NEXRAD tower issue resurfaces
By Jesse Phelps
Part I of a two-part review
of where we stand with the Sulphur Mountain weather tower
The National Academy
of Sciences is undertaking a study on the NEXRAD flood warning
tower on Sulphur Mountain Road, according to United States Senator
Barbara Boxer of California. The study should help confirm whether
the tower is adequately performing the function for which it's
intended: early prediction of weather patterns and, particularly,
warnings for flash floods in Ventura County and the Los Angeles
The tower, which appeared suddenly on the horizon atop Suphur
Mountain during the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend of
1993, has been the target of questions and controversy for nearly
a decade. Local residents have complained that the microwave
pulse, emitted several times an hour by the tower, presents dangers
to the health of those Upper Ojai residents living in close proximity.
In addition, the tower, which officials of the National Weather
Service claimed would blend in with the natural landscape, sticks
out like a bee-stung albino thumb upon the otherwise pristine
Many residents living in the area when the tower first appeared
have now moved and, for a time, housing values in the area dropped
considerably, according to nearby homeonwers. Others still living
on Sulphur Mountain report high incidents of cancer and other
maladies. Though they cannot be directly linked to the tower,
these incidents have increased suspicion of the tower's viability
as a harmless, indeed, helpful addition to the region.
The latest issue is whether the tower even does its job. "Concerns
have been raised that the NEXRAD is not effective in providing
sufficient warnings," said Boxer, in an April 7 letter to
National Academy of Sciences president Bruce Alberts. "Although
the General Accounting Office studied the performance of the
Sulphur Mountain radar in 1998, concerns have been raised that
the study contained conflicting evidence, and the conclusions
did not always appear to match the data," Boxer wrote.
"As you conduct this study, I hope that you will specifically
examine the warning failure rate and radar data gap."
Boxer's concerns were echoed by Sulphur Mountain resident Larry
Hagman, who at one point offered to foot the bill (in excess
of $3,000,000) to move the tower to a new location where it might
perform better and with less potential danger to local residents.
"It's been missing between half and three-quarters (of the
events)," said Hagman. "It's in the wrong position,
and it has been the whole time. It doesn't pick up the storms
under 6,000 feet, as it's designed to, because it's too high."
Hagman said that he continues to be embroiled in a battle with
the weather service, which continues to deny any problems. "We
finally got anough proof for Sen. Boxer to ask for mney to do
a survey on it," he said. "And we got it, after six
Hagman aserted that, despite its claims that all is fine, the
government put in a second Southern California tower to compensate
for the lack of coverage.
"It was not working so well that the Weather Service asked
for another doppler radar to be put down in Anaheim. That one
is quite good and it covers the basin," he said.
Hagman, whose property sits no more than a half-mile from the
radar tower, says the survey will receive funding of "up
to a half-million dollars." He hopes it can be completed
within about a six-month window.
In Wednesday's edition of the Ojai Valley News, we will explore
specific data on the tower's efficiency and find out where residents
are prepared to go from here, should the study find the tower
to be effective.
2003 The Ojai Valley News
to the news
|Ojai's Larry Hagman
has fought against the NEXRAD radar tower since it was installed
nearly 10 years ago.