Oregon Coastal Radars and Weather Satellites

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Weather satellites monitor the Earth’s atmosphere and climate. They also observe other environmental issues such as smoke from wildfires, volcanic ash clouds, city lights, and more.

NOAA recently launched a new weather satellite – GOES-17 – that will make it easier for forecasters to understand what’s happening in the Pacific Northwest. This information will improve predictions for marine, aviation and weather systems moving into the region.

Coastal Radars

Coastal radars have many uses, but most importantly, they help the National Weather Service provide critical weather data to our models for better forecasts into the future.

Radars use short pulses of energy to reflect off objects in the air (raindrop, snowflake, bug, bird). The reflected waves are then detected by computers that convert the frequency change in the wave to a velocity measurement, either toward or away from the radar.

These measurements are important because they enable the radar to see wind. If the pulse of energy is reflected back at a particular speed, it indicates a strong wind.

The radar can also see airborne particles, such as dust and particulate matter. Detection of airborne particles is important because they can indicate the presence of heavy precipitation, as well as provide critical information for Search and Rescue operations in the event of a disaster.

Other potential applications for coastal radar include detecting the formation of wildfires, which are also often seen by radar because they produce heated plumes of air and particles moving upward.

Another possible application is to provide important information for coastal hazard warnings, such as beach closures. Coastal hazard warnings would be issued when a dangerous storm or other weather feature could cause harm to human life or property by causing damage to the ocean, beaches, bridges, or buildings.

In addition, coastal radars can be used to monitor coastal flooding and other related conditions. Coastal radars are especially useful for locating flood-prone areas and monitoring sea level rise in order to predict the need for dam and levee construction.

Coastal Visibility

Weather satellites can be polar orbiting, meaning they view the same swath of the planet every 12 hours or geostationary, a fancy term for their homey abode. The big daddy of all weather gizmos, however, is the Earth observation satellite that sees about a million pictures a day. Aside from their ooh oohs, this is a major source of information about our beloved blue marble and its occupants. This data can be used to make better informed forecasts. It also helps improve homeland security by keeping the populace informed about what’s out there.

What’s more, the technology is being rolled out into the public space. For instance, NASA has made their own small version of the earth observation satellites for use by NASA astronauts and other astronomers alike. These satellites are not as powerful as their larger counterparts, but can produce impressive images at a fraction of the cost. Among other perks, they can also be used to educate the general public about our place in the cosmos and their role in it. Hopefully we will see more of them as time goes on.

Coastal Precipitation

Coastal areas in Oregon have marine-influenced climates with relatively equable temperatures and frequent rainy weather. However, the interior is dominated by continental conditions with extreme temperature and dryness.

The western side of the state has a warm Pacific Ocean influence and much more precipitation than the eastern side. Temperatures are generally milder west of the Cascade Mountains and drier east of them because the mountains block the flow of moisture.

Winters are typically wetter than spring and fall and the average annual rainfall varies from less than eight inches in the drier Plateau Regions to almost 200 inches on the upper west slopes of the Coast Range. This variation in precipitation has led to many successful irrigation projects which have converted lands from semi-deserts to productive farmland.

Snowfall is also common on the Coast and on some of the higher elevations in the Coast Range. For example, in January 1982, Laurel Mountain received 55 inches of snow.

Rainfall is a major contributor to the water supply in Oregon. It contributes to the recharge of groundwater basins and rivers that are drained directly into the Pacific Ocean. In addition, it provides an important source of water for crops and other critical needs.

Droughts are relatively rare in the state and have decreased by about 50 percent since 1960. However, the frequency of droughts has increased since 1970 and is forecast to continue to increase.

During the summer months, temperatures can be hot and humid or cool and dry. The hottest days occur in June and July.

Colder periods are usually short and occur only once or twice a year. The freezing threshold is lower than other regions in the state. The area is prone to killing frosts, but these are not very common.

Overall, rainfall has been relatively stable and is projected to remain about the same through 2100. Projected increases in annual temperature are between 1.7 and 8.2 degrees under the lower emissions pathway and between 4.8 and 13.8 degrees under the higher emissions pathway.

Increasing temperatures will raise the snow line, the average lowest elevation at which snowfall occurs. This will reduce the amount of reliable snowpack at lower elevations, which is critical for water availability in the summer. It will also increase the possibility that rainfall will melt the snowpack earlier in the spring, which can have a negative impact on water availability for agriculture and recreation.

Coastal Hail

Coastal hail can be a hazard, especially in the west. Fortunately, the meteorologists at the National Weather Service have a wealth of tools to help them spot the harbingers of doom and reclaim lost property.

Using radar data to identify the source of the squall, as well as the hail and other precipitation, they can then provide accurate estimates on the magnitude and location of the event. They use several different radar technologies to do their work, including Doppler radar for wind and precipitation. Among the more powerful instruments is a radar-based weather model known as the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) system. This system is capable of generating detailed maps at the local scale, and has been praised for its accuracy and reliability.

The aforementioned WRF system also has the capability to generate base reflection images for meteorologists to study. The base reflection picture is the smallest and most visible of the more specialized radars, and can be used to detect rain, determine storm structure, find atmospheric boundaries, and identify hail.

There is a reason why the aforementioned dBMR is considered the official weather model for the state of Oregon. Its ability to accurately estimate the state’s weather and provide information on how the weather is behaving in real time and at the local scale has made it a valuable tool for countless communities and businesses across the state.

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