USA - More Durable Weather Radars Are Needed for an Era of Stronger Hurricanes
I occasionally use this space for editorial commentary. This piece is one of those moments.
During the record-setting 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, the state of Louisiana was within the hurricane cone for multiple weeks. According to University of Miami hurricane expert Brian Mcnoldy, Hurricane Zeta marked the fifth landfall during the state, three of which were hurricanes. In August, Hurricane Laura (2020) knocked out the National Weather Service radar at its Lake Charles office. Unfortunately, the same region faced threats from Hurricanes Delta (2020) and Zeta (2020), respectively, after Laura. As I sit at my computer tracking an unprecedented Hurricane Eta (yep, Eta), strong and rapidly intensifying storms in recent years raises the following question for me: Do we need more durable weather radar infrastructure for an era of stronger hurricanes?
The answer, in my opinion as a former President of the American Meteorological Society and scientist within the field, is “yes.” Thankfully, a mobile Doppler radar system was made available to fill in gaps left by the loss of the Lake Charles radar. Other National Weather Service radars in the area were operational too. However, there is a reason the Lake Charles radar was placed in that location. Washington Post Capital Weather Gang’s Matthew Cappucci wrote in the days leading up to Hurricane Delta, “Without the main Lake Charles radar, forecasters wouldn’t be able to see weather features in the lower atmosphere, below about 12,500 feet in altitude, including potential tornadoes and flood-inducing rain bands....” Hurricane Laura reached Category 4 strength, which on the Saffir-Simpson scale means winds in the 130-156 mph range.
During Hurricane Maria (2017), the National Weather Service San Juan weather radar was also destroyed. At the time, Maria was also a category 4 storm as it ravaged the island of Puerto Rico. It took nine months before the radar was restored. More recently, Super Typhoon Goni (2020) made landfall in the Philippines. Pictures surfaced on social media showing the remnants of a weather radar on one of the islands.