The WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network closes coverage gap in Shoals

Since the launch of the WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network, we've been explaining all the ways this system will help keep our community safe.

Posted: Oct 2, 2020 9:10 PM
Updated: Oct 5, 2020 1:11 PM

It's a story that's been told more than once in the Shoals. Tuscumbia Mayor Kerry Underwood has his own story to tell.  

"The siren never went off 'cause nobody knew that one had spun up. It went right beside my building and took the roof off a building three buildings down from me, and so I knew we had a problem."

In the Shoals, tornadoes can spin up quickly with little to no warning and little to no lead time.

This has been an issue for the Shoals in the past. One of the reasons: A lack of high quality radar data. The Shoals area sits in an area known as a "coverage gap."

"There's 150,000 people in the Shoals area and we feel like we're under-served...not because of the meteorologists, but because of the equipment that's here. We're not able to be seen for what's coming through as well as other places are," said Underwood.

In this "coverage gap," tornadoes that form quickly or low to the ground are especially difficult to spot, and that makes it diffucult to warn you about them. 

Colbert County EMA director Michael David Smith says, "So for so many years we have been in this dead zone, this Bermuda Triangle, so to speak, between Columbus radar and Huntsville and Memphis, we've always been right on the fringe and the data hasn't been all that great...and there have been so many times that we've had particularly dangerous storms that have come through, that we really didn't know how dangerous it was until after it moved through and we started getting damage reports."

Underwood has known about this problem for years, and has been reaching out to the folks in Washington for a fix. 

"Nothing ever really happened, and so the day I was driving down Cox Boulevard and I saw they were building that on top of that water tower was a very happy day for me because it is a need here," Underwood said of the WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network radar in Muscle Shoals.

"... And I know about curvature of the Earth and I understand how some things you can see and some things you can't. So when those smaller ones spin up and you can't see them, you can't warn us."

With the WAAY 31 StormTracker Radar Network, that's about to change.  

The Muscle Shoals radar site allows us to actually close the gap between the radar sites in Columbus, Mississippi and Hytop, Alabama. This provides coverage for an area that was previously without good radar data, helping to alert people about storms sooner. 

The radar on top of the water tower off Cox Boulevard has received a warm welcome.

"I'm just very appreciative of Channel 31 taking that initiative and investing that money into just the people of the community is basically what they're doing," Smith said. "They're doing what it takes to save lives and we definitely appreciate that investment."

 Underwood echoes that sentiment: "We need to know if there's weather coming and to be prepared for it...and in that way, you're preventing damage, you're saving lives...and the 150 thousand people here...you couldn't help us until you installed this radar. So, we're grateful.  As a community, as the entire Shoals and Tuscumbia, we're very grateful for this...I have no doubt that this radar, at some point in time, will save a life or two...probably sooner than we think."

When it's all said and done, the main objective with the launch of the WAAY 31 StormTracker Early Warning Radar Network is to not leave out a single community when it comes to life-saving weather information.  We're now tracking storms long before they reach your area live, in real-time, across all of North Alabama.

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