New water tower cut off National Weather Service radar tracking tornadoes

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BRANDON, Miss. (WJTV) – A water tower built in Brandon is at the center of stopping a wide range of Mississippians from getting accurate information about storms moving across the central part of the state. Since 2001 the National Weather Service has tracked every storm to come across this region through their radar tower in Brandon which is how we and Emergency Management get information to warn the public to take cover. But getting the full scope has been cut off by a new water tower.

After decades of constant expansion and population growth, the City of Brandon called for a new half a million-gallon water tower to supply homes and businesses. Even after knowing the consequences.

“We began to communicate to the National Weather Service and everyone else that radar site needed to be relocated,” Mayor Butch Lee said. “Unfortunately, it has not been relocated. We gave them a free site to use for 20 years and our expectations it was at some point in time to be relocated to a better site.”

To break down and move the entire radar system would be costly and take time the National Weather Service explained they don’t have it during most of the year.

“If that was to occur that would result in a lot of downtime for the radar to be offline,” NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Felecia Bowser explained. “Especially if that gets done during severe weather season it wouldn’t be a very good idea because that’s one of the main radars, we use to help us issue tornado warnings.”

The way it should work is the radar being able to monitor wind velocity in any direction detecting rotation then debris picked up in the cyclone. But with the water tower, many graphics show the signal cutoff and widening as you get farther from the radar, leaving people blocked from knowing the storm’s full capability.

“With the water tower being the same height as our radar we just have a little bit of trouble seeing the lower levels,” Bowser added. “We can see up high because it’s not blocking up high but it’s the lower levels that sometimes get blocked.”

Negotiations went on for years to figure out the best options for a new water tower but with progress seeming unlikely mayor lee said the city couldn’t wait any longer.

“The existing water towers we have on the East side of town any new ones would have to match that elevation,” Mayor Lee told us. “There are only a limited number of locations we can go to. Unfortunately, directly across the interstate from where that radar is sitting is the most conducive place to get to one of our water wells.”

Because of the path Sunday’s tornado took, people in Byram were experiencing this firsthand with mixed messaging about where the tornado was touching down. But some reports claimed it wasn’t.

It’s important to emphasize the challenge to measure Sunday’s storm strength and the direct path did not prevent the National Weather Service from sending out tornado warning alerts with enough time. Brandon also has to place police on one interstate bridge to get a firsthand look since the radar beam can’t circle the city.

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