On September 20th, 2017, the US territory of Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria, a strong Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 155 MPH. Ever since this storm hit, the island has been left without a weather radar. The very strong winds and possible flying debris absolutely destroyed the radar, the only one that detects where the precipitation is for all of Puerto Rico. This has forced the National Weather Service in San Juan to use satellite imagery to observe where precipitation may be falling.
The NEXRAD Radar Operations Center (ROC), which provides meteorological software, maintenance, and engineering support for all WSR-88D systems, began to replace the annihilated radar back in late-March. Replacing this particular WSR-88D radar is no easy task for a variety of reasons. The radar site is located inland, in the higher elevations of the southeastern sector of the island, thus it’s a long and difficult task to transport all of the new components to this site. They also needed to deconstruct the remainders of the old radar and build a brand new radar tower. Scaffolding was also built to aid in the assembly of the radome panels.
Progress continues on @NWSSanJuan #wsr88d restoration. Radome assembly underway. Scaffolding required to assist with assembling radome panels. Return to service expected in early June @NWS @FAANews pic.twitter.com/KnPj5lBB6P
— NEXRAD ROC (@NEXRADROC) April 17, 2018
Beginning in mid-April, the crew began to construct the new radome, which protects the actual radar inside. This radome requires over 3000 bolts and caulk to seal the seams. Once the radome was fully constructed, the lightning protection system was added.
During the weekend of April 21-22, the base of the radome, which holds the radar in place on top of the tower, was lifted by a crane and placed on top of the radar tower. A new pedestal was then placed onto the center of the base, or top deck, which is one of the main components of the radar because it holds the satellite. Following this procedure, crews worked on securing all sections of the tower.
Although a lot of progress has been made on the new radar, there is still more work to be done before it’s operational. The radar is expected to be complete in early-June, which also coincides with the beginning of hurricane season. Typically, the Caribbean Sea and surrounding regions are quiet in terms of tropical cyclones, but every season is different.