Improved Radar Coverage in the Works After Deadly North Dakota Tornado

August 29, 2018

The National Weather Service is taking steps to improve weather radar coverage for western North Dakota after a deadly tornado in the area raised awareness of gaps in coverage.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has committed to studying whether the Minot radar system can be adjusted to improve coverage in the state’s western region, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

“There are other areas where there’s still some gaps,” Sen. John Hoeven said. “We have to find out how to get them covered.”

A tornado hit Watford City on July 10 that killed a newborn baby and injured more than two dozen people. The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning but did not issue a tornado warning. Watford City is 140 to 180 miles away from the nearest Doppler radar.

If the Doppler radar near Minot is adjusted, it would detect storms forming 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) above ground in Watford City. The radar system can currently detect storms there that are forming at least 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) above ground.

An environmental study is necessary before the radar can be adjusted. The improved coverage could be in place by spring, said John Paul Martin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“I hope we get it done before next tornado season,” said Karolin Jappe, emergency manager for McKenzie County.

North Dakota meteorologists have said better radar coverage may not have changed Watford City’s outcome because the tornado developed quickly and was low to the ground.

“It was kind of a freak storm, but we’ve got to get the best warning system we can in place,” Hoeven said.

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