The European Commission will fund the installation of a weather radar system that uses Doppler technology in the Cayman Islands.
Once operational, the radar will fill a major gap of coverage in the Caribbean region and also help make air travel safer here.
Details of the project, which was commenced in February, were revealed at press conference Wednesday.
Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush said the new radar would significantly enhance the Cayman Islands’ ability to predict severe weather.
‘This will, of course, boost our disaster preparedness capability,’ he said.
Mr. Bush explained that the European Commission would supply 4.16 million euro – approximately US$5.5 million – toward the project. The Cayman Islands will commit 500,000 euro to the project, representing an in-kind contribution covering land acquisition and provision of services and local technical support.
‘Through the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, which is the implementing agency, Cayman will also assume responsibility for coordinating the technical aspects of the project, and for operating and maintaining the radar once it is installed.’
The completion date for the project is 31 December, 2011, but Minister of Works Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said she hoped the radar could become operational before then.
The radar will cover a range of 250 miles – which envelops all three Cayman Islands – and offer coverage in the western-Caribbean gap in between Doppler radar facilities in Belize and Jamaica.
Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly said filling that coverage gap would bring the Cayman Islands into favourable light.
‘It won’t put us on a black list or a grey list or a white list,’ she said. ‘It will put us on a safety protection list.
‘The weather black hole that was in existence prior to the commission of this Doppler radar system will no longer be there.’
Tyrone Sutherland, the coordinating director of the Caribbean Meteorological Organisation and the second vice-president of the World Meteorological Organisation, said the radar data would be linked with other systems already in place throughout the Caribbean. He said it would also allow Cayman to monitor systems that form to the south, similar to Hurricane Paloma last year.
The radar will be placed on a site on Grand Cayman yet to be decided. Mr. Sutherland said site selection experts had been on the island this week to look at various options.
‘There are a few sites we want to further investigate before we pin it down,’ Mr. Sutherland said, adding that the large radar facility would go somewhere on the Eastern half of Grand Cayman.
The reinforced concrete tower on which the radar sits will be some 55 to 65 feet high, and the circular radar housing itself is another 36 feet high.
‘It’s going to be away from heavily populated areas,’ Mr. Sutherland said.
Cayman Brac was considered as a possible site for the radar facility, but was rejected for a couple of reasons, one of which had to do with its location farther east of Grand Cayman and the inability to close the radar gap between Grand Cayman and Central America.
Another reason had to do with the sending of large amounts of data from the radar facility to Cayman’s Meteorological Services Office in George Town.
Mr. Sutherland said it would be more difficult to send that data from Cayman Brac, and that the details of getting the data from the remote site on Grand Cayman to the Met Office hadn’t been worked out yet. He said it might be necessary to use a microwave link between the radar and the Met Office, although if there were a fibre optic network nearby, that could possibly be used as well.
Once installed, the new radar system will help more than just the Cayman Islands as it becomes part of a regional hurricane warning network, of which the National Hurricane Center in Miami is the designated lead.
Cayman’s Head of Meteorological Services Fred Sambula said the new radar system will become the primary forecasting tool when a weather system comes into range.
‘Once it comes in range of the radar, [the National Hurricane Centre in] Miami no longer tells us where the system is; we tell Miami where it is.’
Mr. Sambula said Cayman personnel would receive factory training on the equipment and user training as well before the system comes on line.
In addition to tracking and analysing the strength of tropical storm systems, the new radar will also be able to detect heavy rains, waterspouts and tornados, and even wind shear. The latter will assist in air travel and allow air traffic controllers to delay the landing or take off of aircraft if dangerous wind shear is present on the flight pattern.
Mr. Bush expressed his gratitude for the funding of the project to the European Commission on behalf of the people of the Cayman Islands.
‘We can’t stress how important this is for the country,’ he said. ‘It’s money well spent.’
‘The weather black hole that was in existence prior to the commission of this Doppler radar system will no longer be there.’ Juliana O’Connor Connolly