Senator John Hoeven today announced that the National Weather Service (NWS) has completed its adjustment of the radar system in Minot to expand low-level coverage in western North Dakota and improve severe weather and tornado warnings in the region. During a meeting he held last year, Hoeven secured a commitment from the NWS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study and address radar gaps for Watford City and the surrounding region, following the 2018 tornado that that resulted in one death, dozens of injuries and the displacement of approximately 200 local residents. The senator also wrote to NOAA pressing for the study and worked as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve the necessary funding in Fiscal Years (FY) 2018 and 2019 for the agency to conduct such studies and adjust radar coverage.
The change included installing new software on the NEXRAD system at Minot Air Force Base, which allowed the NWS to lower the radar’s beam by 3,000 feet over Watford City, from an altitude of about 13,000 feet down to 10,000 feet. According to the NWS’s study, this is the lowest altitude possible without encountering interference from terrain or other obstacles. Following this, the Bismarck Weather Forecast Office incorporated new display software into its computer systems, allowing the office to make effective use of the additional data when issuing warnings. The lower scan altitude has already improved weather radar coverage for the region and helped inform the severe weather warning issued for the northern part of the state on Thursday, August 1.
“The change in NEXRAD coverage is important for protecting communities in western North Dakota from the threat of severe weather,” said Hoeven. “By scanning a lower altitude, the NWS will be better able to detect severe storms and tornados, giving residents more advanced warning and more opportunity to seek shelter. We appreciate NOAA and NWS staff for working with us to advance a study of the radar gaps around Watford City and making the best possible adjustments.”
Because of the previous NEXRAD gaps in western North Dakota, NOAA did not issue a tornado warning for Watford City on July 10, 2018, when an EF2 tornado touched down. Hoeven’s work with NOAA aligns with the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, which Congress passed and the president signed into law in 2017. The bill requires the agency to study gaps in NEXRAD coverage and provide recommendations to address these gaps.