A location has been finalized for a new permanent weather station for the Four Corners, which is expected to fill in what’s known as a blind spot when it comes to weather and radar modeling in the region.
It was announced Monday that La Plata County and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe have partnered to secure a site on tribal lands along U.S. Highway 550 near Bondad, about 15 miles south of Durango.
The site currently is the location of the SUIT’s air monitoring station that tracks air quality and meteorological conditions. The goal is to have the new station up and running by the end of 2021.
“This is a win for the community,” said county spokeswoman Megan Graham.
Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County’s Office of Emergency Management, said a location atop Black Ridge, also known as Bridge Timber Mountain, was identified early on as the best location for radar coverage.
“We could see basically everywhere,” Knowlton said.
But the site, located on private land, had no road access or any infrastructure like electricity or fiber, which would have made it a costly and time-consuming project, Graham said.
The location near Bondad, however, still meets the criteria of the project.
“It might not be perfect, but it’s good,” she said. “It’s going to fill the gaps that are currently problematic for this region.”
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 the region.
In Grand Junction, for instance, the radar system on Grand Mesa can’t pick up storms that come into the Four Corners below 28,000 feet in altitude, which causes weather forecasters to miss a good number 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 in summer 2018 created flood danger when storms hit the fire’s burn scar.
In 2019, 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.
Graham said the project will soon go out for bid.
As far as funding the continued maintenance and operation of the system, local officials are using Alamosa County as a model. There, the county set up a group of partners to help keep the radar running.
Graham said a handful of local agencies – including the Durango-La Plata County Airport, La Plata Electric Association and Southwest Water Conservation Board – have signed up to help with long-term funding.
Graham said the fund would collect about $30,000 a year, both for yearly operating costs and as a means of saving money for long-term maintenance projects.
SUIT spokeswoman Lindsay Box did not provide comment Monday.
In a prepared statement, SUIT Chairman Christine Sage said: “The weather radar station is a collaborative relation with the County. Where we keep the communication continuing so that works for both the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and La Plata County. Here we are having that share with each other for the betterment of the Tribe and the county.”