Weather sensors gauge flash-flood risk in Gorge
Two unmanned weather sensors are monitoring the heightened risk of flooding that follows the Eagle Creek wildfire in the Columbia River Gorge.
The National Weather Service has installed one solar-powered Remote Automated Weather Station — or RAWS — at the headwaters of Tanner Creek, a Columbia River tributary southwest of Eagle Creek. A second station is located near Cascade Locks.
"It gives us information in an area where there historically has not been a weather station, and the main reason we've got it out there is to monitor rainfall," explained meteorologist Jon Bonk. "(There's) a couple of drainages where the Forest Service is concerned about possible water runoff and the associated debris coming with it."
The weather stations also measure humidity, temperature, dewpoint and wind speed. These two droids are veterans requisitioned from Boise, Idaho. A single new system would cost roughly $17,000.
Anyone can view the data currently being bounced from the ground to the Argos weather satellite once every hour.
For more, visit mesowest.utah.edu and select "Stn Name" from the Station Search drop down menu in the upper left corner. Type in the name "NRAWS 4" and follow the link for the latest weather info.
"There's not a lot of fire history in this area, so we're using the best available information," Bonk said. "The big challenge with this particular burn area is that there's a lot of unknowns."
The weather stations run on batteries charged by solar panels, so they can stay out in the field indefinitely. Bonk forecasts that they'll be keeping watch at least through the winter season.The Eagle Creek wildfire spread to more than 48,800 acres, sparking a massive effort that rallied hundreds of firefighters and continues to severely limit the public's access to the Gorge.
While not always visible from above, foresters say the fire has destroyed roots and organic material in the soil, which destabilizes the dirt and often causes sudden rock falls. The aftermath of fire also makes the soil more water repellent.
"Stay out of the burned area until it's re-opened back to the public," Bonk warned. "It's not worth putting yourself or rescuers in harm's way."