GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - When a weather system hits, it often seems like a guessing game for meteorologists - how much precipitation will fall and where? Will roads be dangerous for travelers? And how long will the storm last?
Recent upgrades to National Weather Service radar on the Grand Mesa mean local meteorologists should have less guess work when making daily predictions for the region.
"Educated guesses will hopefully lessen with the new equipment," said Dennis Phillips, a Grand Junction National Weather Service meteorologist.
Plus, with more information collected, weather experts hope to better understand the implications of large weather systems moving throughout the state.
How? New hardware and software updates to radar sitting at 10,000 feet atop the Grand Mesa means more weather data is being collected from the atmosphere at any given time.
"It's been the biggest upgrade since 1995," Phillips said.
Before, the radar only shot one "horizontal beam" into the Grand Valley's atmosphere. Now the system has been updated to "dual-polarization radar," meaning two beams (one horizontal and one vertical) are collecting weather information minute by minute.
"We were done with the upgrade a week ago," Phillips said, "and it only took about a week to get it changed over."
Improvements to the area's radar lets meteorologists better see the size and shape of particles in the atmosphere, Phillips added. This means more information will be available to predict rain patterns and storm movement, and there will be more differentiation between heavy rain and hail.
Whether snow forecasts for Colorado's high country will have extra benefits from new radar on the Grand Mesa is still to be determined, but it will definitely be able to better predict snowfall on the Western Slope.
Phillips confirmed that both Grand Junction and Boulder's National Weather Service Centers are equipped with the upgraded dual-polarization radar, so storms heading into the mountains from both hubs may now be better predicted.
"We'll be able to see what's in the clouds better and tell what's falling and hitting ground," Phillips said.
Even with an improved radar system, weather watchers will still be needed for valley areas not easily accessed by the Grand Mesa's radar, he added.
Summit Daily News reporter Caddie Nath contributed to this article.