National Weather Service’s radar panel repairs hit bump

04/13/2014 12:00 AM

04/13/2014 10:32 AM

Most people in the region probably didn’t realize it, but the radar at the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service took much of last week off.

A maintenance crew began replacing 13 damaged panels in the globe that protects the dual-polarization radar – only to discover that five more needed to be replaced. That means the radar will have to be taken offline again when the weather cooperates and the additional replacement panels are in hand.

“We’re having a calm week here,” Robb Lawson, a meteorologist with the weather service, said of the timing for the repairs. The weather service is at 2142 S. Tyler, near Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

Large hail that fell in Wichita on Sept. 15, 2010, damaged numerous panels on the dome that protects the radar from storms and the sun’s ultraviolet light, said Rich Fallin, an electronics technician for the weather service. Each panel measures 10 feet by 15 feet.

“It’s quite a bit of work,” Fallin said.

The same hail storm produced a hail stone with a state-record diameter of 7.75 inches.

Most of the damage was on the southwest side of the dome.

“You can’t see it from the bottom,” Fallin said. “It was all top damage.”

The radar returned to service Thursday afternoon. Once all the damaged panels are replaced, the dome will receive a fresh coat of paint. The panels are repainted every 10 years, Fallin said.

An off-duty radar didn’t mean weather service meteorologists had no radar available, Lawson said. Radars in Dodge City, Topeka and Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma are all capable of providing coverage for the Wichita area while the local radar was down.

Rather than rely on any one of them, Lawson said, forecasters made use of a combination of surrounding radars.

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