Thursday, February 4, 2016

One More Storm To Get Through, Then Spring!

Tuesday, February 4, 2016
4:25 pm

A dreary afternoon at Cannon Beach, OR. Credit: Surflook Surf Cams

Today was one of the grayer days I have witnessed in my 23 years upon this Earth. The skies were gray, the lake looked gray... heck, even my countenance looked gray. It wasn't sunny enough brighten my mood, but it wasn't stormy enough to keep me interested. It was just one of "those days."

Thankfully, "those days" are over, at least for the foreseeable future. We've got a relatively potent storm headed our way tomorrow, and after that, we get our first taste of spring as a MASSIVE ridge of high pressure settles directly over our area.

Tonight, clouds will increase, and we won't have much in the way of precipitation until tomorrow. The picture below shows a pretty solid swath of precipitation off our coast at 7 am, but the I-5 corridor should remain relatively dry until the afternoon, as this batch of rain will be slow to progress eastward. Overall, expect around 1 inch of rain on the coast, 0.5 inches here in the lowlands, and 1-2 inches in the mountains, with the highest amounts on the southwestern slopes of the Olympics.

Valid 07:00 am PST, Fri 05 Feb 2016 - 27hr Fcst
Credit: University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences

This front will deliver a pretty good blow to Western Whatcom County and the San Juan Islands, where a high wind warning is in place for gusts up to 60 miles per hour. There are wind advisories further south in Skagit and Island Counties as well as the Coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca for gusts up to 50 mph. Winds gusts should stay below 40 in the Puget Sound lowlands. It won't be a blowdown by any stretch of the imagination, but there will be enough wind around to keep things interesting.

Credit: National Weather Service - Seattle Office

Snow levels will be high - over 5,000 feet - so this won't be a big snowmaker for the mountains. However, the Cascades could pick up a half foot or so of snow Friday night into Saturday morning as the front moves on through and cooler air with post-frontal showers move on in.

We calm down on Sunday and stay that way for a while, as one of the strongest ridges I can ever remember seeing for this time of year sets up camp right over our area and stays there through the first half of next week. Just take a look at the picture below! You don't have to be a meteorologist to know that that is one helluva big ridge.

Valid 10:00 am PST, Mon 08 Feb 2016 - 102hr Fcst
Credit: University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences

This ridge could still give us some areas of pesky morning fog in the South Sound, but overall, it will give us much warmer lowland temperatures than the ridge that settled over our area in early January. Freezing levels will soar to over 11,000 feet, daytime highs could make it into the 60s, and for the first time in several months, it will definitely feel like spring.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Global Warming: Too Little Action, Too Much Reaction

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
12:24 pm

Charles Dudley Warner once said that "everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." That time has come and passed, as we now have some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world running millions of lines of code and assimilating terabytes of data to make multiple forecasts each day. We have satellite imagery, radiosondes, surface stations, radars, and everything in between. By doing all of this, we have created forecasts that both help people plan their day and safeguard lives and property. We love to talk about the weather, and we love to do stuff about it too.

Alas, the same is not true for climate. We talk about climate even more than weather, and you need to look no further than the 2016 presidential campaign to notice this. I have not heard one mention of Hurricane Patricia, the 200 mph mutant cyclone that stormed into the Mexican Coast this past October, but I’ve heard plenty of talk about rising sea levels, increasing severe weather events, and linkages between climate change and the devastating civil war in Syria (which, by the way, is not a completely absurd connection). To be fair, we do a lot of research on climate, but that's not what we need to be doing. We need to be decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions. On that front, we haven't done much at all.

Credit: International Business Times

Interestingly enough, our carbon dioxide emissions have slightly decreased over the past several years, and that is because of fracking, a new method of extracting methane by fracturing shale underground and releasing methane in the process. While fracking may seem like a gift from heaven because it is a domestic energy source that produces a cleaner-burning fuel than coal, some of that methane escapes and is not captured. Methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and many scientists believe that because of this additional methane escape, fracking is actually a greater contributor to global warming than coal.

But back to our inaction on climate change. For all of the doomsday rhetoric from newspaper headlines, environmental groups, and uninformed politicians, we haven't gotten our act together and made any serious progress on the issue. There are several reasons why, but they all come back to one main reason.

As a whole, we would rather contribute to climate change than change our way of life.

If we really wanted to curb climate change, we'd have fewer kids. If we really wanted to curb climate change, we'd all take mass transit instead of driving hybrid cars. If we really wanted to curb climate change, climatologists, who should be setting an example for the rest of the world, would have Skype sessions instead of flying halfway around the world to climate conferences.

