- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

CORTEZ, Colo. (AP) - A researcher for the Colorado Water Conservation District says southwestern Colorado has a weather radar blind spot that makes it difficult to predict severe storms.

Forecasters say they are being forced to rely on radar installations in Grand Junction, Flagstaff, Arizona, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, and none of those stations can detect dangerous low-altitude conditions over hundreds of miles. Forecasters have to rely on satellite images, weather watchers and far-away radar images to make predictions in those areas.

Officials said several severe storms have hit the area without warning.

“We can’t forecast what we can’t see, whether it’s water supply or extreme weather,” said Colorado Water Conservation District researcher Joe Busto.

Jim Pringle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said none of the stations detect low-altitude, dangerous conditions in an area that reaches from Alamosa west to the Grand Canyon, and from Gallup, New Mexico, north to Moab, Utah.

“We would like to see a radar station in that area,” he said. “On the weather maps, you can see the gap in your area where radar does not hit.”

Scientists say the blind spots are caused in part by the curvature of the Earth. When straight-line radar beams reach southwest Colorado from the closest station in Grand Junction, they’re too high to do much good.

Last year, a winter storm hit San Juan County, Utah, as weather forecasts called for up to 16 inches of snow. That storm dumped up to 3 feet of snow in the northeast Navajo Nation, leaving residents struggling in waist-high drifts, forcing the tribe to declare a state of emergency.

Later that year, more than a foot of snow fell during a blizzard that caused whiteout conditions and closed U.S. Highway 491 from Cortez, Colorado, to Monticello, Utah, for 17 hours. The storm was blamed for a 19-car pileup that stranded motorists.

Meteorologist Jim Andrus, of Cortez, provides information for the National Weather Service in the blind spot, using the internet at the Cortez Public Library, the Cortez Journal reported (https://tinyurl.com/jy39ukh ).

“I’ve had several incidents where there were no radar echoes showing up on the weather channel, but it’s raining or snowing outside,” Andrus said. “Radar is not picking up low-level storms.”

In 2014, Andrus alerted the weather service to a severe storm that approached Cortez from a blind spot near Ute Mountain. The weather service issued a warning based on Andrus’ report from the ground, and people were able to scramble to safety.

“It hailed, and trees were blown down. Radar can tell you how intense a storm is,” he said.


Information from: Cortez Journal, https://www.cortezjournal.com/

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