Severe weather detector in Brunswick County blocked by trees could be relocated in the next few years

Doppler radar range blocked in parts of Brunswick County

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The KTLX Doppler Radar in Shallotte poses a problem for some towns in southern Brunswick County during weather events.

The radar that serves the Cape Fear area was installed in October 1994 and became operational several months later.

“It replaced technology that evolved after World War II,” said Steven Pfaff, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service Wilmington. “What it enables forecasters to do is understand wind circulations within thunderstorms or with hurricanes, so that gives us a leg-up at the rotation developing within these storms. We can see that rotation and as the rotation spins down to the lower levels, we can issue a tornado warning. So, it’s an important piece of technology.”

Over the last two and a half decades, the trees on the properties near the radar have grown, which has caused some blockage of the radar’s lowest elevation scans. When Hurricane Isaias hit our area back in August, you can see where the radar was not able pick up in some areas like Calabash, Carolina Shores, and Sunset Beach.

“It’s just that lowest scan,” said Pfaff. “When we issue warnings, we don’t just look at one level of radar data. We look at the complete volume which is so important if you want to get the whole picture.”

Despite continuous improvements and updates with the technology, the problem associated with the tree growth continues to get worse. In 2016, the NWS did a study to figure out the best way to fix the issues and found several things, including that cutting down the trees is just not feasible.

“Unfortunately, dealing with so many landowners in the area...that path is very unfeasible,” said Pfaff. He said another option would be to raise the radar, but given the projected growth of the trees in the area, it would just be putting a band-aid on the situation.

Pfaff said, ultimately, the study found that the best solution would be to move the radar.

“We’re exploring different options,” said Pfaff when asked about a timeline for moving the radar. “Once we know what the path is in place, it’s going to take several years to accomplish, as you can imagine, moving a structure as large as this.”

Such a relocation would have a price tag of $5.5 million.

So, until there is a more permanent solution, what can be done to mitigate the issue? Pfaff said a multiple radar and sensor approach allows the NWS to integrate data from surrounding radars in Columbia, Charleston, Morehead City, and Raleigh.

“We have begun the process of lowering the scan at those radars even a little bit lower which would extend the reach into our area providing additional coverage,” said Pfaff. He also said there is a new tool that will account for signal loss when it comes to improving radar rainfall estimations.

“Even though the solution may be a little further away in time, at least we’re able to apply some mitigation aspects to help with our forecasters,” Pfaff said.

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