Even the National Weather Service itself isn’t immune to problems and damage from the weather. That was the case late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning when Category 4 Hurricane Laura was coming in at Cameron Parish and then bulldozed her way through Calcasieu, Beauregard, Vernon, and Sabine Parishes.
As hurricane force winds began lashing the region, the weather radar in both Lake Charles and Fort Polk failed, leaving meteorologists and the media to depend upon images from the radar stations at Houston, Shreveport, and New Orleans to monitor the progress of the deadly storm.
Meanwhile, the staff at the National Weather Service office in Lake Charles had already been evacuated to the New Orleans office out of concern of storm surge possibly inundating their Lake Charles building.
On Saturday, Meteorologist Roger Erickson gave an update on the status of the Lake Charles radar station:
• It's difficult to predict how long it will take to get the radar returned to service. The extent of the damage to the Lake Charles WSR-88D “NEXRAD” is unknown until we can get to the radar to assess it. A team of technicians and engineers from the Radar Operations Center is expected to travel to Lake Charles early next week. The first priority will be to remove the exposed equipment as quickly and safely as possible, to prevent further damage from the elements.
• One of the adjacent radars located at Fort Polk is down due to a communications outage. Upon inspection by the site technician, no damage was evident. The communications outage is being worked. No estimated time for a return to service.
• Meanwhile, NWS forecasters will rely on data from nearby radars in Houston, Shreveport, and New Orleans to provide forecasts and warnings for the public. The network of radars was designed to provide overlapping coverage.
• A catastrophic failure like this typically costs around $1M to repair. Exact costs are unknown until the full extent of the damage is investigated.
• The radome on a WSR-88D like the one in Lake Charles is rated to sustain 124 mph. The Lake Charles radar went down at approximately 12:53 am CDT due to communications, which also resulted in the Fort Polk radar losing communications. The Lake Charles radar is located near the airport, which reported 100 mph winds at 12:53 am. The last wind gust measured by the airport’s sensor was 132 mph at 1:53 am. It is unknown what time after 12:53 am the major damage occurred to the radar.