We'd build hydroelectric dams, and accept that some ecosystems would incur significant damages. We'd invest in wind, and we'd definitely invest in solar. We'd build nuclear power plants, and work to control nuclear waste and prevent meltdowns. Personally, I find it mind-boggling that often times, those who exaggerate global warming the most are also the most opposed to nuclear power. At this point, renewable energy sources alone do not even come close to providing the amount of energy we need to sustain our current lifestyles.

In other words, we talk the talk, but we don't walk the walk. So how do we go about fixing our apathy on fixing climate change?

First, we need to be more realistic with the American populace about the dangers of climate change. This is particularly true for people with organizations with a lot of public influence. In my opinion, climate change will be the most pressing issue for the world in the 21st century and beyond because it will affect every inhabitant of this planet to a pretty significant extent. Most climate models have the average temperature of the Earth rising anywhere from 3-12 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century, with variations due to different amounts of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. This will have tremendous consequences for many ecosystems across the planet and will force humankind to adapt to a new environment. Heat waves will become more common and more severe, and while greater uncertainty exists with precipitation, droughts and floods could become more severe as well. Tropical cyclones may become more intense. One thing is for sure: the sea level will rise, potentially inundating low-lying areas if they do not adapt. At this point, sea-level rises are expected to be 1-3 feet by 2100.

Second, and this goes hand in hand with my first proposition, we need to end our hyperbolic, alarmist climate statements and our "skepticism" and/or outright denial of a universally accepted and empirically verified scientific theory. Although the future that I just cast sounds very alarming, the amount of exaggeration and misinformation circulating throughout politics and popular culture is astounding. Moreover, much of this rhetoric is spread by sources we would think to be somewhat reliable.

Good intentions, bad science. Credit: Nick Solari

I like Bernie Sanders, and I truly feel like he is one of the few "good guys" in politics. However, I must admit, while making combating climate change a central tenet of his campaign, he has resorted to incorrect and exaggerated claims to push his agenda and is doing a disservice to the American people in the process. He also seems to claim on his website that the reason we haven't stopped global warming isn't because the vast majority of people are doing their part, it is because of billionaires who are responsible for preventing climate change legislation. We should be less focused with blaming other people and more focused on decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions, because the vast majority of people are NOT making enough of an effort to do this... myself included.  

On the other hand, most of the Republican candidates are either apathetic about global warming or deny it altogether. None of them are even remotely committed to taking drastic action, which is what needs to be done. If combating climate change is a priority for you, don't vote for any of the Republicans running in the general election.

However, it's not just our politicians. It's also the media. Take a look at some headlines I found that were published in the last 24 hours.

Credit: Irish Times

Credit: UK Independent
Credit: UK Express

Credit: The Frisky

The thing is, most of these articles cite some scientist, but the writers twist his/her words so they can write a straightforward article that will get a lot of views. Common examples include scientists citing one study that shows that there may be a connection between an increased possibility of winter storms and global warming, and then news media outlets blaming the storm solely on global warming. Other headlines use hyperbole, like the one from the UK Independent. My personal favorite here is the satirical piece about everybody's favorite groundhog, as it perfectly illustrates how the media has a tendency to blame one event on global warming.

Watts Up With That

Fortunately, there aren't too many scientists who take part in the hyperbole/skepticism of global warming. Unfortunately, the ones that do gain a lot of media attention. Watts Up With That, a site that claims to be the world's most viewed on global warming and climate change, is dedicated to selecting and twisting scientific information in an attempt to disprove the theory of global warming. And let's not forget about Dick Lindzen, the MIT atmospheric scientist who did groundbreaking work in atmospheric dynamics but still denies global warming (and the fact that smoking causes cancer). The majority of scientists believe that the effects of climate change are subtle at this point, but that the Earth's climate will be very different 100 years from now.

Credit: IPCC 5th Assessment Report

And then there are those environmentalists who really exaggerate the facts to push their agenda. Much of the science section of is bogus. For example, they say scientists warn that sea levels could rise as much as several meters this century, when the scientific consensus as well as the most recent and sophisticated climate models with the most aggressive carbon emission scenario (RCP 8.5) have it rising a meter at most. Greenpeace and The Sierra Club are a little better.

I apologize for being so inflammatory, but the way some politicians, the media, environmentalists, and even scientists approach climate change is unacceptable. The basic science is settled, and with a situation as serious as global warming, people deserve to know the truth.


So, now that I've finished ranting, what actions should we take to mitigate global warming?

