La. congressman proposes bill to close gap in weather radar coverage

La. congressman proposes bill to close gap in weather radar coverage

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Louisiana congressman has proposed legislation that could save lives in Louisiana during severe weather events.

U.S. Congressman Dr. Charles Boustany, R-Louisiana, introduced the Reducing America's Destructive Atmospheric Risks (RADAR) Act in an effort to increase Doppler weather radar coverage in a portion of the state that experts agree is in need of better coverage.

A simple map showed a confirmed tornado in St. Mary Parish that went undetected by radar during severe weather on February 23. At the time, no meteorologist knew about the tornado, which means no warnings went our for people in that area.

Radar coverage at ≤4,000 feet (green), at ≤6,000 feet (yellow) and at ≤10,000 feet in blue. The location of a confirmed EF-1 tornado in St. Mary Parish is shown, clearly in an area with poor radar coverage. (Source: NOAA/NCEI & Steve Caparotta)

In March, WAFB Meteorologist Steve Caparotta wrote a commentary that shows the radar gap and exposes its potentially deadly consequences. Click here to read Caparotta's detailed post which highlights the problem.

"Our best radar views around Metro Baton Rouge are about a mile and a half above ground level. So, you could actually have rotation a mile and a half up that's not down to the ground, vice versa you could have some rotation below that level but the radar is not picking up at all and completely missing."

A diagram of how Doppler radar works. (Source: WAFB)

Weather officials in the area use two main Doppler sites: one in Slidell and another one in Lake Charles.

"As they issue these warnings, it's with a low degree of confidence in this part of the state because what they're looking at is not very detailed and not the best information that they could have if we had another radar closer to us," Caparotta said. "So the farther you get from the radar the higher that beam is getting into the sky. The second element is because the earth is curved, the radar beam is also getting higher the farther it gets away from the radar site, so it's important to fill in that coverage gap."

Radar coverage at ≤4,000 feet (green) and at ≤6,000 feet (yellow). (Source: NOAA/NCEI)

Boustany, a Lafayette native who represents the state's 3rd Congressional District, cited Caparotta's report as a jumping post to introduce the RADAR Act, which could try and close the gap in South Louisiana's radar coverage.

"We need early warnings. When you have tornadoes, these things can be very frightening," Boustany said. "But this is a matter of saving lives. When I found out that the entire Capital region doesn't have very good coverage in this regard and there are blank spots, this is something we have to tackle."

The RADAR Act calls on the federal government to set up at least one Doppler weather radar site within 55 miles of each state capital city in the country. Boustany is hoping to line up support for his bill and obtain co-sponsors to aid in its passage.

Caparotta said the current radar placement not only leaves holes, but could lead to later warnings.

"We've got the technology to detect the tornadoes pretty well in most cases," he said. "Now we just need the technology a little bit closer to us to do a better job."

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