The National Weather Service (NWS) and the Department of Defense have succeeded in getting the Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) in Cayey, Puerto Rico, back up and running. This completes the repairs required by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017.
The Federal Aviation Administration was key to the process. NEXRAD is essential for safe flights on and off the Island. Airplanes were the best option for getting needed supplies for people affected by the disaster. FAA teams in some cases stayed at the weather tracking facilities to help monitor equipment. The FAA set up a daycare center at Luiz Munoz International Air Traffic Control Tower so that FAA employees could work without worrying about their children. Many of these families had no power or water at their homes, just like their neighbors.
As soon as debris were cleared, FAA workers began providing air traffic control services to help emergency flights land safely. However, they had to rely on partial weather information. With multiple airports, air traffic control stations, and radar stations in need of extensive repair, the FAA has been working for more than ten months to bring all their facilities back into service.
Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) products are a major improvement over earlier types of weather tracking radar. NEXRAD allows air traffic controllers to see the same data pilots are seeing, at the same time. Analysis of Doppler radar data allows prediction of tornadoes and storm activity, earlier and more accurately than in the past. NEXRAD collects information on wind gusts, wind shear activity, microbursts within storms, and growth trends.
While NEXRAD’s big job is air safety, it also helps provide data and analysis for weather apps and weather prediction services. Heading into the 2018 hurricane season, Puerto Rico will be better able to predict and prepare for this year’s storms.