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Lightning strikes weather service tower, fries radar

By KSL.com | Posted - Apr. 26, 2011 at 3:53 p.m.


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We want to hear from you. We have activated our beta comment board system while we are testing it. Please comment on the story and share your thoughts.NORTHERN UTAH -- Whoever said lightning doesn't strike the same spot twice never visited the National Weather Service's main radar site in Northern Utah.

As the cold front moved through the Wasatch Front Monday night, it took aim at the tower, striking it for the second time in eight years.

The site is located near Promontory Point, on top of the mountains across from the Great Salt Lake. The radar tracking system was knocked offline after a lightning bolt zapped it on Monday.

"It melted a circuit board and fried a wire," said Nanette Hosenfeld, with the NWS's Salt Lake City office.

Technicians were able to fix the damage Tuesday afternoon and the site was back up and running within 24 hours of the lightning strike. But the outage affected not just the NWS, but most major media outlets in the region during that time.

The radar is used to determine the intensity of storms as they pass through. It's what TV and radio stations use for their predictions, and ski resorts use it to watch for lightning.

"It looks at the intensity of the storm and, using that information, we can determine whether we think the storm will be damaging or not," said Hosenfeld.

The outage caused problems for meteorologists throughout the region. The tower's range is from the Utah/Idaho border into central Utah, before a similar radar in Cedar City picks up coverage.

The same Promontory Point radar was hit by a lightning strike about eight years ago.

"There are lightning rods as protection for the radar but it was a direct hit to the dome, so there's really nothing you can do to protect against that," Hosenfeld said.

In the meantime, during this outage the National Weather Service used a backup site near Layton to provide weather information. That site is used mainly for airplanes run by the Salt Lake City International Airport, but it can be used to look at weather by the NWS when needed.

The backup site is lower to the ground, so it doesn't have the range of the main radar site, but forecasters say it's better than nothing.

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Story written with contributions from Alex Cabrero and Randall Jeppesen.

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