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National Weather Service temporarily closing Mayville, North Dakota, radar station for upgrades

Shutdown not expected to adversely impact Weather Service work

Mayville weather radar photo from 2015
The protective radome of the National Weather Service weather radar station near Mayville, N.D., is seen in this Forum file photo.
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MAYVILLE, N.D. — Beginning Tuesday, Feb. 16, the weather radar station near Mayville, N.D., operated by the National Weather Service will be taken offline for major refurbishing of a critical component of the radar system.

Service is expected to be down for about two weeks.

According to information provided by the Weather Service, the work will center on the pedestal that allows the station's radar antenna to rotate and capture data in all directions.

The old pedestal will be removed, and a refurbished pedestal will be installed.

Because the affected components are very heavy, the work will require the removal of the system's protective "radome" by the use of a crane.

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The protective shell is expected to be off only briefly, according to Ryan Knutsvig, meteorologist in charge of the Weather Service office in Grand Forks.

file photo of Mayville radar station
The 24-foot radar dish of the National Weather service weather radar station north of Mayville, N.D., can be seen in this Forum file photo from 2015. The pedestal that supports the radar antenna will soon be replaced with a refurbished pedestal.

The station's radar and pedestal were designed to last 25 years, and NWS officials say the current components have exceeded their lifespans.

It is expected the work set to start next week will keep the radar functioning for another 20 years or more.

The weather radar station located north of Mayville celebrated 20 years of operation in 2016.

According to a story from Forum News Service archives from that year, when meteorologists in the Red River Valley talk about Doppler radar and point to maps filled with swirling rainbow-hued clouds, the information is made possible by the radar station located next to a quiet country road outside of Mayville.

Weather Service officials say the radar is an important tool for warning the public about potentially dangerous weather conditions, particularly in the summer when tornadoes can pop up, but also in the winter when snowstorms threaten to blow in.

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The radar's official maximum range is about 290 miles, but for many reasons the actual range falls far short of that.

The radar's Doppler function, used for tornado warnings, for example, has a maximum range of just 143 miles, beyond which its accuracy falls off precipitously.

Also, the microwaves emitted by the radar system do not follow the curvature of the Earth, so the farther they are from the radar the higher in the atmosphere they tend to be, meaning they can miss storms that are closer to the ground.

To reduce the chances of that happening, Weather Service radars are built close to major cities and usually have overlapping coverage; that's why the Mayville radar is halfway between the region's two biggest cities — Fargo and Grand Forks — and overlap five other radars.

The overlap can still be imperfect because radars that overlap at the edge of their effective ranges, where the beams are highest above the ground, can still overshoot storms closer to the ground.

Knutsvig stressed that while the Weather Service won't have the Mayville radar for two weeks, some coverage is available from neighboring NWS radars, in addition to Canadian radars to the north.

Neighboring radars in the U.S. include systems in Minot and Bismarck in North Dakota as well as in Aberdeen, S.D., and Minneapolis and Duluth in Minnesota.

Knutsvig said forecasters will also have satellite data to work with.

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"Fortunately, for this install, the outlooks are favoring drier conditions compared to normal. Also, I'm thankful the outage is not going to occur during the peak of the severe thunderstorm season," Knutsvig said, adding the actual swapping out of the old pedestal for a refurbished one is expected to take just one day.

The pedestal refurbishment is the third major project of the NEXRAD Service Life Extension Program, a series of upgrades that will keep the nation’s radars viable into the 2030s.

The National Weather Service, the United States Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration are investing $135 million in the eight-year program.

The first project was the installation of the radar site's new signal processor, and the second project was the refurbishment of its transmitter.

The fourth project will be the refurbishment of the equipment shelters.

The Service Life Extension Program is anticipated to be complete in 2023.

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