THE much-anticipated upgrade to Mildura’s weather radar is expected to be completed early next year with details of the installation of the new system being announced recently.

Minister for Environment and Member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, said that the communities surrounding Mildura, including parts of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia are a step closer to state-of-the-art weather technology, with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) confirming it has signed the site lease for a new radar.

The current Mildura radar is the second-oldest of the BOM’s more than 60 radars, and has been operating from its present location at the Mildura Airport since 1989.

The new radar will be built at a location near Lake Cullulleraine, 45km west of Mildura.

While providing important information for aviation, the current site at the airport is compromised to some degree because of its location and proximity to trees and buildings.

The new installation will house the radar in elevated tower, with a 360 degree, clear line-of-sight operation, helping deliver improved coverage to the surrounding regions, a view echoed by Minister Ley who said the new radar will provide vastly improved weather services to important agricultural areas across the Sunraysia and Riverland districts.

“Technology improvements include Doppler capability and Dual Pol technology, which means we can measure not just where particles are in the sky, but also how fast they are moving and what kind of particles they are likely to be,” Minister Ley said.

“It will detect any rainfall, hail, bushfire plumes, rain intensity, and wind velocity – essentially, improving real-time weather services for these communities.”

Member for Mallee, Anne Webster welcomed the announcement acknowledging the benefit that data available from new technology will present to farmers across the north west of the state.

“This investment by the Coalition Government is further evidence of our commitment to agriculture and regional communities,” she said.

Accurate information
“Agriculture relies on accurate information to improve productivity, and farmers I speak to welcome this development and progress.”

BOM Victorian State manager, Andrew Tupper, said that his organisation was excited about the installation of the new radar which has been in the planning for sometime.

“The current radar was originally built to track weather balloons, rather than to watch the horizon,” he said.

“Where it’s located has never really been ideal, it has trees and buildings nearby, and that means that view to the north and west has been quite compromised. While aviation needs radars, it’s better to put them a little distance from the airport, so that there is a clear view over the airport.

“It’s going to be a brand new radar on a nice, tall tower. It will be the same kind of set up as the recently commissioned Rainbow radar, from which we have had really good feedback from its performance, and so we’re looking forward to the new Mildura system becoming operational, which will take close to a year and so we expect it to be ready early next year.”

Mr Tupper said that once the Mildura radar was operational, the region could look forward to good coverage right across to the Riverland and South Australia, and north toward Menindee in NSW, and as far east as Swan Hill.

“It’s going to be a real boost for agriculture and emergency management in the region and aviation,” he said.

“It benefits aviation in particular, because pilots have to make a lot of tactical decisions. It’s not just about the rain that may be hitting the ground, but more about where the storm cells are tracking.

Not very useful
“We know that general aviation in particular has to pay very close attention to what is actually going on. For anyone flying, particularly north or west, but also seeing what’s coming down over Mildura itself, the current radar hasn’t been as useful as we would like.”

Although each radar sight operates as a stand-alone installation, Mr Tupper said that the BOM does link the collective information.

“Each radar operates alone, but on our website and app, at the maximum range we bring the data together,” Mr Tupper said.

“For example, on the website we have a map option, which is the 512-kilometre composite which shows all the data and all the radars. At the moment, that composite for the Mildura area is a little lacking.

“That means that people in the Riverland haven’t had all of the data that they would like, and similarly, prior to Rainbow coming online, the Wimmera hasn’t had much assistance from the Mildura radar.

Improved coverage
“What we have seen from the new Rainbow radar is that the coverage across the Mallee has already improved, and so having two high-quality radars relatively close together, north west Victoria is going to be amongst the best radar coverage in the country.”

The agriculture sector relies on accurate forecasting and up to date weather information, which can sometimes be critical for the decisions farmers make during the growing season, and so having good information via an app while they are in the field, is something they are utilising more and more.

“Agriculture is obviously a critical industry for Australia and it’s highly weather dependent and when the Wimmera Development Association did the business case for the Rainbow radar they demonstrated a very clear benefit for their region in having the system installed,” Mr Tupper said.

“It costs about $5million to have a radar like this installed and then more money to run ongoing and so all up the Rainbow project was just under a $10million spend.

The Mildura radar project is a $5million cost to install, and with added ongoing costs, it represents a similar investment – which is well worth it for Australia.”

Mr Tucker said that the BOM uses local contractors where ever possible when installing their infrastructure.

“The radar itself is a state-of-the-art German radar system and the technology has been built and tested there and we’ll be preparing the site through contract works and then we’ll bring all of the components together onsite as the tower is built later this year,” he said.

“It’s a team effort basically, and the experience with the Rainbow radar was one which saw fantastic cooperation between Local, State and Federal Government.”