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This Tri Cities area along the Snake-Columbia river confluence is agricultural, with irrigated vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, and livestock with an assortment of industrial and government-related activities mixed in. The towns, which are separated by a few miles, are clean, plain, and simple, with low crime and a relative lack of historic and cultural amenities. Pasco in particular serves as a major Columbia River port for agricultural products, paper and forest products, boats and metal fabrication are also a significant part of the economic base.
Richland, 6 miles downriver, plays a major role as commercial, research and administrative center for the vast Hanford Site, a U.S. Department of Energy nuclear waste and research facility. Richland also has the strongest health care facilities and the strongest base of high-paying jobs. Kennewick is more residential and retail-commercial and is the largest and most family-oriented of the three.
The Columbia River and some of the vast outdoor spaces nearby provides some recreation, but relatively dry topography surrounding the area contradicts the usual image of lush, green forests often attached to the Washington and the Pacific Northwest. The area has become more noted as a wine growing region. Walla Walla, a college town 40 miles east, brings some amenities in a more attractive and more wooded mountainous setting.
The area is in a broad, flat, agricultural valley. Dry, grassy hills rise to the south and east toward Walla Walla and the Blue Mountains of Washington and northeast Oregon. The climate is moderated somewhat by the prevailing flow of maritime air from the Pacific Ocean, although most moisture is blocked by the Cascade Range. The result is a semiarid landscape and climate featuring low rainfall, dry air, and large diurnal temperature ranges.
Summer hot spells are common when the westerly airflow subsides; temperatures of 100 degrees are common. Cold spells occur when frigid Canadian air enters the valley. Strong winds can stir up dust. Occasional air stagnation may result from the valley location.