DEERING The National Weather Service radar relied upon to keep the Minot region informed about various storms and their potential severity is about to undergo improvements. The upgrade is scheduled to begin Monday.
During the process the radar will not be useable. The upgrade is scheduled to take seven to 10 days. Fortunately, the process might not take quite that long.
"The more radar the team does, the more proficient they are getting," said John Paul Martin, warning coordination meteorologist, Bismarck NWS. "We are thinking as little as four to five days if all goes well."
This is the National Weather Service and Minot Air Force Base Doppler radar that is essential to tracking weather systems in the region. The radar is located east of Deering and is scheduled for an upgrade next week.
Doppler radar is being upgraded throughout the United States this summer. Minot's weather radar, which is located near Deering and maintained by Minot Air Force Base, will be upgraded to dual polarization. Currently the radar transmits and receives horizontal pulses of energy. Following the upgrade it will simultaneously transmit and receive horizontal and verticle pulses.
"It will help us better identify what the object is that the radar is sampling," explained Martin. "Is it a raindrop that the radar is sampling, or a hailstone, or a mix of hail and rain? I think it will improve our warning ability for thunderstorms. Our confidence will be higher. In the winter the expectation is that we can tell if it is rain or snow falling to the ground."
The radar was installed in the early 1990s at the Deering location selected by the Department of Defense. It is known as the Minot AFB radar. According to Martin, control of the radar was changed about five years ago from Minot AFB to the NWS. However, Minot AFB personnel still maintain the radar.
"If it breaks down they can get to it quickly," said Martin.
Martin explained that there is a "cone of silence" directly over a radar site meaning it can't point straight up into a thunderstorm. But from the Deering location the radar offers and excellent view of weather directly over Minot AFB and the surrounding vicinity.
During times when severe weather is expected or approaching, the Minot radar site is heavily relied upon to provide vital information. Martin cautions about "over selling" the upgrade to dual polarization in terms of issuing tornado warnings, but says the public will benefit.
"It will not, in my expectations, help us issue tornado warnings sooner, but we will have more confidence there is a tornado there and keep that warning going," said Martin. "The radar will be better able to detect debris, non-weather targets, flying through the air."
When the upgrade is completed and the radar is back in service, the process of getting acquainted with its full capabilities will begin for meteorologists. Although they have received advanced training on, Martin says it still could take some time to become familiar with dual polarization.
"It is not only new to the public, but it is new to the meteorologists too," said Martin. "There will be a learning curve for us. I suspect this season is going to be a learning process. We're going to have to analyze what the data is really telling us. We'll become more proficient."
According to the NWS, among the benefits of dual polarization is an improved ability to identify updraft in thunderstorms and a significant improvement in rainfall estimation which will enhance the accuracy of flood and flash flood warnings.
Neighboring Doppler radars in Bismarck, Mayville, Aberdeen, S.D., and Glasgow, Mont., will be used to track storms while the Minot radar is disabled during the upgrade. Those neighboring radars are also scheduled to be upgraded this summer.