A weather RADAR unit that was severely damaged last year is back on-line today. During the exceptionally busy 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season, Hurricane Laura slammed into the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and eventually destroyed the NEXRAD RADAR facility at the National Weather Service’s Lake Charles, Louisiana office. The radar was restored in just five months, nearly two months ahead of schedule, at a cost of $1.65 million.
Jessica Schultz, deputy director of the National Weather Service’s Radar Operations Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said Hurricane Laura’s winds pierced the Lake Charles radar system’s radome, the dome-shaped structure that sits atop a pedestal and protects the radar antennae. When Hurricane Laura’s fierce winds blew through Lake Charles at the end of August, the wind or an object tossed in the wind destroyed the radome. Schultz said the radome is rated for a top wind speed of 124 mph; a higher wind rating would mean a thicker covering which would in turn interfere with the antenna’s signal. Lake Charles was only the third radar system damaged by a typhoon or hurricane during the NEXRAD program’s history, Schultz said.
“Weather radar imagery is flowing again, feeding weather forecasts and warnings and bringing back important public safety infrastructure to our Lake Charles community,” said Roger Erickson, a warning coordination meteorologist for the Lake Charles National Weather Service Forecast Office. “We are thankful to have the RADAR online before the peak of severe weather this spring.”
“Our team worked diligently to manage the entire restoration process, from the purchase of major components and contracting with specially trained crews, to deployment of our expert technicians to complete the installation and check-out of the system,” said Terrance Clark, Radar Operations Center director. “We are delighted the radar could return to service ahead of schedule, which is a testament to the hard work and expertise of our team and contractors working on this project.”
The Radar Operations Center is a tri-agency organization, funded and staffed by NOAA’s National Weather Service, the United States Air Force, and the Federal Aviation Administration. The Center provides life-cycle management and support for all 159 NEXRADs across the Nation, U.S. territories, and select locations overseas.
In addition to damaging the RADAR site, Hurricane Laura was responsible for 42 deaths and more than $19 billion in losses. As the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. in 2020, the Category 4 hurricane, with winds of up to 150 mph, drove a 15′ storm surge inland. Laura became the most costly weather disaster of 2020.