SHALLOTTE, N.C. (WBTW) — The National Weather Service has been approved for funding to re-locate its radar in Shallotte to a location that is not blocked by trees, which has left the Grand Strand in a blind spot.
The radar, in its current location, is blocked by thousands of trees that have grown too tall. News13 Chief Meteorologist Frank Johnson said because of the trees, the radar can’t pick up precipitation or thunderstorm rotation along the Grand Strand.
Radars in Columbia and Charleston can make up for for the precipitation, but because those radars are so far away, the beams can only “see” the top part of a thunderstorm, Johnson said. When monitoring for tornadoes, meteorologists look at the bottom of the thunderstorm for rotation. The Charleston and Columbia radars are too far away to see the bottom of a thunderstorm in the Grand Strand because of the earth’s curvature.
Because the Grand Strand is blocked from the Wilmington radar, tornadoes are effectively undetectable along the Grand Strand. The trees started to become an issue four to five years ago and the problem has only gotten worse as the trees get taller.
The trees are located over many acres and on property of 19 different property owners, so cutting down the trees is not an option.
That’s why it’s important for the radar to be moved, according to Steven Pfaff with the National Weather Service in Wilmington.
“Unfortunately for us, these types of trees that are nearby are expected to grow even further, so even if we put another tier up on that radar, it would only Band-Aid the situation for a few years, so the research that was done a few years ago showed us that the only real permanent fix is to be to find a site that is suitable for a new location,” Pfaff said.
Pfaff said a new tower will be built and the existing radar will be moved with some new components. The move will happen outside of hurricane season. There is expected to be downtime of about six to eight weeks while the radar is moved.
Now that funding has been secured, NWS will look at three potential sites that meet the criteria of at least a 1,200-foot radius of clearing and no objects taller than 100 feet, Pfaff said.
“We don’t want to rush into a situation where we’re putting the radar and have a similar situation,” Pfaff said.
It’s expected that the move will take about three years to complete, according to Pfaff.
“I’m extremely excited that we’re going to see this from start now to completion in the next few years,” Pfaff said.
As far as decisions go for issuing tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings, Pfaff said there’s still plenty of available data to make those decisions. He said the lowest beams at surrounding radars have been moved lower to help improve coverage.
“While some of the data is limited by the beam blockage, there is a whole cornucopia of data that we have out there to make that warning decision process and get those tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings out, just like the large hail we had a few weeks ago, the viable aspects of the radar were seeing that hail lofted up in the thunderstorms and we were issuing warnings based on those scans that were above the lowest levels,” he said.
The radar was deployed in Shallotte in the 90s when the trees were at a much lower height.
“This radar has been serving these communities now for over three decades,” Pfaff said. It’s an important piece of the puzzle that we have and we’re just excited we’re going to get to that next step here in the next few years.”