Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I have moved!

Hello everybody!

Although I have not been posting on here, I have been extremely busy developing my own weather website! I'm proud to say that it is finally complete. :)

As such, I'll be abandoning posting things to this blog (sad face), but believe me, the new website is so much better. I will continue my blog there, and it has other features as well, like a collection of webcams, standalone weather articles, and even community forums. I'm really excited about the whole thing and I hope you are too.

The website is weathertogether.us, and you can get acquainted with the website by reading my first post, which explains basics of the site and how to become a member of the site.

Thank you for your continued support over the years!
Charlie

 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A New Climate Change Movement

There has been a lot of talk about climate change, and how we need to do everything we can to mitigate it. At the same time, there has been a lot of talk about how the climate is "always changing," and that there's nothing we should or even can do about decreasing our carbon emissions. In the words of Marco Rubio, "I can't pass a law that will change the weather." As this Bernie supporter eloquently states, that approach didn't work out too well for him,

Credit: Tim Murphy for Mother Jones Magazine

If the threat we were facing from climate change had a different name - say, ISIS, or illegal immigration, or democratic socialism, you can bet your bonnet that these crazy Republicans would be doing all they could to mitigate the problem.

Why do I bring this up?

I was having a discussion with some people the other day on climate change and whether it is occurring. Some of the people were skeptics or deniers, but in my opinion, it became clear that their skepticism did not stem from the science itself, but disdain for the media and politicians who supported the scientific consensus on climate change or disseminated alarmist claims. There seemed to be a general hostility towards those who claimed that we were in grave danger from climate change, and a general apathy towards a theorized warmer world in the future. In other words, the debate over a scientific theory was centered around emotion and politics, not science.

Global warming is an interesting subject because it is truly interdisciplinary in scope. Of course, it has the elements associated with the physical sciences, but it also includes elements of psychology on the largest and smallest scales. It is the epitome of the "tragedy of the commons," where one person's actions do not affect the outcome, but the actions of the population as a whole have a tremendous effect. It involves ecology, sociology, engineering, philosophy, and a plethora of other disciplines. And unfortunately, it invokes irrational emotions in lieu of rational, scientific reasoning.

Retrieved from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank dedicated to questioning the health risks of tobacco and rejecting the scientific consensus on global warming

Not all sides are guilty of such offenses. Scientists are often antagonized by those who have been brainwashed by the conservative media to believe that they are falsifying their data for their own financial gain, but they are some of the most unbiased people out there when it comes to climate change. They let their results drive their conclusions. Of course, there are a couple notorious bad apples, but I won't mention them here.

The point of all of this is that the United States has been spectacularly inept in combating climate change. Not only have we not taken swift action in reducing our carbon emissions, we have an entire political party and a large section of the media dedicated to denying climate change altogether. On the other side, many media outlets, politicians, and environmental organizations overstate the dangers of climate change and attribute climate change to every bad thing happening in the world. Both parties pick and choose facts to support their agenda instead of letting the facts speak for themselves, although the GOP is worse. They let their policy pick and choose the data, instead of letting the data inform their policy.

So, I'm proposing a new, revolutionary climate movement! I call this movement "Climate Realism." I'm open to suggestions if anybody has any different ideas. And just to clarify, there are some organizations (such as the Heartland Institute) which state that "climate realism" is being skeptical or denying global warming is caused by humans. This is not what I am talking about, as those claims are completely wrong.

Climate Realism involves something that too many climate change organizations (on both sides of the issue) overlook: the scientific method.

Credit: Wikipedia User ArchonMagnus

Most of you are probably familiar with the scientific method. You observe what's going on with the world, think of interesting questions, make hypotheses, test and refine your hypotheses, and make conclusions, either as part of an ongoing cycle or just once. If you are using the scientific method to test if dry balsa wood floats on water for a 3rd grade science project, you probably don't need to run through the method several hundred times. It floats. However, with a phenomenon like global warming, we will keep running through the scientific method to learn more and more about global warming. We are constantly observing the world around us, and we are constantly forming new hypotheses and conclusions about how global warming.

The principal goal of climate realism is to think critically about the environment and our effects on it. This is something that the mainstream media is not very good at, either by ignorance or (more likely) ignoring the science for their own financial gain. For example, a lot of news outlets reported that Hurricane Sandy was a direct result of global warming, and I even saw an article that said that Chris Christie mainly accepted global warming but he was still somewhat of a denier based on the fact that he disagreed with the notion that Sandy was caused by global warming. Without getting into the details, Sandy was caused by a myriad of unlikely factors coming together at the perfect time; the "perfect storm" if you will. Besides, no weather event is directly attributable to global warming - the climate system is far more complex than that.

However, in this way of thinking, people would be encouraged to think about how much global warming contributed to Sandy's strength, and whether Sandy is a good example of weather events with a high percentage of global warming influence or a low percentage of global warming influence. If we started seeing more Aprils like the one we just had, that would likely be more attributable to global warming than North America having a cold winter. Why do you think they call it global warming?

