Emergency managers hope new radar will fix coverage gaps in Minnesota

a small town water tower
A new privately owned radar system atop the water tower in Wendell, Minn., is designed to fill a gap in weather radar coverage in western Minnesota.
Courtesy of Tina Lindquist | Grant County

A newly installed radar system is intended to cover a gap in weather radar coverage in western Minnesota.

Radar gaps happen in areas far from National Weather Service radar sites.

Because the earth curves, the radar beams go higher into the atmosphere as they travel away from the source. In some areas of Minnesota, those radar beams miss lower levels of the atmosphere.

The new radar was installed recently atop the water tower in the Grant County town of Wendell, Minn., by a private company called Climavision.

Climavision co-founder and CEO Chris Goode said the data will help the National Weather Service improve weather warnings.

“It’s not to denigrate the existing network. We’ve got a good network, but these blind spots do set us up to miss low-level impactful weather, thunderstorms, tornadoes,” he said.

Climavision plans to install seven or eight similar radar systems in Minnesota over the next three years, said Goode.

The company plans to build a national network of more than 200 radar installations.

Climavision has a contract to provide radar data to the National Weather Service.

“The information we gather during the next several months, including data quality and timeliness, will help guide how this supplemental radar data can be used in our future operations,” said Jim Kaiser, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D.

The radar is different than the Nexrad system used by the National Weather Service. Known as X-band radar, the coverage is limited to about a 60-mile radius, said Goode. But the radar provides a very detailed picture of the lower atmosphere.

a map of Minnesota
A map showing diminished weather radar coverage in some areas of Minnesota.
Courtesy Tina Lindquist

Grant County emergency manager Tina Lindquist is part of a working group of emergency managers who have spent the past year looking for a solution to gaps in weather radar. 

“Trying to fill the weather radar gaps so we can have better advance notice for weather systems when they come through,” she explained.

As the host county for the radar, Grant County has free access to the data.

“We just want to supplement what they’re already doing, and they’re very good at their job,” said Lindquist. “But we don’t know what we don’t know. If we can’t see an area of the atmosphere, and that happens to be a part of the atmosphere where the weather’s developing or the weather is happening, that is a concern for all of us.”

Lindquist expects the new radar to improve severe weather warnings, and the county will use the radar to better protect first responders who monitor severe weather developments in real time.

Each radar installation costs about $1 million to install, according to Goode.

The company will recoup the investment by selling subscriptions for the data. Goode said agriculture, insurance and transportation are among the industries the company will offer specific products to help predict weather events and analyze past weather.  

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