Have you ever wondered what the large ”soccer ball on the hill” is on Interstate 84 near the airport in Pendleton?

That circular object is the Doppler radar used by the National Weather Service in Pendleton to detect rain, snow and thunderstorms. It is sensitive enough that it can also pick up flocks of birds and swarms of insects. The radar dish sits up on the pedestal underneath the white protective outer shell, which is visible to everyone.

The staff of your National Weather Service in Pendleton consists of about 25 dedicated meteorologists, hydrologists, electronics technicians, managers and hydrometeorological technicians that work rotating shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to fulfill our mission to protect life and property.

There are 122 National Weather Service Offices across the continental United States as well as Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam. There are several offices that serve the states of Oregon and Washington, but most likely if you are reading the East Oregonian, then you are in the NWS Pendleton area of responsibility.

Our area of responsibility runs from west of The Dalles to Wallowa County, south to south of John Day, including portions of Central Oregon, north of the Columbia River into Washington, including Walla Walla, the Tri-Cities, Yakima, Ellensburg, Goldendale, to just east of Snoqualmie Pass. We have a diverse terrain and about one million people in our area. Additionally, we have many national and state parks, scenic waterways and ample recreational opportunities.

The Doppler radar is just one of the advanced tools that are employed by our office to help forecast the weather, issue watches, warnings and advisories and receive observations. We also use satellite imagery, many computers, and sophisticated computer models that take the current state of the atmosphere, and then try to predict what will be occurring up to 10 days in the future. Additionally, we use a network of human observers and “spotters” that will contact us with information, such as rain and snowfall or when they observe severe weather.

While many people in the Inland Northwest believe that severe weather occurs elsewhere, we certainly get winter storms, fire weather, wind, summertime thunderstorms and occasional hail, river and flash flooding and lightning that can make the weather across the region hazardous. Flash flooding is the No. 1 weather-related killer and is something that can occur across Eastern Oregon and Washington, especially with the diverse terrain. Rain does not even have to occur at your location to receive a flash flood. It can occur upstream or “up canyon,” and all that water has to head somewhere. You can be out hiking or camping and it is dry where you are, but due to the variable terrain, water suddenly comes in your direction.

After receiving my meteorology degree from Penn State University, I started work for the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. In a career that has now spanned 25 years, I have also worked in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Washington, D.C., region, Philadelphia area, Guam, and now Pendleton. I have forecasted and warned for all types of weather, including severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, winter storms, hurricanes and typhoons, wind and fire weather. Additionally, I enjoy teaching about weather safety and preparedness.

Several of us from the National Weather Service in Pendleton will be writing this column on a monthly basis to discuss various topics relating to weather, weather safety and preparedness. We want to keep the topics interesting and relevant, yet informative and educational as well.


Larry Nierenberg is a senior forecaster for the National Weather Service in Pendleton. Nierenberg leads National Weather Service community outreach and hazardous weather preparedness and resiliency programs.

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