But wait - some studies show that Antarctica has been cooling, so surely that must be evidence that global warming is hogwash? Well, a climate realist would not simply jump to conclusions, and if they did enough research, they'd find that the cooling was due to another man-made atmospheric perturbation - the creation of the ozone hole. The ozone hole has been shrinking since CFCs were banned, and as it does so, Antarctica will warm dramatically just like the rest of the world. Besides, some studies have shown that Antarctica is not cooling, and recent studies show that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is unstable and could contribute far more to sea-level-rise than we previously imagined.

Climate realism also seeks to avoid sensationalist claims or fear-mongering. Many environmental organizations such as 350.org have overstated the dangers of climate change in an attempt to encourage people to do the right thing. Unfortunately, these attempts often backfire, as conservative news outlets and politicians often point to their inaccurate claims and predictions to show that climate change is in fact a hoax.

To sum it up, with this new climate change movement, science leads the way for policy and discussion. Politics don't determine the science behind climate change, but the state of our climate determines what we should do about it. It seems like common sense, but most politicians and the mainstream media don't care much for common sense.

I'm sorry for being so tardy on this blog; it is because I am working on developing a new, personal weather website with Wordpress software. I am awfully slow at it but I am learning a lot along the way, and as I learn more I'll be able to further customize and spruce up the site. I hope to have a rough version up in the next week or so.

Thanks for reading!
Charlie

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Our Corrupt Political System


It's not often that I touch on non-science topics in this blog. But I have some thoughts about what's been happening this political season, and I thought I'd share them here. I'm not a political scientist, and I admittedly don't know as much about our government as I should. What I do know, however, is that the system seems more "rigged" than ever before. With caucuses, superdelegates, lobbyists, and the possibility of a contested Republican Convention, this election season has opened my eyes to just how undemocratic the United States voting system is.

Crazy Republicans!

I always knew our voting system wasn't perfect, but it really hit me when Lyin' Ted and 1 for 38 Kasich announced they were "teaming up" and splitting their time and resources to prevent Donald Trump from clinching the nomination. I always despised Lyin' Ted, but I found Kasich somewhat reasonable, so much so that I called him "Good Guy Kasich." But when they announced that they were doing this, I lost even more respect for Lyin' Ted (which I didn't think was possible) and I no longer hold Kasich in as high esteem. I despise Donald Trump, but I actually felt sorry for him, and angry that these politicians were trying to get to a contested convention, where the Republican nominee would be decided by several thousand delegates instead of several million citizens. It's one thing to feel sorry for Bernie with the superdelegate disaster, but when you feel sorry for Donald Trump, you know that something is wrong with either you or the political system. At this point, I'm hoping it's the latter.


One of my personal heroes, Albert Einstein, once said that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I apply this quote to many things in my life, and I think it applies to my political views as well. I would say I am a moderate democrat - more liberal than most, but not as liberal as many of my millennial compadres in uber-liberal Seattle. Like many people my age, I like Bernie Sanders because I think he puts his priorities in the right places. And I also think he's been treated terribly by the party elite.


As you can see, Clinton holds a substantial lead over Bernie in total delegates. While she leads him substantially in pledged delegates, she really gets a boost from the superdelegates, who are free to back any democratic candidate they so choose. In Washington, Sanders got nearly 3/4ths of the state's vote, but 10 of 17 superdelegates have pledged to support Clinton, including Jay Inslee, our governor. Bernie won 25 delegates in Washington, while Hillary won 9. If Hillary were to hypothetically get all the superdelegates (which wouldn't be that much of a stretch), she would have 26 delegates to Bernie's 25. Doesn't seem fair to me, and it doesn't seem fair to the Republican frontrunner as well.


If there is a saving grace for Bernie supporters, it's that he has done well in caucuses. I would have liked to go to Washington's democratic caucus, but my plans were already all filled up for the day. If you don't have the free time or resources to go to a caucus, your voice isn't heard. This results in different populations having higher caucus turnout rates, and since many of Bernie's supporters are young, white, middle-class millennials who have the time and resources to go to caucuses, he has done very well in caucus states. On the other hand, Trump, who is very popular with those who have little or no higher education, has not done as well in the caucuses as he has done in the primaries. Keeping in line with the aforementioned Albert Einstein quote, caucuses and superdelegates are unnecessarily complex and unfair, and I would get rid of them if I could.

However, I think that something even worse is happening in the Republican Party (with regard to party corruption... the nativism, ignorance, and fear-mongering by both Trump and Cruz is downright scary). And that is that the person with the most delegates - by a wide margin - could end up not being the nominee. If Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich or even Jeb! were to get the nomination at a contested convention, that would be an indictment of our voting process as undemocratic. But it's a very real possibility.

When I first learned about the Citizen's United decision, it seemed like a reasonable decision to me. Why should there be limits on how much money a corporation can donate to a politician? Anybody should be able to support the candidate of their choice, and they should be free to donate as much money as they please. But as time went on, I realized the repercussions of having this type of corporate influence in politics. A 27 dollar donation from Joe Schmoe isn't going to influence a politician's policy decisions, but a million dollar check from Exxon Mobil absolutely will. And then there's the mainstream media, but that is another can of worms.