There are many, many ways we can reduce our carbon footprint. Let's start with some basic ones. This is just a partial list.

Conserve: This is fairly straightforward. Turn down the thermostat and wear a giant coat. Take "sailor showers," and if you have the money, invest in insulating your home. Sometimes, it's just as simple as turning off a light you aren't using, or replacing your incandescent bulbs with fluorescent or LED ones. Stop watching TV and go play outside (but still read my blog). In all cases, our climate and your wallet will thank you. I do all of these things pretty regularly, but I tend to listen to music through a power-hungry speaker system.

Don't Drive Everywhere: Again, fairly straightforward. Unfortunately, Seattle's public transportation system leaves a lot to be desired, but our light rail system is becoming more expansive. Seattle is relatively bike-friendly compared to other major cities as well, although a lot more work could be done on that front as well. If I were mayor, I would make public transportation free so that people would be more encouraged to use it. I'd add that air travel also produces tons (literally) of carbon dioxide per passenger, so if you want to reduce your footprint, skipping that trip to Bali is a good place to start.

Buy Used: Manufacturing takes resources - you have to mine the minerals used in the manufacturing process, synthesize them into usable compounds for the appropriate manufacturing facility, make the product, advertise the product, ship the product, etc. If you buy something used on Craigslist or at your local thrift store, you save money and limit waste products.

Get Involved: Write your legislator to tell them that you want them to take action on climate change in some specific way, and if they don't do it, you'll tell all your friends to not vote for them for reelection. It works, trust me. Educate people on the science of climate change without resorting to alarmist claims... it's scary enough as-is. Call out people and organizations that hype, are skeptical of, or deny climate change altogether. Start organizations, make petitions, go the whole nine yards. Just don't be a hypocrite when you do it.

In my opinion, these sacrifices are worth it. They require relatively little effort, don't affect your life in any major way, and keep money in the bank. Here are some more that are even more effective, but that many people might not be willing to do.

Don't Have Kids: Or at least don't have very many. This is a big one. If we had one billion people on this planet, we wouldn't be talking about global warming - at least not the type of warming we are seeing right now. The best way to reduce a carbon footprint is to not have a footprint in the first place. Achieving zero or negative population growth in industrialized would be very effective for reducing carbon emissions. I do not know what the social and economic repercussions of this would be, but they would probably be significant. This would be an interesting research topic and is definitely something that should be studied more.

Become A Vegetarian: This may be hard for some people. I was a pescetarian (seafood-eater) for a while, but after a year, I broke down and went on a meat binge. Still, I may resume being a pescetarian. It is cheaper, much more environmentally friendly, and more humane. The fewer animals you kill, the better.

Additionally, there are things that politicians, the media, and people with a little more authority can do.

Stop The Alarmism/Denial: Global warming is a serious issue, and it is imperative that those who act on behalf of the public and/or disseminate information to the public do so in an accurate manner. I'm not saying that the government shouldn't censor free speech. However, I am saying that there is a moral obligation of those in power to put the health of our planet and people over their profits.

End Subsides for Fossil Fuels: We need to invest heavily in clean, renewable energy and nuclear power if we wish to reduce our carbon footprint without changing our lifestyles. Clean energy, not coal and oil, should be subsidized by the government.

Create a Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax: We have failed on combating climate change because of the “tragedy of the commons;” one person’s contributions to global warming are negligible and don't affect them personally, so why would they want to change their lifestyle? Of course, when everybody thinks like this, problems arise. The best way to discourage people from contributing to global warming is to have it affect them personally, and the best way to do that is to institute a carbon tax. Nobody likes taxes, so in exchange for this added tax, we could lower other taxes (ex: sales tax). Depressingly enough, a petition for just, I-732, that got hundreds of thousands of signatures, but has been opposed by both Republicans and Democrats. Remember what I said about contacting your legislator? This would be a great time to do it. You can learn more about it/contact your legislator here and also read Cliff Mass' excellent blog post on the issue.

I could blog until the proverbial cows came home about this issue. We talk too much, and do too little, and our efforts tend to be halfhearted at best. In the words of Yoda...

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 1, 2016

2015: The Warmest Year On Record

Thursday, January 28, 2016 
1:44 pm

Credit: NOAA National Center for Environmental Information
Retrieved from

2015 was destined to be the warmest year on record. In terms of ocean temperatures, we had one of the strongest El Niños on record brewing in the Tropical Pacific, a mighty "Blob" of warm water in the Northeast Pacific, and abundant warm water throughout the Indian Ocean. We'll see what the global warming skeptics have to say now, especially since of the past 5 years, 4 have been the warmest on record. That's not natural variability.

