Comes now a tweet from our good friends and heroes working out of the National Weather Services’s office on Woodley Island:

Huzzah! Any good news for the NWS is good news for us all.

But what does it mean, exactly? What does KBHX — a Doppler radar station perched atop Bunker Hill, on Bear River Ridge — do for us? Meteorologist Ryan Aylward was kind enough to explain it to the Outpost this afternoon.

First of all: KBHX was only down for a short spell, to allow for maintenance and upgrades. July is the best time to do such work, Aylward told us, because it’s generally the time of year that Doppler radar is in least demand, locally. Getting new backup power to the remote location was an important part of the work, because grid power up to the top of the mountain is sketchy sometimes.

KBHX’s home.

So that work has been done, and in the future it’ll take Mother Nature much more work to knock KBHX offline.

But what does it do for us in the first place? What actually is Doppler radar?

There’s a good writeup explaining the technology at this link. You point your radar at the sky and it can do all kinds of things for you. But Aylward mentioned three things in particular that we use it for here in coastal Humboldt County: Fire detection, rainfall estimation and hazardous weather warnings.

Probably most important, in this day and age, is the Doppler’s ability to detect and measure smoke plumes sent up by wildfire. Depending on the terrain, the radar waves, pointed up into the sky, can “see” up to 150 miles away, Aylward said. It can measure how much smoke a particular fire is producing, and how high the plume rises.

How radar works. Graphic: National Weather Service.

It can also estimate how much precipitation any given storm is producing, which is especially useful when deciding whether to issue flash flood warnings for particular regions of the county.

Finally, it can also take a stab at guessing the type of precipitation a particular cloud is shedding — particularly useful, Aylward mentioned, if that cloud is packing large, dangerous hailstones.

In short: Maybe you think of radar as that green blippy thing in old movies that air traffic controllers or nuclear war soldiers use to monitor big, metal objects flying through the sky. The lesson here is that is can also be used — and, in fact, is used — to track much more nebulous material.