Humboldt County EMA Director leads charge in NWS Weather Gap in North Central Iowa

By: Matt Scher, [email protected]

Humboldt, IA – Weather radar detection systems are vital in predicting weather conditions and real-time action on the ground for citizens, but a gap in the radar systems has left over 400,000 north central Iowans and south central Minnesotans without concise weather radar coverage.

The area of north central Iowa and south central Minnesota fall into what is called a ‘weather gap’, or an area that is caught in between National Weather Service radars that causes a lapse in coverage. The area of north central Iowa affected includes Buena Vista, Sac, Pocahontas, Palo Alto, Emmet, Kossuth, Winnebago, Hancock, Cerro Gordo, Worth, Mitchell, and Floyd with areas also affected including the Waterloo, Cedar Falls, and Cedar Rapids metropolitan areas.

The cause of the weather gap is due to the curvature of the Earth, which Humboldt County EMA Director Kyle Bissell says causes radars in Des Moines and Johnston, IA; Sioux Falls, SD; La Crosse, WI; Minneapolis, MN; and Omaha, NE; to not reach our area for adequate imaging. This is due to the radars sending out a straight signal that at farther distances cannot see under 6,000 feet in some areas and up to 10,000 feet in the far upper reaches of North Central Iowa into Minnesota.

“We are in essence blind to anything under 6,000 feet in these areas with other close around nothing detected below 10,000 feet.” Bissell said in a presentation Dec. 1 at the Humboldt County EMA office. The weather events that can’t be detected by radar under 6,000 feet include EF-U to EF-2 rated tornadoes, hail, derechos, and snow squalls.

Bissell has reached out to Iowa’s elected officials at the federal level about the issue that persists with radar detectability in north central Iowa and there are three options currently on the table. The first option of a new NEXRAD radar would bring a $350 million cost to the region. Option two includes an addition of 2-3 C-band weather radars, which carry a price tag of $1.5 million per radar. The third option is already in motion, as a private company called Climavision already has plans to bring three radars to the area says Bissell, in Laurens and Waterloo, IA; and Kiester, MN.

The radars would be of no cost to the municipalities and Climavision would bear the maintenace costs of the radars. Bissell says that the radar imagery would be available to the public through a subscription fee and that Climavision has reached out to the different areas for their tallest structures to place their radars on.

A letter has been addressed from several area EMAs to representatives in the nation’s capital for help regarding any red tape in the process to install the radars to enhance the weather coverage in the gap.