As the graphic above shows, the other warm years were 2005 (5th warmest) and 1998 (6th warmest). The El Niño of 1997-1998 was a very strong one as well, and in many respects, even stronger than our current one. Although that El Niño did not have the added heat contribution from the Blob, the decrease in upwelling in the Eastern Tropical Pacific warmed ocean temperatures far above their normal levels, which in turn influenced atmospheric temperatures.

The picture below shows the temperature percentiles over the globe for the past year. Notice how many places are "much warmer than average" or "record warmest," with the "record warmest" places being the Tropical Pacific, the Northeast Pacific off the coast of North America, and the Indian Ocean.

Credit: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information

Now, take a look at this SST anomaly animated gif I compiled. This shows the recorded SST over the world's oceans for the past year starting at 1/25/2016 and going to 1/23/2016. It's not a perfect representation of 2015 (a month late) but it shows the general idea. There's a lot of really warm water in those aforementioned places, especially the Tropical and Northeastern Pacific.

Credit: NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory Map Room

Just for fun, here are the actual sea-surface temperatures of the same time frame.

Credit: NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory Map Room

Bathtub temperatures in the Western Tropical Pacific and Northern Indian Ocean!

As previously mentioned, during the 1997-1998 El Niño, 1998 was hotter than 2016. 2015 shattered previous temperature records, but will 2016 be even warmer? It's hard to tell, but with a dead Blob, I think 2015 will hold its title for at least a couple years. But global warming is very real. If you are scared by this year, you don't want to know what mankind will be dealing with two centuries from now if we continue business as usual (scenario 8.5).

Credit: Environmental Protection Agency

Conserve whenever possible!


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Unstable Air, A Convergence Zone, And An AMAZING Satellite Picture

Thursday, January 28, 2016
9:10 pm

Image taken at approximately 12:00 pm  1/28/2016
Credit: NASA Terra MODIS Satellite

Apart from an extremely rainy morning for many folks, today ended up being a pretty nice day. Our atmospheric river that had been giving us so much rain, wind, and warm temperatures finally sagged to our south as cold front, and in its wake came cool, unstable, and rather moist air. Although pressure gradients relaxed somewhat, things were definitely still gusty, and the amazing satellite picture above shows that. Let me explain.

I got this picture from NASA's MODIS satellite imagery page. MODIS stands for "moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer," and it is a very expensive instrument installed on two NASA satellites: the "Terra" and the "Aqua." These two satellites are called "polar orbiting satellites" and orbit the Earth around the poles. Most meteorology satellites orbit the equator in sync with the Earth's rotation so they can take shots of the entire Earth at any given time, but polar orbiters have to take a single, continuous image as they circle around the poles. It takes around 99 minutes for these satellites to orbit the poles, and each one can only take one picture of a certain region per day. However, these polar orbiters can come much closer to the Earth than the ones over the equator, and when they pass over right as an awesome weather event is occurring, you can get some sensational pictures.

The cold front has just passed Western Washington, and is now over the Cascades. If you look really carefully, you can see the actual cold front as a very thin discontinuity in the cloud cover centered over the Cascades and curving very slightly as you head north. Ahead of this front, winds were primarily from the south, but behind it, winds were from the west. This buoy near Destruction Island shows a very sharp change in pressure, wind speed, and direction following the passage of this morning's front.

Credit: National Data Buoy Center
Credit: National Data Buoy Center

With strong, westerly winds and cool, unstable air in the wake of the front, air flows off the Pacific, and, after encountering terrain, is forced to rise, with clouds and precipitation resulting. On the other hand, places on the leeward side of terrain in westerly flow, like the Willamette Valley and the Southeastern portion of Vancouver Island, remain relatively cloud-free due to air sinking as it comes off terrain.

However, there is one place that is directly behind a mountain range and is NOT cloud-free. And that's our trusty Puget Sound convergence zone. The zone forms because winds, like all of us in life, would rather avoid obstacles than fight an uphill battle. Therefore, they split around the Olympics and "converge" right over Puget Sound! This time, they do rise, forming clouds, precipitation, and even the occasional thunderstorm in the process.

Even though the zone looks pretty intense on that satellite picture, it didn't really get going until later in the afternoon. Remember, that satellite picture was taken right after the front passed Western Washington, and even though it is extremely impressive that the convergence zone formed that quickly, it really ramped up as the afternoon went on. Take a look.

