Tom Banse

Regional Correspondent

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Before taking his current beat, Tom covered state government and the Washington Legislature for 12 years.  He got his start in radio at WCAL–FM, a public station in southern Minnesota. Reared in Seattle, Tom graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota with a degree in American Studies.

When not sifting through press releases, listening to lobbyists, or driving lonely highways, Tom enjoys exploring the Olympic Peninsula backcountry and cooking dinner with his wife and friends. Tom's secret ambition is to take six months off work and travel to a faraway place beyond the reach of email.

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Tom Banse / Flags fly at half mast in front of Washington state Capitol.

Flags will fly at half-mast across Washington state until next Tuesday to honor the victims of last month's deadly landslide. Earlier Tuesday, the Snohomish County medical examiner raised the death toll by one to 37. Seven others remain missing.

InciWeb

 

Wildfire season officially starts on April 15 in Washington state. Oregon and Idaho have rolling starts to fire precaution rules, depending on local conditions.

Fire managers are looking ahead to a fairly "normal" wildfire season in Idaho and Washington this year. Drought-ridden central and southern Oregon though are classified at higher risk.

Tom Banse

Thanks to late-season snow that fell in many areas, some Cascade ski areas will welcome skiers and snowboarders well past Easter.

There will be end-of-season parties at at least nine Northwest ski resorts this weekend. Timing means everything for the bottom line of these resort companies. But a strong finish doesn't necessarily make up for a late start like we saw this season.

NWRFC

Irrigators, hydropower dam operators and tugboat captains are sitting pretty across most of the Northwest, according to the latest regional water supply forecast presented Thursday.

Andrew Russell / Flickr

A federal fisheries management panel approved what some charter captains are calling the best ocean fishing season in 20 years.

Meeting at a hotel in Vancouver, Washington, the Pacific Fishery Management Council on Wednesday adopted the 2014 season quotas unanimously after days of lengthy negotiations between commercial troll and recreational fishing representatives, treaty tribes and government regulators.

The quotas are a big turnaround from the recent past when ocean salmon fishing was sharply curtailed or not allowed at all.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Gov. Jay Inslee says he's pleased with the federal disaster relief flowing to the state for last month's deadly landslide in Snohomish County. But during an interview with public radio Wednesday, Inslee said the arrival of the Federal Emergency Management Agency aid does not replace private charity.

Tom Banse

Here's a surprising fact: the largest bitcoin mine in North America is located on the outskirts of Wenatchee, Washington.

It's not a mine in the traditional sense. In these mines, you won't have helmets, lamps or pickaxes, and there's no danger of cave in. In this case, the mine consists of two warehouses that have been converted into a data center.

A big measles outbreak in British Columbia has crossed over the border into the American Northwest.

Health officers in B.C.'s Fraser Valley southeast of Vancouver have confirmed more than 350 cases of measles there since an outbreak started in early March. Six additional cases have now been diagnosed in Washington’s Whatcom County.

Erin Falcone / Cascadia Research under NOAA permit 16111

Think about how long you can hold your breath, then consider this.

Northwest-based whale researchers have documented a new breath-hold record among mammals. They timed a dive by a beaked whale that lasted 2 hours and 17 minutes.

A paper published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One by scientists with the Cascadia Research Collective of Olympia revealed two new records. The researchers tagged Cuvier's beaked whales, a rarely-seen species which forages in deep ocean waters worldwide, including off the U.S. West Coast.

WSDOT

Heavy rain in Friday’s forecast threatens to hinder ongoing search and recovery operations at the side of the catastrophic mudslide near Oso.

Mother Nature is just not cooperating with the hundreds of searchers and heavy equipment operators at the scene of Saturday’s deadly landslide.

Spc. Matthew Sissel / 122D PAOC Washington National Guard

A local fire chief is warning communities around the deadly landslide in northwest Washington to brace for a jump in the death toll Friday.

Meanwhile, fresh crews are rotating in to relieve exhausted first responders. Friday is the seventh day of the rescue and recovery mission at the place known in shorthand as “the pile.”

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Emergency managers at the scene of Saturday’s deadly landslide near Oso say several hundred searchers will once again fan out over the debris field to look for victims on Wednesday. 

On Tuesday night, the local fire chief raised the death toll from 14 to 16, and said eight additional bodies have been located but not yet recovered.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

With the death toll expected to rise from Saturday’s catastrophic landslide near Oso, Snohomish County officials and emergency planners are starting to field hard questions about permitting home construction in a known landslide zone.

Tax Foundation/Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Nearly half of the cigarettes smoked in Washington went untaxed by the state, according to a new study by two think tanks.

