I have a passing fascination with the machinery of this country’s infrastructure. Being the son of an Air Force mother, I had the fortune of seeing the technology that powers the defense and commerce of this country first-hand, and it gave me an understanding that this network of beacons, RADAR installations, weather stations, radio towers, VOR stations, GPS anchors, etc., is a lot bigger than any one of us, and its presence, on the Federal dime, was (and remains to be) for the benefit of everyone. It filled my young mind with a sense of civic duty, that I’m a part of this large body politic, and that in some way I had a part to play in my little area of this large landscape.

For as long as a few years, I’ve wanted to go check out the nearby NOAA/NWS RADAR station GRK located 500 yards from the shore of Granger Lake near Granger, TX. Today, having a completely open afternoon and a strong need to get out of town for at least a few hours, I plotted my route, hopped in my car, and headed up Highway 95 from Elgin, through Taylor, then Granger. The skies were mostly cloudy, air warm and humid, wind strong from the South blowing in the moist Gulf air for what may be an interesting evening of storms Monday. Seemed like a perfect time for a drive to see this station.

The installation’s tower stands approximately 5 stories tall from the ground to the lightning rod mounted on top of the dome, and is fronted by three portable box buildings holding the RADAR telemetry equipment, radios, servers, batteries, generators, and anything the NWS would need to operate and debug this instrument from remote. The entire installation is caged by three-strand barbed wire, chain-link fencing, and some of the prettiest “No Trespassing – Private Property” land on the map.

The surrounding landscape is rather flat and this installation is on the top of a very long hill, so it commands a perfectly unobstructed view of the sky in all directions. From that location, I’m sure I could’ve seen the tops of the clouds as far south as San Antonio and as far north as Waco, if not farther. I can only imagine the view from the top of the tower, and can imagine the dish inside the dome making its slow sweep across the landscape, just above the horizon, stacking invisible cones of varying slopes as it shoots out its microwave beam of slow light, observing the brightness and distance of the reflections and how much the movement of water and wind shift the color of those reflections (which is generally how Doppler RADAR works). I look out across the Granger Lake basin, and it’s a big, busy sky.

Passing miles of soybean crops, I'm coming up eastbound to GRK on FM 971.
Passing miles of soybean crops, I’m coming up eastbound to GRK on FM 971.
Coming up closer to GRK on FM 971. This installation is
Coming up closer to GRK on FM 971. This installation is actually taller than it looks.
GRK from the Southwest.
GRK from the Southwest.
GRK from the graveled parking area directly across the highway from the gate.
GRK from the graveled parking area directly south across the highway from the gate. Note the signage actually reads “GRL02”, which I’m sure is short for “GRanger Lake”.
GRK from the Southeast.
GRK from the Southeast. I believe the building on the right to be the generator and battery facility.
Close up of the GRK RADAR dome. I wonder what sort of radio-transparent material it's made of.
Close up of the GRK RADAR dome. I wonder what sort of radio-transparent material it’s made of.
The view from the hill down into the Granger Lake basin. This is all downhill from here.
The view from the hill down into the Granger Lake basin. This is all downhill from here.
From the dam at Granger Lake, you can see the GRK dome towering above the landscape in the distance.
From the dam at Granger Lake, you can see the GRK dome towering above the landscape in the distance near the center of the frame.

It’s just a little installation, nothing major, but it is a symbol and a functional part of something much larger than all of us. We benefit from the data this instrument and the federal agency that operates it provides. When you are looking for your local TV meteorologists to give you the news about how wet your shoes are about to be, this instrument is where they are getting their data. Regardless of how they trump up their weather technology advantage over their televised competition, they don’t actually have their own Doppler RADAR equipment – the National Weather Service does. Without this stream of data, your good-haired meteorologist has no job and you have no warning about the F4 tornado heading your way. For this service alone, I am willing to pay my taxes. For this alone, I am proud to be a citizen of this land.

Published by Shawn

He's just this guy, you know?