Credit: University of Washington

This radar image was taken at noon, which is close to when the satellite picture above was taken. You can see some weak convergence, with showers over Vancouver Island. This image is from the Camano Island radar, so there is blockage by the Olympics.

Credit: University of Washington

Three hours later, the zone is much more intense. There are even some reds in there!

Credit: University of Washington

By 4 pm, it has moved over northern Seattle. Red indicates very heavy rain.

Let me leave you with one thing before I sign off for the night. I'll repost the satellite picture here for convenience.

Image taken at approximately 12:00 pm 1/28/2016
Credit: NASA Terra MODIS Satellite

To the north and south of the convergence zone, the skies are blue as can be. The reason is because after the air has finished rising, it diverges and sinks on either side, creating bluebird skies in the process. It's great for basking in the sunshine while your neighbor's house gets struck on lightning, and it sure makes for some great satellite pictures.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

An Atmospheric River Fiesta

Wednesday, January 27, 2016
1:41 am

Yesterday, I wrote about the Eastern third of the country and how much of that region was profoundly affected by a major blizzard that halted over 13,000 flights and caused 3 billion dollars in damage. Now, the weather action has shifted back to our neck of the woods, and while we won't see anything historic over the next week like what was witnessed in some states back east, the entire West Coast looks to get a pretty good soaking this week.

I've used the term "atmospheric river" a lot, and that's because we get a lot of them. This week will be an atmospheric river fiesta not only for Washington State but for the entire West Cost. The first of these rivers will impact us tonight into Thursday, and with snow levels above 7,000 feet, flooding is possible on many of our rivers. The Skokomish will certainly flood and could reach major flood stage. Models have trended a bit lower with precipitation amounts here in the lowlands mainly due to the atmospheric river staying trending further north in the models, but the Olympics and North Cascades are expected to get several inches of rain within a few hours. When you have that amount of rain in such a short time combined with high freezing levels and rivers that are already running high, you've got a recipe for flooding. Contrary to popular belief, a healthy snowpack like the one we have now actually decreases flooding concerns because it helps absorb water and prevents it from all flowing into rivers.

Valid 04:00 pm PST, Wed 27 Jan 2016 - 12hr Fcst
Credit: UW Atmospheric Sciences

This river will be remarkably persistent and will progress southward as the week goes on, re-energizing on Friday off the Central Californian coast. You can already see the beginning of the second river with that little ‘wave’ around 155 degrees west. In fact, there could still be some vestiges of this river on Sunday over SoCal! Even with this El Nino, they've been relatively dry, so finally getting some significant precipitation should bring a heavy sigh of relief.

Credit: National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP)

Here's one of my favorite model charts: the total accumulated precipitation for the 12z GFS run this morning. The picture below shows the total predicted accumulation over the next week. Tons of precipitation everywhere, and in the mountains, that precipitation will be in the form of snow.

If you think the East Coast got hit hard this past week, look at the charts below. The Sierra Nevada are a high mountain range that rises dramatically from the Central Valley and are very efficient at enhancing precipitation on their windward slopes. They often get extraordinarily heavy snowfall totals when there are moist winds perpendicular to them, and I would not be surprised if places like Mammoth Mountain and Mt. Shasta Ski Park picked up 3-4 feet of snow with this atmospheric river. If the Sierra Nevada and Washington Cascades switched places, the mountains here would get a lot more snow, Eastern Washington would be even drier, and traveling over the mountains would be a pain over the pass.

Here are the first 72 hours of snowfall. Not a blizzard, mainly because the warm atmospheric river over our area will send snow levels skyrocketing and prevent anything from accumulating here. BC gets clobbered though.

Valid 04:00 am PST, Sat 30 Jan 2016 - 72hr Fcst
Credit: UW Atmospheric Sciences

But look at the next 72 hours. A good amount of snow for the Cascades, but look at the Intermountain West. Utah gets buried. Colorado is off the chart (literally), but I'm sure they get gobs of snow too. Great news for skiers and reservoirs alike. 

Valid 04:00 am PST, Tue 02 Feb 2016 - 144hr Fcst
Credit: UW Atmospheric Sciences

We've had a somewhat atypical El Nino winter thus far, with more zonal flow into our area rather than split flow. However, long-range forecasts show the dreaded split flow returning, blocking anything from reaching the Pacific Northwest and unfortunately making it pretty difficult for that energy to spread southward to California as well. Although Northern California has gotten a lot of precipitation this year, it has been a letdown for SoCal.

Credit: National Center for Environmental Prediction

Enjoy the active weather this week!