Getting in range: bringing a radar closer

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LAUDERDALE CO., Miss. (WTOK) - Weeks after a tornado struck Lauderdale County, officials are looking to the future: how to quickly detect storms to make sure there is plenty of warning.

"To lose a life and know that we didn't talk to people and seek a solution to the problem we're having with the radar, I think that would just be a bad thing," District 1 supervisor Jonathan Wells says.

With a lack of sufficient radar in the area, supervisors like Wells came to the governor for answers.

"It's just part of the mitigation that we will have to do," Gov. Phil Bryant says. "We have to have radar systems that will be able to cover this East Mississippi, Lauderdale and Meridian, and that will be part of the request."

Officials would have to determine the best location for the radar. It's important to have it close, but not too close.

"For radar to be able to see Meridian effectively, it would have to be between 10-15 miles outside of the city," WTOK-TV chief meteorologist Brian Hutton Jr. says. "If you put it in the city, it's in the cone of silence, and it can't see anything. So you want to move it away between 10 and 15 miles for the best coverage."

And perhaps the biggest hurdle: the cost. Officials at Baron Services estimate it would cost upwards of a million dollars for a private operation to purchase a radar in this area. That's not including maintenance, which can cost over $10,000 a year, the cost to power the radar and the construction of a possible tower. The numbers quickly add up.

"Many, many millions of dollars," National Weather Service senior meteorologist Eric Carpenter says. "That are site restrictions and a lot of things that go into it, setting up a radar. Plus, you have to maintain the radar, you have to have manpower to make sure it's up and running correctly because bad radar data can be worse than no radar data."

Even with a hefty price tag, Wells says this problem is not something that can be ignored.

"We can't be short-sighted and easily forget how lucky we were that we didn't lose anybody and God forbid, next time it could be worse," he says.

The University of Louisiana at Monroe recently purchased a $3million radar with the help of a FEMA grant. Newscenter11 spoke to an atmospheric science professor there, who says they have an agreement to transmit data to the National Weather Service in real time at no cost.