Rain radar tech has ‘economic benefits’

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Further investment in rain radar technology will have benefits for the Otago economy, a regional councillor says.

At this week’s Otago Regional Council safety and resilience committee meeting, the councillors approved a new data processing service to extract further information from the MetService’s rain radar station in North Otago, which has been operating since December 2021.

The first-year costs were about $120,000. Estimated annual costs thereafter were expected to be about $69,000; which has been budgeted for in both long term plans of 2021-2031 and 2024-2034.

Cr Kate Wilson said the project had benefits beyond the obvious ones of civil defence in better projecting floods.

"The economic benefits of this are greater than science and civil defence, this is a much bigger and better story.

"This is a really good project economically, when you look at the savings you can make when anticipating weather events, the implications of this technology are huge.

"Consider for instance silage delivery.

"When you have better knowledge of upcoming weather events, you can make better decisions for travel and deployment.

"Really, whichever way you look at it, it’s a win-win."

Weather radar specialist Luke Sutherland-Stacey told councillors rain radar technology painted a much broader picture.

"Rain gauges will always serve a purpose, but let’s look at it like a bucket.

"The problem is although I can put out a bucket that collects all the rain in that spot, it doesn’t tell you what the rain is like in a bucket down the street."

Councils needed ways to measure and anticipate how much rain would fall over a much larger area, particularly after the damage caused in events such as the flooding in the North Island earlier this year.

"Radar technology works like a bat, it can detect things at a distance from multiple directions using sonar," Mr Sutherland-Stacey said.

A report to councillors said the available data and information from the radar was valuable, but there was a gap in coverage in Queenstown-Lakes and Central Otago.

"Filling this gap would assist with managing pluvial flooding risk in Queenstown, Wanaka, Luggate, Cromwell, Clyde, Alexandra, and Roxburgh."

Rain radar reduced flood forecasting uncertainty.

The report recommended the Otago Civil Defence and Emergency Management group write to the government requesting weather radar coverage for Queenstown-Lakes and Central Otago.

"By directly observing the location of rainfall with radar, and verifying results against the local rain gauge network, better estimates of the amount of rainfall falling in non-gauged parts of the catchment can be obtained."