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News / Northwest

Odd radar signal is detected in Eastern Washington. Can you solve the mystery?

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: January 18, 2023, 11:44am

BENTON COUNTY — The National Weather Service is turning to the public for help solving a mystery in Benton County.

It detected an odd Doppler radar signal between 7:15 and 8 a.m. Tuesday morning just west of Benton City and northeast of Prosser in Eastern Washington.

The radar image shows typical movement of clouds across southeast Washington and northeast Oregon as the Doppler radar dish on a tower at Pendleton, Ore., picks up return signals.

But not long after dawn Tuesday a uniform circle burst onto the screen showing some unknown activity near Benton City, and then it disappeared.

Such detections can be a large grouping of solid objects, said weather service meteorologist Brandon Lawhorn.

If a large wall of dust were moving into the area, the radar system could pick up an image. It also could pick up an emission of gases.

Because the circle appeared in an agriculture area, it might be associated with a winery or food processing activity, Lawhorn said.

Bats also can show up as they leave their home in the evening or return to roost, he said.

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Occasionally a large group of birds will be startled and show up as a ring on the radar detection system, he said.

That’s the most likely explanation, he said.

But meterologists thought the best way to identify the source was to ask the people who live in the Benton City what it might be and if they had seen anything Tuesday morning.

So they posted the image on the weather service Facebook page and asked for help.

Not all the replies were serious.

“Aliens,” said one poster. Another suggested that the theme from “The Twilight Zone” should accompany the post.

Other posters brought up the LIGO observatory that detects gravitational waves, which is more than 10 miles north of Benton City. “… producing gravity waves instead of just observing,” joked one person.

But there were also more serious replies.

Starlings bunch up and move in a group, sometimes with thousands of birds, one person posted.

Others mentioned cold storage facilities, fruit and winery facilities and a diversion dam near Benton City.

The Hanford nuclear reservation also came up. The site produced plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program through the Cold War and now environmental cleanup is underway.

But it is at least 10 miles away, the weather service posted.