Importance of Doppler Radar Technology to Western Australia

Importance of Doppler Radar Technology to Western Australia

I speak today to reinforce and highlight how fundamentally important DOPPLER RADAR technology is to a wide range of industry groups– not only to the agriculture sector, but to industries such as emergency services, aviation and mining.

Doppler radar capability in Western Australia will not only enhance the capability in warnings and forecasts so vital for the future stability of agriculture in Western Australia, it will provide immense benefits to emergency services and will undoubtedly help to save lives and property.

Doppler radar is specialised radar technology, which provides data at an improved resolution to existing radars and advanced weather forecast and warning services.

Western Australia currently has no Doppler radar capability.

Existing radar coverage (Perth, Geraldton, Albany, Esperance, and Kalgoorlie) only extends to the perimeter of the Wheatbelt region.

Radars are located on coastal areas which provide no benefit to farmers and meteorologists seeking vital data from inland areas to monitor not only severe weather, but measure soil moisture, yield growth, precipitation and wind speed.

Advantages of Doppler Capability:

Agri-business:

Farmers have proven to be avid users of radar imagery where available.  Radar imagery is perceived as aiding short-term decision making with regard to on-farm activities.

It is well documented that farmers, land managers and the community benefit significantly from improved weather and climate predictions generated by state-of-the-art Doppler radar capability.

Growers can make well informed decisions including on-farm activities such as:

  • Tillage
  • seed variety
  • chemicals
  • fertilizer use

 

Doppler Radar enables farmers to better monitor movement and intensity of rainfall.

Radar is the main tool by forecasters in the 0 – 6 hour forecast and warning of rain, thunderstorms, hail and damaging winds.

In addition, farmers and agribusiness could access this data through the Bureau of Meteorology’s public web service.

Doppler radar provides a significant improvement in the remote assessment of the amount of rain reaching the ground by correlating rainfall from radar with ground-based rain gauges.

Radar technology significantly aids decision making using radar estimates of real rainfall on:

  • crop soil water balance
  • soil tilling
  • application of fungicides and insecticides.

 

The high value placed by the rural and regional communities on accurate and timely weather observations is evident in the numerous requests for regional weather radars received by the Bureau of Meteorology each year.

 

Although the information provided by radars is unlikely to prevent crop damage, radar images (and radar-based warnings) enable farmers to take advantage of favourable weather conditions, and make informed decisions on an hourly basis regarding such matters as movement and protection of stock and application of chemicals.

 

Farmers are able to save thousands of dollars on chemical sprays, and are better able manage drift and rain wash-off, which provides significant environmental advantages and reduces unnecessary runoff into rivers and local waterways.

 

Emergency Services (Fire Fighting):

Bush fires can be better evaluated with more timely and accurate data.

The ability to better predict localised wind speed and direction and detect the movement of heavy smoke will help save property, trees and crops, and most importantly lives.

Bushfires in Margaret River and Nannup in recent years caused wide spread devastation to the region. The region lost 100,000 acres of pristine jarrah forest and Margaret River lost 5,000 acres and numerous homes.

Mining Operations:

Mining operations can suffer substantial economic losses from severe weather events such as lightning, flooding and high winds. Open cut mines have to be cleared during storm events resulting in production losses.

A lightning strike on loaded explosives in an open pit could result in an uncontrolled detonation causing injury or death. An estimate of the economic loss resulting from a mine’s closure during severe weather events is over $5 million per annum.

Real-time radar information on the motion and intensity of storms has the potential to provide significant savings to the mining industry. For example, Mount Isa Mines operates a basic lightning system which results in an annual benefit of approximately $0.5 million. While a lightning sensor provides limited information on lightning location, weather radar provides accurate information of the location of a storm cell, as well as the intensity and movement of the cell.

The use of a weather radar then enhances a mine’s ability to further increase production outputs during the wet seasons by avoiding unnecessary shutdowns.

Managing sulphur emissions from smelters and air quality control issues incur economic losses. It is estimated that more accurate weather forecasts would reduce smelter down-time by 20-30% and increase annual revenue by approximately $1 million.

Aviation and Marine:

Aviation is a heavy user of radar data for the benefit of flight planning and avoidance of dangerous weather for both marine and aviation services.

Necessary infrastructure for Crop Mitigation Insurance

The installation of new radar technology would significantly boost the likelihood of the introduction of a range of Crop Mitigation Insurance products in the WA market.

Companies, such as the US based The Climate Corporation, rely on this form of technology to create yield based insurance products, which protect farmers against bad weather events that are known to cause yield loss.

Risk management instruments such as risk mitigation insurance has the ability to create the financial resilience needed by farmers, banks and the agricultural industry to:

  • Assists farmers with planning and manage on-farm risk
  • Protect vital infrastructure
  • Protect farmers’ equity and growers’ balance sheet for future years
  • Stabilise land prices
  • Remove upward pressure on interest rates
  • Dramatically reduce and potentially eliminate the need for Exceptional Circumstances Funding

Economic Benefits

A Canadian study (Fox et al.1999) examined the impact of ‘precipitation forecasts’ on timing harvest decisions for winter wheat.

It was estimated that the value of these forecasts was CAD$100 per hectare per year.

If this last figure is applied to Western Australia’s 12 million ha Wheatbelt Region, the contribution of Doppler radar coverage to the Wheatbelt region’s economy would be over $1 billion per annum.

 

Radar Network Proposal

At around $3.5 million each installed, the State has through the 2013-2014 Budget sufficient funds in the Department of Agricultural Royalties for Regions forward estimates to:

  • Build 6 new Doppler radars
  • Upgrade the existing Perth and Kalgoorlie radars to Doppler capability
  • Develop a comprehensive network of automated weather and soil moisture measuring stations.

 

In total, I believe an investment of a total of $25 million over the next 3-years to construct a network of 6 stations would create a series of world class radar-based applications in Western Australian.

 

Further, the SW town of Nannup is working to establish a new Emergency Management Institute to better train those involved in bushfire management.

 

Radar capability in the SW would be of enormous benefit to this project and emergency services management throughout the region.

 

As a priority, the installation of 2 Doppler weather monitoring radar stations in the eastern-Wheatbelt would enable the Bureau of Meteorology and farmers to forecast drought and heavy rainfall more effectively. While of immense benefit to our grain growers, it would also demonstrate that this Government is serious about supporting WA agriculture.

Funding is immediately available through the $5 million allocation within the government’s Agricultural Election policies ($10m – Helping Grain Growers Better Manage Risk).

Conclusion:

Over the past several decades Doppler radar has proved to be an invaluable tool to weather forecasters; I call on this Government to make a concerted effort to keep abreast of emerging technology and, as many other countries have around the world, upgrade existing radars to Doppler capability and invest in establishing its own Doppler radar network in Western Australia.

The USA has a network of over 150 Doppler radars that are now being upgraded to dual-polarization capability at present.

The UK’s network, including seven Doppler radars, has been expanded and is upgrading the network to Doppler with ‘dual-polarisation’.

France has almost total Doppler coverage including some dual and triple Doppler coverage.

As Western Australia becomes increasingly vulnerable to weather, the investment made in establishing a Doppler radar network will not only provide major economic benefits to the WA farming sector, it will assist in saving lives and property and help to build a ‘weather-ready’ State.

 

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