Miami's Radar Out As Hurricane Frances Approaches

Associated Press

POSTED: 10:43 pm EDT September 1, 2004

MIAMI -- The area's main radar system was not working Wednesday as Hurricane Frances swirled toward the Bahamas, but forecasters promised that it would be operational while the storm is still hundreds of miles from the U.S. coast. To help, two mobile radar units from Texas A&M University were sent to Miami to give the city coverage until the main system is working and to provide backup during the hurricane, officials said.

Thousands of people were evacuated in the Bahamas as Frances bore down on the islands Wednesday. It was expected to reach the United States late Friday or early Saturday with powerful winds of around 140 mph. The National Hurricane Center said the storm could get even stronger as it approaches.

During Hurricane Charley last month, the principal radar covering the landfall area in southwest Florida went down due to mechanical failure. The radar, in Ruskin south of Tampa, wasn't restored until 14 hours before the storm smashed into the state, but backup systems still would have tracked the hurricanes, forecasters said.

Charley killed 27 people and caused $7.4 billion in insured damages.

Miami's main radar has been down since a lightning strike knocked it out last weekend, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Lushine.

But Lushine said the weather service was repairing the main radar and would have it up by Thursday, when Frances is expected to still be outside the Miami-radar's range of 250 miles. The city has been using backup radar from other cities in Florida.

"Having an extra set of eyes is a good thing," Lushine said of the mobile units.

Lushine said any difference between the main radar and the mobile units or backup sites would not affect the forecast track of the storm.

The mobile units would provide less detailed images, meaning it would be more difficult to isolate where, for example, specific wind strength is within the hurricane or if tornadoes are developing inside the storm, Lushine said.

"There would be a slight degradation in capability but we'd still know where (the hurricane) is going to go," Lushine said.

The mobile units from Texas A&M's atmospheric sciences department are part of a venture also involving the University of Oklahoma and the National Severe Storm Lab in Norman, Okla., said Dick Orville, interim head of the department.

"It's a scary situation when you realize you have a Category 4 hurricane heading your way and you have no radar," Orville said.

The radar units, each mounted on a flatbed truck, were sent at the behest of weather officials in Miami. Jerry Guynes, who helped design and build them, will meet the units in Miami.

"Time is becoming a critical factor, so as soon as the trucks get there, they want the system up and running to give them as much information as possible," Orville said.

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