homepage logo

Local TV station plans to build 110-foot Doppler radar tower on Pine Island

Residents state concerns at meeting

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Sep 9, 2020

An aerial photograph of the planned location of the Doppler radar tower at 4798 Stringfellow Road, across from Garden View Drive, in St. James City. GRAPHIC PROVIDED


A public information meeting with Morris Depew Associates regarding the planned installation of a 110-foot WINK News Doppler radar tower on Pine Island for parent company Fort Myers Broadcasting, was held Tuesday, Sept. 2, at the Fishers of Men Lutheran Church.

The address of the site for the tower is 4798 Stringfellow Road in St. James City. Fort Myers Broadcasting is ready to begin construction on the property, which it owns, on Pine Island, if and when a hearing examiner grants permission to do so.

A few masked islanders were sure to make the meeting, where they expressed some consternation over having the 110-foot tower erected 300 feet from Stringfellow Road. Among these were concerns that surrounding residents and wildlife might be inundated with unseen signals or frequencies emitted from the radar tower, that part of the property might be sold, rented or used for something else in the future, or that it might open the door for other 110-foot or higher constructs.

Local WINK News chief meteorologist Jim Farrell joined the meeting via satellite from the news studio, where he was available to explain some of the benefits of the tower, and answer any meteorological questions.

“The main benefit of having a local, dual pole Doppler radar,” said Farrell, “is that it adds to the safety and security of everybody in Southwest Florida. We would, in effect, have a Doppler radar that would be capable of showing Southwest Florida more accurate information than is available now from any other radar, including the National Weather Service. The radar in Tampa, Key West, and Miami are very good, but they aren’t here. As a result, when they turn on the radars and that radio signal goes out in a line of sight it ends up significantly over our heads, because of the curvature of the earth.”

Although he said the signal from Tampa is the closest available to Southwest Florida, he explained that by the time the signal reaches local airspace, it’s approximately 10,000 feet, or two miles in the sky.

He went on to say by having a local radar tower with the same dual pole capabilities, a signal could be measured much closer to the ground. This sampling, he said, would allow more accurate information, such as whether or not a thunderstorm is capable of producing a tornado, which, when measured two miles overhead, produces many false alerts.

“Having our own dual pole Doppler,” Farrell said, “especially on Pine Island in Lee County, will allow us much more accurate information in real time at our fingertips. In certain weather situations that would translate to shortened warning times and better warning information for everybody.”

Farrell said having had this signal available in a case like Hurricane Charley would have given more information while the storm was still offshore, due to a more sensitive and powerful radar.

It would not have helped, however, in predicting the turn taken by the storm, when it came close to Bokeelia, but he said, because you cannot have too much good information, it would still have been of great benefit to locals.

He describes the proposed radar as modern state-of-the-art, powerful equipment, adding that it’s the best you can buy. He also explains that the Pine Island location is optimal, since half of Southwest Florida is north of the proposed radar site and the other half is south.

“This would give us excellent coverage for everybody in the region,” said Farrell.

Although Farrell admitted the tower will require a great deal of power, he said he doesn’t see any real downside, as the site will be both ascetically pleasing, as well as operating on an FCC approved frequency, on the same bandwidth as is allocated for all National Weather Service Doppler radars.

“They’re harmless,” said Farrell of radar towers. “They’re not going to hurt the wildlife, they’re not going to hurt the population. In some metropolitan areas, such as Tampa, not only do they have the weather service Nexrad dual pole Doppler, but individual television stations have them in very populated areas operating 24/7. If they were dangerous, they wouldn’t be allowed.”