It's official: A permanent weather radar system for Southwest Colorado and the Four Corners is on its way.
Recently, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs awarded $1.7 million in funding for a permanent radar system, clearing the biggest obstacle in the project's path.
"Funding was the big piece, and the state has been incredibly committed to and generous with this project because they recognize the need and value for all of Southwest Colorado and beyond," said Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County.
The Four Corners has long been known as a blind spot when it comes to weather and radar modeling, as major hubs in Albuquerque, Grand Junction and Flagstaff take in data at elevations too high to accurately hone in on areas around Durango.
In Grand Junction, for instance, the radar system on Grand Mesa can't pick up storms that come into the Four Corners at elevations below 28,000 feet, which causes weather forecasters to miss a good amount of incoming storms.
For years, there has been a desire to bring a radar system to the region. But the need became critical after the 416 Fire last summer created unprecedented flood danger when storms hit the fire's burn scar.
DOLA recognized that need in granting the money. "It's very important for you guys to be able to know with radar what's coming," said Natriece Bryant, a spokeswoman for DOLA, "because notification is key to be able to prepare and recover when necessary."
Chuck Stevens, interim La Plata County manager, said there's no set timeline for when the radar system will be functional, but those invested in the project would like to break ground this spring. "We want to move quickly," he said.
The next big hurdle is finding the right spot for the radar system, Graham said. The radar system needs to be set up in a location that both maximizes coverage and, at the same time, is near infrastructure and utilities.
"There may be a site with awesome coverage, but if it's 5 miles from electricity and broadband, it doesn't do us a whole lot of good," she said.
A group was formed, comprised of members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, La Plata County and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, to select a location that makes the most sense, Graham said.
"We will get a good site located," Graham said. "From there, it just becomes a construction project."
As far as funding the continued maintenance and operation of the system, local officials are using Alamosa County as a model. There, the county set up a group of partners to help keep the radar running.
"This will benefit the entire Four Corners," Graham said. "Even if it doesn't reach a specific municipality or location, it'll be able to show what's coming and things that couldn't previously be seen."