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National Weather Service in Billings has new pedestal installed for Doppler radar

Posted at 10:43 AM, Sep 18, 2023

BILLINGS — It's been close to 30 years since the National Weather Service has done this type of maintenance on the Doppler radar here in Billings, something they're doing to ensure we have more accurate weather forecasts for a long time to come.

"A pedestal is what we're replacing here today," said John Wetenkamp, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Billings.

"It's the part of the radar that controls the position of the radar so it's the most critical component. What they will do is they will pop the dome off here and swap out our pedestal with one that's been refurbished."

And it's no easy task as the dome itself weighs 6,000 pounds. What about the pedestal? A whopping 11 tons. The whole process took less than four hours. So who did the heavy lifting?

"We have a contract company that's participating in doing this work for the weather service office and then we have other technicians on site today that are assisting with the operation. The last time this was done would be when the radar was installed in November of 1995," Wetenkamp said.

That was almost 30 years ago, and a well-known Billings citizen remembers that day quite well.

"So eventually they started coming out with a new Doppler radar and were putting those all over the country," said Bob McGuire, former Q2 chief forecaster who has since retired.

"Billings was like in the third wave of that installation. That's what happened in '95. So they built a new one out there just north of the airport. Once they got that Doppler radar built and the new pedestal put on, we could tell what the wind was doing, we could tell what the rain was doing. It even had the ability to estimate how much rainfall had fallen in a particular area so that's why it was just a really good jump in technology."

The new pedestal comes from Kunsan, the U.S. Air Force Base in South Korea. It's been refurbished for use in our area.

"And that will keep the radar running for at least another 20 years, maybe even longer than that, before the next major upgrade."

Sept. 25 is the projected date to take the radar back online after everything has been reassembled including all the wires and joints but if performance checks run smoothly it could be up and running sooner. While we're waiting during this process, the National Weather Service would like to give you this friendly weather reminder.

"Be ready for impactful weather events whether it be during the winter months or during the summer months. Stay prepared, stay ahead of the weather."

And never be caught off guard.