Radar is now reality in the Valley

The exterior of the new radar dome is pieced together.

ALAMOSA– Doppler radar has arrived in the San Luis Valley. Thanks to the collaboration of numerous public and private partners, a project that began as a dream is now reality.

There has long been a general consensus among local experts that the San Luis Valley has been a “hole” when it comes to forecasting. For many years, the nearest radar systems were located in Pueblo and Grand Junction.

The story of bringing Doppler radar to Alamosa began with Joe Busto, a staff member for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Busto recognized a gap in forecasting ability within the Rio Grande Basin. Busto began working with Ken Howard of the National Severe Storms Laboratory at NOAA who also recognized the forecasting gap. As a result, the two began working to bring awareness of the need for a radar system in the Valley.

Because of the potential of improved moisture and severe weather forecasting, the concept began to attract interest and support from local entities such as the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the Conejos Water Conservancy District, and the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team. Following a testing period where temporary radar systems were brought in from outside sources, there was consensus that a permanent system was needed.

Gigi Dennis, Alamosa County administrator, noted that when the discussions about permanent radar began, Alamosa County was approached about the possibility of providing land where structure could be established. The effort to acquire property and build a permanent structure was led by Heather Dutton of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Nathan Coombs of CWCD, and Cleave Simpson of RGWCD. 

Alamosa County agreed to join in the effort and a portion of land adjacent to the San Luis Valley Regional Airport was chosen as the site. Dennis explained that the airport site was found to be the central point of the Rio Grande Basin, and thus, would serve as an ideal location. The next step in the process was to choose a contractor. Following a bid process the project was awarded to EWR Weather Radar Systems of St. Louis, Mo. Guy Blase, CEO of EWR Systems noted that it the project has been a “Great opportunity to fill a gap for the local community.”

Dennis further noted that since the project cost totals to approximately $1.3 million, there has been numerous sources of outside funding that have played a key role in the project.  This has included the $300,000 from Capitol Development Committee as well as support from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Because of a combined effort, the Valley is now home to a piece of State-of the Art technology. Blase noted that the new system is among the first of its’ kind and is considered “world class.” Because the new radar site is at the cutting edge of technology, it also expected to be a “show and tell” destination. Howard pointed out that the new system is expected to not only improve local forecasting; it will also provide data that can be used for the National Weather Service. Howard was also quick to acknowledge the foresight and collaboration of the local stakeholders and hailed them as “trail blazers.”

With the building of the radar now realized, the collection of data is expected to begin soon and a website where the data can be accessed is forthcoming. The entities that are involved have expressed excitement about the completion of the project and the possibilities that are ahead.

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