The study compared actual legal sales in a state against the level you would expect to see based on its smoking rate. From that, researchers came up with a smuggling estimate. The study pegs low-tax Idaho as a major source of smuggled cigarettes.

Alex Brandon / AP Photo

On this first day of spring, the seasonal outlook is calling for a warmer-than-average spring west of the Cascades, according to the National Weather Service.

The strongest signal to emerge from the Weather Service climate models foreshadows above-normal temperatures along the West Coast.

The unemployment rate in Washington state is holding steady at 6.4 percent, according to February’s numbers released Wednesday by the state Employment Security Department.

State labor economist Paul Turek says an economy in growth mode is luring discouraged jobseekers off the sidelines and swelling the labor pool.

Tom Banse

Once upon a time, salmon and steelhead swam more than a thousand miles upriver to the headwaters of the mighty Columbia River, at the foot of the Rockies in British Columbia.

Those epic migrations ended in 1938 with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam.

This week, tribes from both sides of the U.S.-Canada border along with scientists and policymakers are meeting in Spokane to figure out how Columbia River fish could be restored to their entire historical range. The idea draws passionate supporters, but has unknown costs that you might be asked to help pay.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

Washington state policymakers are pondering whether to make an end run around looming cutbacks in the federally-funded food stamp program.

This would mimic what Oregon and three eastern states just decided to do.

DAR56 / Wikimedia Commons

British Columbia has staked out a negotiating position on a cross-border water treaty that puts it at odds with public utilities and ratepayers in the U.S. Northwest. At issue is whether and how to renew the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty.

Courtesy of Roberto Carcelen

A Peruvian-American Olympic cross-country skier is looking forward to a big welcome when he returns home to Seattle this weekend.

Seattle Olympian Roberto Carcelen finished dead last in his race at the Winter Olympics, but what happened to him afterward could illustrate the Gospel phrase that says "the last shall be first."

AP Photo/Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

Exactly three years have passed since a huge tsunami in March 2011 took thousands of lives in Japan and washed whole villages out to sea. Suspected tsunami debris started arriving on our shores the following December, but it's been less than feared.

Dmitry Lovetsky / AP Photo

A legally blind skier from Sun Valley, Idaho finished in 14th place in the opening biathlon competition at the Paralympic Winter Games over the weekend.

Rookie Paralympian Jake Adicoff missed multiple rifle targets to take himself out of contention in the 7.5 kilometer event held in Sochi, Russia. This combination of cross-country skiing and marksmanship unfolded on the same course used for the Winter Olympics last month.

Tom Banse

American and European politicians are boycotting the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi to protest Russian moves in Ukraine. But disabled athletes from Washington, Oregon and Idaho plan to compete in the Olympic host city as scheduled starting this weekend.

Five athletes with ties to the Northwest qualified for the U.S. Paralympic Team and flew to Sochi this week. They're competing in downhill and cross-country skiing, biathlon and sled hockey. In addition, two sighted guides, one from Washington and one from Idaho, went to Sochi in tandem with the visually-impaired skiers from the region. 

Petr David Josek / AP Photo

More Olympic hardware is coming home to the Northwest, but it comes via a heartbreaking loss. 

Team Canada beat the U.S women’s ice hockey squad 3-2 Thursday in Sochi. That means the U.S teammates, including Hilary Knight of Sun Valley, receive silver medals.

Tom Banse

Two teams want to reenact Evel Knievel's famous jump over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. Only this time, the daredevils want to get all the way across. Their plans are tied to the 40th anniversary of the failed stunt coming up this September. 

Tom Banse

At the winter Olympics in Sochi, the U.S. has collected no medals so far in speedskating, an uncharacteristic result. The Americans' best remaining hope for hardware rests with short track speedskater J.R. Celski and the men's relay team.

A college ski racer from Sun Valley, Idaho says she is "immensely relieved" just to finish her first Winter Olympic race in one piece.

A snowboarder raised in Sun Valley, Idaho soared over better known and more experienced rivals to grab the gold medal in women's halfpipe at the Winter Olympics.

The Northwest has its first Olympic gold medal from the 2014 Sochi Games. Snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington of Bellevue, Idaho triumphed in the women's halfpipe Wednesday.

David Nogueras / OPB

When Team USA marched into the stadium for the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony, they were swathed in the warmth of the Northwest, quite literally. The wool to make the U.S. parade uniform sweaters came from a sheep ranch in rural Oregon.

The Team USA sweater is a colorful patchwork of patriotic symbols and Olympic rings. The symbolism runs deeper for Oregon rancher Jeanne Carver. Her Imperial Stock Ranch sold the 8,000 pounds of homegrown wool to garment maker Ralph Lauren Corp.

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