Once blind spots for weather radar, Southwest Colorado and the Four Corners may soon show up on the map.
The National Weather Service is proposing to lower the elevation of one of its radar systems in Grand Junction to better home in on a slice of Southwest Colorado, eastern Utah and farther into the Four Corners.
“It will be a big improvement,” said Jeff Colton, a warning coordination meteorologist for the NWS.
The Four Corners has long been known as a blind spot when it comes to weather forecasting and radar modeling, as major hubs in Albuquerque, Grand Junction and Flagstaff, Arizona, take in data at a far higher elevation than where storms usually linger.
In Grand Junction, for instance, the radar system on Grand Mesa can’t pick up storms that come into the Four Corners at elevations below 28,000 feet, which causes weather forecasters to miss a good number of incoming storms.
Lowering one of its radar beams would help catch many of those areas, Colton said.
If ultimately approved, he said forecasting in Cortez, eastern Utah and down into the Four Corners will “vastly improve.” And, he said the proposal doesn’t require any additional equipment and changes – it’s a simple software tweak to the system that was installed in 1995.
“The forecasters are pretty excited about it, and to be able to see areas we haven’t seen since the radar was installed,” Colton said.
He said it could take one to two years before the project is implemented.
The tweak, however, will not alleviate issues with La Plata County and Durango’s blind-spot issue. While areas around Silverton and Purgatory Resort may get better coverage, Colton said the mountains around Durango still block radar from outside areas.
But big changes are on the way.
Earlier this year, it was announced a permanent weather radar system for the Durango area and beyond received funding, thanks to a $1.7 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
Local officials say the need for a radar system in the region became critical after the 416 Fire last summer created significant flood danger when storms hit the fire’s burn scar, north of Durango, in an area not picked up by radar.
Megan Graham, La Plata County spokeswoman, said a preferred area has been identified, and negotiations are ongoing with the landowner. She said there’s no timeline for construction.
A temporary radar system was installed atop Missionary Ridge for the summer, which can be viewed at https://arrc.ou.edu/px1000/.