Tuesday, February 15, 2000

New Weather Radar Will Provide Timely Forecasts for Chattanooga, Tenn

Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Publication Date: 15-FEB-00
Feb. 16--When a tornado ripped through East Brainerd on Easter weekend in 1997, the twister came and went before it showed up on National Weather Service data in Chattanooga.

A new Doppler Radar System coming soon to Chattanooga ought to improve the tracking of such storms and other weather systems, its owner said Tuesday.

"This gets down to street level," said Jerry Lingerfelt, vice president and general manager of WTVC-TV, NewsChannel 9.

The Doppler system will offer live, updated information, said Steve Hunsicker, the Chattanooga station's news director.

He said installation of the system took a big step Tuesday with work starting on a 90-foot tower on Signal Mountain. The $500,000 system should be up and running in March.

Erlanger Health Systems has purchased a promotional package in which its name will appear with NewsChannel 9 on the system, said spokesman Todd Womack.

Erlanger is paying $100,000 a year for five years, he said. In addition to the publicity and advertising Erlanger will see, its LifeForce helicopter operation will have access to the real-time data, said the spokesman.

Mr. Womack said Erlanger's air medical program will be the only one nationally with immediate access to that sort of weather information.

"We know of no other program in the country that is doing that," he said.

Mr. Hunsicker said while the National Weather Service's Doppler radar information is available in Chattanooga, there's a six- to 20-minute delay in receiving the data.

"That's life-saving minutes," he said.

Mr. Hunsicker said that in 1995, the National Weather Service decommissioned the radar serving Hamilton County in favor of a Morristown, Tenn., site.

While the weather service put a site in nearby Alabama, there's still the delay in receiving the information, he said.

Mr. Womack said the new system will allow LifeForce to find out what's happening in terms of weather on particular streets in real time.

"It will show whether it's sunny, there's a thunderstorm or a tornado on the street," he said. "It's a neat advance."

Mr. Hunsicker, citing the East Brainerd tornado that caused $50 million in damage, said it had hit and gone before it showed up on weather service data here.

"We'd have seen that before it touched down," he said.

Mr. Hunsicker said its new system can work with Doppler systems in nearby cities such as Nashville to provide a more complete weather picture regionally by combining images.

Plans are to make the Doppler data available on NewsChannel 9's Web site, though it won't be live information.

Story courtesy of and copyrighted by Chattanoonga Times Free Press

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