Extreme weather forecasting in the Bay Area has a new high-tech tool

Valley Water unveils first permanent X-Band radar in Santa Clara County

Valley Water joined local, regional, state, and federal agencies today to unveil the first permanent X-Band radar in the San Francisco Bay Advanced Quantitative Precipitation Information (AQPI) System. The radar, located on top of the Penitencia Water Treatment Plant in San Jose, is the cornerstone in a new network of high-resolution, low-elevation radars that will improve weather forecasting of atmospheric rivers and extreme weather events across the region.

“Today marks a great milestone in a collaboration that will provide vital information during storms,” said Valley Water CEO Norma Camacho. “We and our partners across the region are committed to helping keep our communities safe from floods.”

Forecasting rainfall from powerful Pacific storms can be a challenge for meteorologists due to the complex terrain of the San Francisco Bay Area. Precipitation from these storms often forms at low levels, well below the range of existing radars. Once complete, the AQPI network will consist of four X-Band Radars and one C-Band Radar placed at strategic locations across nine counties in the Bay Area.

“We are aligning our regional expertise and resources to provide critical information for flood emergency response and integrated water management tailored to a specific area’s needs,” said Michael Anderson, State Climatologist for the California Department of Water Resources. “This is an excellent demonstration of our Weather-Ready Nation initiative, to help communities prepare for extreme weather, water, and climate events,” added NOAA’S Rob Cifelli, who will monitor the system, designed by Colorado State University.

The system will provide improved data for forecasting, which will assist water managers, reservoir operators, wastewater plant managers, flood, and emergency responders to make operational and safety decisions during extreme weather events.

“As a former long-time firefighter, I am very aware that every minute counts in critical situations and your decisions depend on the information that is available to you”, said Director Richard P. Santos, District 3, who represents the area where the Penitencia Water Treatment plant is located.

The SF Bay Advanced Quantitative Precipitation Information (AQPI) System was funded in 2016 by a $20 million grant from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and awarded to Sonoma Water and partners from Santa Clara to Sonoma.

“Working together with our partners across the region, allows us to improve our resiliency, and enhance our water operation’s reliability,” explained Steve Ritchie, Assistant General Manager for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, one of thirteen agencies collaborating on the project.

“We know that the climate is changing, and we need to be ready for whatever it throws at us,” said Sonoma Water General Manager Grant Davis. “AQPI will give us the information about storm impacts that we need to manage extreme storms in an era of climate change.”

As of January 2020, two X-Band radars are operational, including one in Sonoma County and one in Santa Clara County. Two more X-Band radars are slated for installation during 2020.

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