radar image

Williams County working to expand utility of radar data that is already assisting National Weather Service.

Williams County’s new and more accessible file format for forecasters and researchers is now available at its online weather page, and that should help broaden the reach of the weather radar system that the county purchased.

“We were converting the data to images, so it could be seen on the website, but now, beyond viewing it on the website, we are now providing the raw data as well for meteorologists and so forth,” Williams County Communications and Research Analyst Lindsey Harris said. “It’s actually data from the radar to allow scientists, researches and meteorologists to gather more information from the radar than what they can see in the pictures.”

What Williams County had been providing was already useful to the National Weather Service, Harriman added, but now it is even more so. It will also be in a file format that is more usable to services like Accuweather and television weather forecasters.

“The big thing is we can offer the higher level data to people who want that deeper dive,” Harriman said. “And we hope that will help contribute to improved forecasting and additional early warnings.”

The new file format didn’t cost the county any additional money, Harriman said. It was already part of the county’s existing contract with the company that provides the radar, which is located at the new Williston Basin International Airport.

Wiliams County decided that it would purchase a radar system to improve regional radar coverage after the National Weather Service was unable to detect the formation of a tornado over Watford City in July 2018.

The tornado killed an infant, injured dozens, and displaced hundreds of people from their homes after descending on the area without warning.

The National Weather Service’s nearest radars are in in Minot and Glasgow, Montana — too far away for their systems to see at the 3,000-foot level, which is where most of the area’s severe storms develop. The National Weather Service’s radar beam over Watford City is at about 10,000 feet.

The new radar system was installed this year. It was a $1 million project, with the radar by itself around $800,000. Funding for the system came from Williams County’s 1 percent Public Safety Sales Tax.

While the radar is located within Williston’s city boundaries, the system is intended to bring regional benefit. Williams County has partnered with the North Dakota State Water Commissions Atmospheric Resource Board to provide public access to the data throughout the northwestern North Dakota region and statewide.

The new radar system can see below 3,200 feet for about 50 miles, below 6,200 feet for about 75 miles, and below 10,000 feet for about 100 miles, greatly expanding the amount of weather data visible to entities like the National Weather Service. The system also complements NEXRAD radar systems in Minot and Bismarck, and year-round radar coverage in Bowman and a seasonal radar in Stanley.

Williams County Emergency Management, meanwhile, can use the data for weather warnings, including its Outdoor Warning Sirens and the ALERT Williams County notification app.

“It’s multifaceted in terms of the benefits,” Harriman said, pointing out that farmers in Bowman and Stanley, which also added their own radar systems, can use the service to see storms approaching their crops. “It can be used by a lot of different entities.”

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