Courtney Flatt

Reporter for Earthfix
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Cente

2014 was the hottest year on record. That’s according to data released Friday by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the Northwest, temperatures also rose above normal.

After a warm summer and winter, last year was the second hottest on record for Oregon and the fifth hottest on record for Washington.

The hottest year for both states is still 1934, when the Dust Bowl plagued the West.

Karin Bumbaco is the assistant state climatologist in Washington.

Courtney Flatt / Earthfix

This summer, the Carlton Complex wildfire swept through north-central Washington. The fire consumed more acres than any other fire in the state’s history. Now, ecologists are trying to make forests more sustainable to help prevent these large-scale fires.

Fire ecologist Susan Prichard was driving from Seattle to her home in Winthrop just as the Carlton Complex fire picked up.

Prichard: “I saw the plume of smoke, and I felt the wind. At that moment, I hadn’t even possibly considered that the fire could race all the way down to the Columbia River.”

Danny Didricksen

Flash floods this August swept mud, debris, and ash through north-central Washington. All that gunk has created an unusual problem for farmers and migratory fish.

Farmers usually install screens on the end of irrigation pipes to prevent clogs. Those screens also keep fish from being sucked out of the water and into farmers’ fields. But fish screens do little good when they get inundated with debris and mud.

Danny Didricksen is with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He says crews have been working non-stop to help unclog fish screens.

Courtney Flatt / Earthfix

You may find bats scary. But one group of nature lovers doesn’t. They recently spent a night out tracking bats in central Washington. They wanted to check-in on how bat populations are doing in the state.

Moses Coulee is a bat-lovers paradise. You can find 14 of 15 these mammals in Washington at this one speck of land – about 45 minutes north of Ephrata. It’s is also home to one of the most rare bats in the state: the spotted bat.

And there’s one thing especially cool about this bat: people can hear its echolocation.

Courtney Flatt

When you think of grapes in the Northwest, wine is probably the first thing that comes to mind. But Concord juice grapes actually are Washington’s most widely planted grape. It turns out, juice grapes are more susceptible to warming weather than their wine grape cousins.

The sun beats down as researcher Markus Keller leans in to inspect his experimental concord grape vineyard.

Keller: “As you can see here, there’s a lot of flowers forming on the different shoots.”

The grape leaves hang down like a curtain over the rows of vines. This year’s crop looks to be strong.

The Seed Collaborative

Students around the Northwest go to school every day in portable classrooms. These classrooms are an affordable solution to budget-strapped districts that need more space.

But they can be bad for student health and performance. That’s why some districts are moving away from portable classrooms. One district in Spokane has found a solution.

Courtney Flatt brings us part 2 of our special series "Inside the Box".

Walking into the new Jefferson Elementary School is like walking into a model home. Everything looks tidy.

Flickr Creative Commons: Armed Forces Pest Management Board

Northwest researchers are teaming up to stop an invasion of stink bugs moving across the region. The bugs, which can smell like dirty gym socks, ruin tree fruit and grape vines. Those crops are vital to Northwest agriculture.

You have to go through three airlocked doors to get to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s stink bug research lab.

The quarantined, closet-sized room has it’s own ventilation system. The stink bug colony of about 400 bugs is kept inside an even smaller room within the lab.

Chemist Lee Ream opens the door.

Ream: “So, here’s our colony.”

Courtney Flatt

If you get lost hunting or wander off a hiking trail, a select group of volunteers may come to look for you. K-9 search and rescue teams spend countless hours training to make sure they can find you when you’re lost.

German shepherd Kia lifts her nose in the air, sniffs, and takes off. Kia is searching a nature preserve in the middle of Richland, Washington. She’s searching for missing hikers.

Miles of hiking trails wind around sagebrush and brambles. It’s bordered by the Yakima River.