Weather radar services returning to Sask.

Environment Canada’s radar station at Bethune, Sask., will soon be operating again.  |  Michael Raine photo

Environment Canada says farmers should benefit from radar upgrades, which include repairs at Bethune and a facelift at Radisson

Saskatchewan’s two weather radars will soon be operational again after being decommissioned for repairs and improvements.

The Bethune radar experienced a major radome failure after a windstorm swept through the area in October.

The radome is the large white spherical housing protecting the radar equipment inside. It was dented from flying debris, and damage to the dome prevented the radar equipment inside from functioning properly.

According to Environment Canada, overall repair costs are estimated at $50,000 and the radar will be functional again sometime this month.

The Radisson radar location has received a completely new infrastructure and updated system using new microwave technology.

It’s part of a modernization of Canada’s weather service infrastructure that the federal government announced a year ago.

The $83 million contract was awarded to German-based Selex ES GmbH to install 20 new radars by March 31, 2023, including the Radisson radar. The cost represents about $4 million per radar.

The new structures will continue to use an open lattice steel tower, with a radome on top.

Radisson was one of the first radar stations to receive the upgrade and the others will be replaced at a rate of four to seven per year.

The radar system will work in tandem with a new $430 million supercomputer built near Montreal that uses radar and other data to make weather and climate models.

“It has some really interesting features that make it an exciting radar for somebody like myself who’s a forecaster,” said John Paul Cragg of Environment Canada in Saskatoon.

He said the new radars will have an extended severe-weather detection range to cover more of Canada, increasing the Doppler range to 240 kilometres per radar from the current 120 km.

“So, it’s double the range and Doppler radar is really important for picking out signatures in a severe thunderstorm that may indicate the tornadoes occurring,” said Cragg.

The increased range will give residents more lead time to take action to protect themselves and their property from tornadoes and other severe weather. Extended coverage will also provide better overlap of neighbouring radars in case of an outage.

The new technology can conduct a full-circle scan of the atmosphere in six minutes compared to 10 minutes with the old radar.

“So, it’s almost twice as fast getting that image to forecasters. And that’s also very helpful, especially during summer severe weather thunderstorms that can develop very quickly. Having those extra scans can help a forecaster determine what’s happening in that thunderstorm as it develops. And then that helps for putting out watches and warnings,” he said.

Another key feature is use of dual-polarization technology, which enables forecasters to better distinguish between rain, snow, hail and freezing rain as well as better discern the size, shape and variety of precipitation particles.

It will also enable better identification and removal of non-meteorological targets such as birds, bugs and debris from the data.

“It doesn’t just send out a signal in one direction. It sends it out in two directions and that allows us to get a better image of the type of precipitation that’s falling,” he said.

Farmers and rural residents will also benefit from the technology’s increased range and sensitivity.

“We can give watches and warnings about severe thunderstorms that bring hail, freezing rain, whether snow is going to fall, or if there’s going to be rain at the beginning or end of a season. Also, the quicker scans will allow for a little bit better information about where the precipitation is, especially during summer severe weather when thunderstorms are quite small and very localized,” he said.

Cragg said the Radisson radar is scheduled to be fully operational by March.

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