December 14, 2015

Senator Cantwell and the Other Radar Gap

You really have to admire Senator Maria Cantwell.   I can't think of another legislator who is so active in dealing with the key environmental challenges in our region.

Five years ago, she played a critical role in securing a radar for the Washington coast:  the Langley Hill radar near Hoquiam that gave local meteorologists a view of incoming weather system from off the ocean and heavy precipitation over the coastal mountains (see example below).   Forecasts have often been improved by this critical resource.

But there is another important weather radar gap in our region:  along the eastern slopes of the Cascades of Washington and Oregon (see map).    Over Washington, the nearest radars are at Spokane, Pendleton, Camano Is, and Portland....too far away to get crucial, low-level (below 10,000 ft coverage) east of the Cascade crest.   Eastern Oregon is a complete disaster,  as is the southern Oregon coast.

Radar coverage is particularly valuable along the eastern slopes of the Cascades since wildfires can spotted with weather radar and heavy convective showers can cause flash floods in that area.  It would also be of substantial value to eastern-slope agricultural interests.

So it was with great pleasure that I learned this week that Senator Cantwell not only understands the importance of eastern-slope weather radars, but has added language to a bill that calls on the National Weather Service to complete a study of the impacts and costs of such radars.  (Information here)  This bill has now passed the Commerce Committee and has bipartisan support.   For those who remember the process in securing the Langley Hill coastal radar, the first step was to do such a study.

Senator Cantwell is also one of the more perceptive legislators regarding the large wildfires we have had the last few years east of the Cascade crest.  While some elected officials have been blaming the fires on global warming, Senator Cantwell has honed in on the real issue:  the mismanagement of our forests during the past half century, including suppression of natural fires and a lack of thinning.   After holding extensive hearings and the preparation of a white paper, Senator Cantwell is working on legislation that will return better management of our dryland forests.

Sustainable eastern WA forests have relatively low density encouraged by frequent fires.

While some politicians are paddling around oil platforms as kayaktivists, others like Senator Cantwell are doing the research and putting together planning to make our natural environment and our infrastructure more robust and resilient.  You can imagine who I prefer.

And now something a little lighter.   Well known local TV meteorologist, M. J. McDermott, has written a delightful holiday story called Frankenstein Meets Santa.  Information here.   May sound corny, but this book is a real fun read.  Even has a meteorologist as part of the plot, which wins a a lot of points in my eyes.


  1. Totally in agreement with Senator Cantwell regarding the real reason for forest fires and the grown up response to resolving this massive problem. Hopefully she can make some meaningful progress.

  2. So you're in favor of arctic drilling? Paddling around an oil rig doesn't mean you're attributing things incorrectly to climate change. It means they oppose extraction in an exceedingly harsh environment where cleanup would be very difficult.

  3. Hi from Winthrop. Right on about the radar. In the last week I was checking the radar on intellicast for snow. It showed none falling over the Methow valley but I could clearly see moderate snow falling outside of my window.

  4. The difference, Erik Turner, is that some politicians work on things were they can actually make a difference. Cantwell is known for that.

    The kayakers had zero impact on Arctic oil drilling, other than to make themselves feel better. The reason the Arctic drilling ended was purely economic and some disappointing exploratory wells. One of the temporary benefits of the reduced price of oil and better opportunities to make a profit elsewhere, for which we can strangely thank the Saudis over-pumping and our own fracking, oil sands, etc. production.

    Never thought I'd say anything good about fracking and oil sands, but that's a little better than dangerous Arctic drilling. We live in world that is formed by shades of grey.

  5. Paddling around the rig didn't win. It was the lack of oil.. Every major river system should have a hydro plant. Rediculous to burn for energy. Imo

  6. So when do we talk about the possibility of snow next week :)

  7. There's also a large radar gap off the central/south OR coast. Hope Senator Cantwell's bill can fix that as well.

  8. Also it was reduced demand for oil that already been pumped from the ground that is now being stored, waiting to be sold.

    Every person needs to live thoughtfully to keep their carbon footprint as small as possible. We need to live in ways that minimize our impact on this beautiful and unique world.

    We don't need more centralized power production. We don't need hydro plants on every river system with the resultant environmental degradation, and further loss of salmon and other species. We don't need more oil pumped from the earth.

    1. So people are going to stop using electricity? This is the problem solving that the oil and coal industries love..

      Everyday there's more people (+ population) that want to use more electricity (+ kw), and you say we need less?

      Unless the human populations going to take a sharp dive, the other creatures are going to have to adapt..

      Of course if we keep pouring oil and coal into the plants we'll kill off everything eventually. I hope we don't ruin it (earth) for the next generations.. maybe we're not even close? It just seems like we're pulling awful hard on that lynch pin (irreversible climate change).


  9. I think putting a radar installation in Coos Bay takes precedence over putting one in Ephrata. The North Pacific is a bigger weathermaker than the Cascade Range, and the Oregon Coast deserves to have the same warning that SW Washington now has.

    More lives stand to be directly benefited by a coastal radar: specifically those of fishermen. The infrared satellite alone is not a sufficient tool to keep them safe.

    In time we should also install radar in central Washington, but we have to keep our priorities straight.

  10. "There's also a large radar gap off the central/south OR coast. Hope Senator Cantwell's bill can fix that as well."

    Cliff has discussed this, IIRC, One of the existing coastal radars is at too high an elevation and somewhat 'looks' over the surface weather rather than at it. Second, he did initiate a conversation with Oregon senators, but they were not interested.

  11. Hi, I am a farmer from Winthrop. The weather outside determines what I do on a daily basis. I think that looking out the window; noticing temperature and barometric changes; cloud changes; looking at forecasts from Seattle, Whistler, Bellingham, Spokane is sufficient. After the multiple posts about your opinion on this "Radar Gap" issue in our area, I would just like to say that it is really no big deal, and pretty much a non-issue.
    I enjoy the weather portion of your blog Cliff, but your rallying of reader support for various issues such as this one detracts from your blog's strong points.

  12. Kudos to Cantwell for her efforts to close the radar gaps in the Northwest. But she needs the votes of the environmental community to stay in office so there is no percentage in denigrating members of this group - lol. We need both and are lucky to live in an area where the people care.

  13. I would love to see Oregon's senators (Merkley & Wyden) get involved in this effort as well. We just had a foot of snow fall in Central Oregon a few weeks ago while the radars from Portland and Pendleton showed nothing. All the action was below the beams from the far away radars. 150,000 people in Central Oregon have no low-level radar coverage. Of course the other spot on the central coastline is just as bad. We just haven't had any real weather disasters in that central part of western Oregon to bring it to anyone's attention I suppose...Mark Nelsen


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