The Cayman Islands’ new Doppler radar weather system will fill a “black hole” in the Caribbean’s ability to track hurricanes in the region.
The radar dish, which resembles a giant soccer ball atop a concrete tower, sends out pulses across a 250-mile radius, providing detailed surveillance of weather affecting all three islands and the surrounding ocean.
The system, based in the district of East End in Grand Cayman, was officially commissioned at a ceremony late last week. Officials said the tracking equipment would be “in service” for the start of hurricane season on 1 June.
It will link with similar facilities across the region to provide storm-trackers with a clear picture of the strength and location of approaching hurricanes.
Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said on Thursday that the radar system would “significantly boost” the region’s ability to prepare for hurricanes and help minimise loss of life and damage to property.
Tyrone Sutherland, co-ordinating director of the Caribbean Meteorological Organisation, said the radar would close a gap in the regional network.
“This is paramount to our hurricane warning system. Right now hurricanes can slip through the western Caribbean unnoticed because we don’t have coverage here.”
He said the new system would mean earlier warnings to the public.
“If you have a hurricane approaching, the weather service will see the details, see the exact movement, the strength, and can share this with the metrological community, so we can provide very early warnings.”
Once the system is up and running, the public will be able to access online tools, including a real-time weather map of the region.
“Every day you can look and see if there are showers around or anything like that,” Mr. Sutherland said.
The radar system, which cost around CI$4.5 million to build, was funded through a European Union grant. The Cayman Islands National Weather Service will be responsible for the monitoring and maintenance of the facility.
The technology will also be used to issue weather data to the US National Hurricane Center, allowing experts in Miami to issue earlier, more precise information when natural disasters strike.
Fred Sambula, director general of the Cayman Islands’ weather service, expects the system to be operational by the beginning of June.
“It will enable forecasters to accurately observe and track weather systems which pose a threat to our islands,” he said. “Whenever a tropical storm enters our radar range, the National Hurricane Center will be receiving data on the position of the centre of the storm. The radar will be operated by in-house meteorological personnel and technicians who will ensure that it remains functional at all times.
“A powerful, dual-precision Doppler weather radar is particularly suited to the extremely heavy rainfall and thunderstorm activity in the tropical oceanic regions.”
Ms O’Connor-Connolly added: “This project is a key component of the European Commission’s strategy of supporting disaster risk reduction. The establishment of an early warning station in the Cayman Islands will significantly boost our region’s ability to prepare for natural disasters and adverse weather.”
She announced at Thursday’s ceremony that the radar would be named in honour of Kearney Gomez, former permanent secretary in the ministry of district administration, works, lands and agriculture, who had worked on the project.