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Upgrade in the forecast

Posted: March 28, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: March 28, 2012 1:30 a.m.

A technical upgrade to weather radar in Oxnard will help the National Weather Service give Santa Clarita Valley residents more precise weather information, officials said Tuesday.

“Our ability to accurately issue weather warnings and monitor conditions of heavy rainfall will be much improved,” meteorologist Mark Jackson said.

Specifically, a more accurate assessment of rainfall will go a long way toward warning people of a flash flood, a threat second only to fires in California, Jackson said.

“This translates into a more accurate idea of how much rain is in a basin, which directly impacts flash flooding,” Jackson said. “No one is immune to flash flooding.”

Originally scheduled for April 2, the National Weather Service radar upgrade in Oxnard may begin as early as Thursday due to upgrades at a Nevada station going faster than expected, Jackson said.

The upgrade at the weather service’s Oxnard station is part of a $50 million nationwide upgrade in weather-service radar expected to continue through March 2013, meteorologist Eric Boldt said.

The entire network of 160 weather Doppler radars will be upgraded with dual polarization technology, he said.

“The easiest way to think about (dual polarization) is that we now have a horizontal picture that will be split vertically by another Doppler ray,” Boldt said. “We’ll split it vertically for a more complete picture. You’re getting a better resolution of the weather picture,” he said.

Doppler radar is a specialized radar that sends a microwave signal toward a target and analyzes the frequency of the returned signal to acquire information about the object, such as a drop of rain or a hail stone.

“Meteorologists looking at data will see a little better on the precipitation estimation (with dual polarization),” Boldt said.

“That would be the main selling point.”

“It will assist forecasters in the warning and forecast process and give us a much clearer picture of the clouds,” he said.

The radar upgrade under way is the most expansive the weather service has done since it installed Doppler radars in the 1990s, Boldt said.

“It’s a pretty exciting time,” he said.

The weather service is funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Boldt said, and funds are allocated to the service through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The NOAA decides how much money we get,” Boldt said.


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