Spokane’s weather office is emerging from its role as a stepchild to Seattle and Boise.
Until now, forecasts for Eastern Washington and North Idaho have been issued by meteorologists in those other cities.
That led to some problems.
For example, last Dec. 12, Seattle forecasters dropped high wind warnings for the Spokane region just as hurricane-force winds were bearing toward the area.
To improve forecasts, the National Weather Service has invested $3.5 million dollars to put Spokane on equal footing with the other cities.
“The idea is to give each regional office responsibility for its own area,” said John Livingston, meteorologist in charge of the Spokane office.
It is all part of a $4 billion nationwide modernization program to improve forecasts and warnings.
The improvements in Spokane include: construction of a new weather office on Rambo Road north of Fairchild Air Force Base; installation of new computers and Doppler radar, and the addition of 18 employees. The office employs 26.
Most of the changes came during the past year.
On Thursday, weather service officials hosted a dedication for the new Spokane office.
“We are substantially better at forecasting than we used to be,” said Lou Boezi, head of the agency’s modernization program.
Two new weather satellites are scanning the skies from space, and the network of Doppler radars gives forecasters a better picture of what’s coming days or even hours ahead of time.
Today’s five-day weather forecasts are as accurate as two-day forecasts were 10 years ago, Boezi said.
Warnings of severe weather can be issued more quickly, giving the public additional time to take cover or to prepare for potential disasters, he said.
While Spokane has few tornadoes, it still gets hit frequently with flash floods and thunderstorms that can bring down trees and power lines, and touch off forest fires.
The Spokane office now handles severe weather warnings for its region and will start issuing aviation forecasts later this year.
Seattle and Boise continue to write day-to-day weather forecasts until a series of new computers are installed starting next year, Livingston said.
Spokane won’t take full forecasting responsibility for the region until 1998 or early 1999.
Previously, the weather service had 50 forecasting offices and 130 observation stations. Spokane was in the latter category. Now, the weather service is increasing the number of forecast offices to 120 and eliminating about 60 observation offices.
Offices in Lewiston, Yakima, Wenatchee and Walla Walla are being closed.
The Spokane forecast region runs west to the Cascades, north to Canada, east to the Idaho-Montana state line and south to Lewis County, Idaho.
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