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One Year After Hurricane Irene, Radar Upgrades On Track

More storms expected than originally planned for 2012, officials say.

Exactly one year ago Tuesday, residents across the East End were battening down the hatches and preparing for to deliver her wrath.

Although downgraded to a tropical storm by the time Irene made landfall, in the year since, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has continued with an ongoing project commenced with an eye toward developing new "cutting edge science technology to serve the nation," according to NOAA director Dr. Jane Lubchenco.

Work to upgrade the nation's radar sites had commenced before Hurricane Irene and will continue through 2013; the local radar site in Upton was upgraded this year, according to National Weather Service meteorologist David Stark, who works in the Upton office. 

Plans call for an upgrade to an existing network of 160 Doppler radars to new dual-polarization technology that is expected to significantly improve NOAA's weather products and services ─ specifically for heavy rain, winter storms and severe storms, including tornadoes.

The new technology will also help detect hazards to aircraft such as icing conditions and birds, said Lubchenco.

"Now, forecasters across the country are using the new data to more accurately track, assess and warn the public of approaching weather systems," Lubchenco said.

Stark added that the radar upgrade will help locally to determine rainfall estimates. "In future instances, we would have a better estimate of rainfall," he said. The new radar, however, will not have any major effect on predicting the track of a storm, Stark added.

In addition, NOAA is working to implement a new, "life-saving" Weather-Ready Nation technology that will utilize a new text emergency alert system to warn residents of approaching storms.

Looking ahead, Stark said the hurricane season for 2012 is expected to be busier than originally predicted. The initial estimate for the season called for nine to 15 storms, with four to eight having the potential to become hurricanes, Stark said. In August, that number was increased, with 12 to 17 named storms expected and five to eight having the potential to become hurricanes -- and two to three having the potential to become major weather events.

Stark said the number was increased after a number of named systems in June occurred earlier than anticipated. Most of the storms that have occurred so far this year have taken place over open water, Stark said. The weaker tropical systems had no effect on land, he added.

So far this year, there have been a total of 10 named storms, including Hurricane Isaac, which now has New Orleans residents poised for the storm to make landfall.

"We're at the peak of hurricane season," Stark said. "It's not uncommon to see a few storms out there this time of year."

Looking back on Hurricane Irene, Stark said after the worst had passed, the local National Weather Service office performed a post-storm assessment, looking at how things were handled and "anything that could have been done better." No major changes have transpired as a result of Hurricane Irene, he said.

Stark, who manned the phones handling the media for hours during Hurricane Irene, said the experience was memorable. "Based on what we were dealing with here, with the amount of population we have in this part of the country, it certainly was an interesting experience," he said. "One of our major concerns was the storm surge."

In the end, Stark said, the storm surge wasn't as strong as predicted, weakening over cooler waters offshore and not causing the destruction that was initially feared. "It wasn't as bad as it could have been," he said. 

Of the new radar upgrades, Lubchenco added, "Ultimately, this radar upgrade is one more essential step in our efforts to build a Weather-Ready Nation, and it’s another compelling example of the integrated science and service NOAA delivers to the nation."

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