Caddie Nath

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September 30, 2012
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New technology to dial in Summit County snow forecasts

When a winter storm rolls in, weather forecasters know when and generally where snow is coming.

But if they could determine the speed and nature of the snow, the amount of moisture, the size of the flakes - they could get a more accurate sense of the storm and whether a dusting or a powder day is to come.

Now they can.

Once stuck reading pulses on a single plane, new technology installed in National Weather Service stations across Colorado is reading two planes, giving weather watchers a more accurate picture of the precipitation.

"It's more of what's happening right now," said Matthew Aleska, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. "We can better forecast how many inches with the dual-polarization radar. It will help with what type of snow, that affects snowfall amounts, and snowfall rates within the storm."

Grand Junction and Boulder's National Weather Service Centers, both of which watch Summit County, are now equipped with the upgraded dual-polarization radar ahead of the winter season.

The new technology sends out both horizontal pulses and vertical pulses, creating a more accurate picture of what's going on in the atmosphere, forecasters say.

"It does a little better job," National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin said. "It's still weather forecasting, it's always a challenge, but it's a nice improvement."

Existing Dopler radar systems send out only a single horizontal pulse signal at different atmospheric levels. The new dual-polarization radar sends out both vertical and horizontal pulse signals, returning better data on the precipitation currently in the atmosphere.

"It scans the shape of the hydrometeors," Aleska said. "That allows us, for the near-term, to project better forecasts and basically to provide better warnings."

The new dual-polarization technology systems in Colorado are part of a nationwide upgrade. Officials say every NWS office in the country will eventually have the new radars.

The new radar in Grand Junction sits at 10,000 feet, atop the Grand Mesa, but weather watchers are unsure how the elevation may impact the data it collects.

It is still unclear how the new technology will work with mountain weather systems.

The new technology won't have much precipitation to pick up on in Summit County, at least for the next few days, however.

Current NWS forecasts call for sun and warm temperatures to continue through the first part of the week.

Highs are expected to climb into the mid-50s to low 60s today, Tuesday and Wednesday, possibly dropping off a bit on Thursday. But sunny skies and starry nights are in the forecast through the week.

Summit County can expect some wind and overnight temperatures in the low 30s, according to the NWS forecast.

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The Summit Daily Updated Oct 1, 2012 03:43PM Published Sep 30, 2012 07:37PM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.