Watch television weather reports from around the Pacific Northwest and you will notice a curious thing. Radar shows our skies cloudless as the Sahara.
As it happens, this is only true during our driest months of summer and early autumn. We all know what crowds over us most of the year: Fattened clouds pregnant with heavy broods of rain; storms with wicked intentions.
Why this disparity between our reality and what the tall-haired TV weather boys show on their blue screens? The answer is simply the Willapa Hills and the Coast Range, which block the sweeping beams of Doppler radar stations positioned around Puget Sound and the Willamette Valley, 100 or more miles from the ocean.
Even when the radar does manage to peer down the Columbia River channel to the sea, it lacks the resolution to pick up some of the tightly packed little welter-weight weather systems that almost routinely pound our communities and fishing boats senseless in violent rounds of hours' or days' duration.
This topic comes up time and again over the years. It should have been resolved long since, by building one or more Doppler stations along the coast of Oregon and Washington.
"The Northwest has the worst weather radar coverage of any coastal region in the continental United States. There is virtually no radar coverage for the lower atmosphere over the coast zone and the near-shore waters," weather expert Cliff Mass said at Grays Harbor College earlier this month. Mass, a meteorologist with the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, said this endangers coastal residents and crab and fishing fleets.
The Northwest coast's weather is likely to become more erratic, not less so, as climate change throws unpredictable wild cards into the serious game of forecasting severe winds and flood-producing rains.
Although the nation obviously has a great many expensive needs, plugging this dangerous gap in weather knowledge would certainly save lives. This challenge lends itself to Congressman David Wu's scientific interests and to the clout of Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith.
Like New Orleans' inadequate dikes, this is a risk we know all about and would be foolhardy not to fix.