So why should you care? First, did you know that weather radars are wonderful tools for seeing wildfires? That weather radars can spot exploding wildfires at an early stage, helping to provide warnings to firefighters so they can get out of the way? That the smoke plumes are prominent on National Weather Service radars?
Let me show you some examples. Here is a view from the Spokane radar of some fires over the Okanogan at 7:02 PM on August 28th.
or how about the impressive plume from the Canyon Creek fire near Mt. Adams? You see the colored area stretching towards the NE? That is a smoke plume from the fire.
Imagine how helpful it would be if there were a few additional radars near the eastern slopes of the Cascades that would paint out fire positions and evolution in real time. A potential life saver.
Wildfires show up well in weather radar
The eastern slopes of the Cascades may be a generally dry area, but they DO get very heavy thunderstorms, with torrential rains, mudslides, debris flows, and flooding. Right now such events are hard to see on current radars because the beam is so high over the region (10,000 ft and more).
And then there is agriculture...the massive agriculture of the eastern slopes of the Cascades, with apples, grapes, hops, and many other crops worth billions of dollars per year. Local weather radars would help provide accurate distributions of precipitation, warn of impending heavy rain, guide planting and spraying.
And then there is value of having the weather radar to guide folks in Yakima, Ellensburg, Wenatchee, and Omak in their daily lives. To know when showers are approaching so they can get that visit to the park in, that bike ride, or whatever. Folks on the western side have good coverage, why shouldn't those to the east of the Cascade crest enjoy the same benefits?
So how can the radar gap be fixed? We need more radars! The radars acquired for the eastern slopes do not have to be as expensive as those on the West, since heavy precipitation is not as extensive (bigger radars can handle attenuation of the radar beam better). So more modest "C Band" radars would be appropriate. I suspect two would do the job for the eastern slopes of the Cascades. TV stations buy these radars all the time (including KING-5 and KCPQ in Seattle a few decades ago), so they are not that expensive. Last time I priced them the cost was about a million a piece.
An eastern Washington group is starting to work on this project, including meteorologists at the Spokane National Weather Service office , representativesof Chelan County Public Works and Kittitas County, and local agricultural interests.
In the end it will take the intervention of Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, local congressional folks, the Governor, or others with access to resources to make this happen. Perhaps the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewel, a long-time Northwestener who surely knows the issue, could help.
Enhanced weather radar coverage over the eastern slopes will rapidly pay back the modest cost of its acquisition and maintenance, and I believe save lives of wildland firefighers and others. Hopefully, we can make this happen.