, began in 2015 and should be completed in 2025.
The program is overseen by the three agencies responsible for the US radar system, the most modern in the world: the NWS, which operates under the Department of Commerce, the US Air Force, which operates through the Department of Defense, and the Federal Aviation Administration, under the Department of Transportation.
The agencies employ 132 people, a number that has remained unchanged for decades, to monitor 159 NEXRAD systems in the US and the Territories.
Meteorologist Calaci only hopes that radar systems will work through the Hurricane Delta. He said Wednesday will develop into a "huge" storm that will hit the entire Louisiana coast.
"I don't know why these weather stations went down or why NEXRAD went down," he said, "but if they crash during a hurricane, what steps are being taken to make sure it doesn't happen again this year?"
"If you lose data, if you lose radar, like you did in Mobile and Pensacola, you have no idea what is happening and you have no record of what happened."
"You work blind."
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