A temporary radar system was installed last week north of Durango to help track storms that might cause flooding from the 416 Fire burn scar.
The system is the same equipment that was brought in and placed atop Missionary Ridge last year a few months after the fire when floods hit homes around Hermosa.
“As we experienced last year, having that radar on Missionary Ridge gave us a vantage point to see those storms moving into the 416 area,” said Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County’s Office of Emergency Management. “It’s vitally important to us.”
The Four Corners has long been known as a blind spot when it comes to weather and radar modeling, as major hubs in Albuquerque, Grand Junction and Flagstaff, Arizona, take in data at elevations too high to accurately hone in on areas around Durango.
In Grand Junction, for instance, the radar system on Grand Mesa can’t pick up storms that come into the Four Corners at elevations below 28,000 feet, which causes weather forecasters to miss a good amount of incoming storms.
For years, there has been a desire to bring a radar system to the region. But the need became critical after the 416 Fire last summer created flood danger when storms hit the fire’s burn scar.
Knowlton said having that technology gives emergency responders a leg up, allowing sheriff’s deputies or crews with the county’s Road and Bridge Department to respond to an impacted area more quickly.
Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said the temporary weather station will be left atop Missionary Ridge until the end of September, thanks to funding from the state of Colorado’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The project is a partnership between the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the University of Oklahoma.
The temporary station will also serve as a necessary short-term solution to picking up forecasting blind spots while officials work on securing a permanent radar system.
Earlier this year, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs awarded $1.7 million in funding for a permanent radar system, clearing the biggest obstacle in the project’s path.
Recently, an ideal spot was selected for the station that would not only benefit Durango but also vast swaths of the Four Corners, Knowlton said.
The landowner is excited, Graham added, and all sides are working on a negotiation for a contract. There’s no set time line when the process will be complete, she said.