Emergency manager wants radar for Watford City after tornado

WATFORD CITY, (AP) — A local emergency manager is pushing for better weather radar coverage in western North Dakota after a tornado ripped through the area.

The closest Doppler radars to Watford City are about 140 miles (225 kilometers) away near Minot, the Bismarck Tribune reported . Radars at that distance detect storms forming at least 10,000 feet above ground, said John Paul Martin, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Bismarck.

Emergency manager Karolin Jappe is advocating for a radar closer to McKenzie County, which leads the state in oil production.

“We’re the epicenter of the oilfield, and we have so much risk here it’s scary,” Jappe said.

Watford City faced an EF2 classification tornado last week that killed a newborn baby and injured more than two dozen people. The Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning with a statement about a possible tornado about an hour before the twister hit the city, Martin said.

Officials aren’t clear whether better radar coverage would’ve changed the outcome, but Gov. Doug Burgum said state officials plan to look into the issue.

“When the dust is settled and the cleanup has happened and we’ve taken care of all the immediate needs, we want to make sure we don’t’ lose sight of lessons learned,” Burgum said. “One way that you prevent this kind of tragedy is to make sure that you’ve got good warning systems.”

Meteorologist Daryl Ritchison doesn’t believe having a radar closer to Watford City would have led to a more advanced warning of the tornado, but he said he would still like to see a Doppler radar better cover the region.

“It was a unique type of tornado that is very, very difficult to pick up,” said Ritchison, interim director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network. “It was just a tornado at the wrong place at the wrong time.”