Hopefully you found this post insightful, even if I didn't articulate it very well. But it sure felt good to write! Showers and sunbreaks with highs in the low 60s for the remainder of this week before we once again surge into the upper 70s for next week.

Thanks for reading!
Charlie

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Transition To More Seasonable Weather

We've been so hot recently, many of us (including myself) have forgotten that it is only April. Although mountain snow at Snoqualmie Pass becomes increasingly hard to come by after mid-April, it is still relatively common, and we can even have snow there into May. Of course, when you get to 89 degrees in Seattle like we did on Monday, it's hard to imagine how this month could feature snow at the top of Mt. Rainier, let alone the major passes. We usually see around 27 inches of snow in the month of April at Snoqualmie, but this month, we've only seen one inch. Sometimes we see much more; the winter of 2010-2011 saw 84 inches of snow in the month of April there, more than both January and February. You can find snowfall totals back to 1950 for Snoqualmie Pass here.

video

My skiing friend and teaching buddy Tessa Harvey headed up to Alpental today and took this video. Amazingly, there is still quite a bit of snow up there, though it is quite patchy. Remember, it takes energy for snow to melt, meaning it cools the air around it as it melts. This acts to slow melting and let us hold on to our precious snowpack for a little bit longer. Still, our snowpack, which was normal just a couple weeks ago, has taken a beating so far this April.

Credit: National Water and Climate Center

Looking ahead, we should cool down for the foreseeable future as we return to a more traditional onshore flow. We should still be slightly warmer than normal, but the days in the 80s look like they are past us... for now.

Credit: Climate Prediction Center

It sure was nice while we had it though! And we won't be cold by any means... we'll be up near 70 with mostly sunny skies by the end of next week. It sure took us a while to get to drier and warmer weather, but we're here now, and we aren't looking back.

Thanks for reading,
Charlie

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Viva La Niña!

Credit: NOAA

Earlier this week, my good friends at NOAA (well, hopefully we'll be best buds someday) issued a La Niña watch for the Tropical Pacific. Some of the models were showing a transition to a La Niña for next winter in the months before, but there was enough spread and uncertainty in the models that the climatologists at NOAA did not put out an official watch. However, as spring rolled on, more and more models hopped on board with the idea of a La Niña for the 2016-2017 winter. Of course, there is still a lot of spread in the models, and some well regarded ones (such as NOAA's own CFSv2 model) actually show yet another El Niño developing next autumn and hanging around for the winter.

Credit: NOAA

At this point though, we look to be headed towards a La Nina not only because the model consensus but because of what has happened during previous strong El Niños. After the record-breaking El Nino of 1997-1998, we saw a massive La Niña the following winter, and it was because of this La Niña that Mt. Baker ski resort got 95 feet snow in a single year, making it the snowiest year ever for anywhere in the world where snow measurements are taken (there are snowier places, including some on Mt. Baker, but observations are not taken there). The models and history are on our side, and that's why the CPC decided to go ahead and issue a La Nina watch.

El Nino refers to a periodic warming of water in the tropical Pacific due to weaker trade winds and less upwelling, while La Nina refers to the opposite. Just like El Nino, La Nina affects weather patterns all over the world, and in many areas, the effects are nearly opposite to what we would expect during an El Nino. While El Ninos shift tropical convection over Indonesia eastward (often resulting in massive fires over southeast Asia), La Ninas shift the convection westward, meaning that Indonesia and many areas in Southeast Asia will likely see enhanced precipitation this year. Hurricanes are often more plentiful in the Atlantic but less plentiful in the Eastern/Central Pacific during El Ninos, so a stormier-than-average Atlantic hurricane season looks on tap for the summer and autumn of 2016.

Credit: NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory

In our neck of the woods, La Ninas tend to create a regime nearly opposite to the one that typically shows up during an El Nino year. Instead of having a big low pressure system in the eastern Pacific that allows the jet stream to sag south into California, we have a substantial ridge which nudges the jet stream northward, allowing it to sag into our area from the NW. Indeed, our La Nina years are stormier, cooler, and wetter than average, with mountain snowfall well-above normal. They generally don't have the biggest storms - those tend to occur on neutral years - but they have the most. And that isn't to say we can't have strong storms - one of the strongest storms in Pacific Northwest history, the "Great Coastal Gale" of 2007, pummeled the coast with hurricane force winds and caused massive flooding across much of Western Washington, including submerging a 10-mile stretch of I-5 under 10 feet of water. 2007-2008 was a strong La Niña year and the Cascades got plenty of snow - Alpental was open until Memorial Day (and I was lucky enough to ski the backcountry then!).

Let's take a look at what's happening in the tropical Pacific right now.

Credit: NOAA

As the animated .gif above shows, sea-surface temperatures throughout the tropical Pacific had dropped precipitously over the past month, and they are continuing to drop at a pretty impressive rate. Also, note that there is still a significant amount of warmer-than-average water in the Northeast Pacific. Strong El Niños tend to grow and fizzle out quickly, and this one is no exception. Take a look at the measured SST anomalies in each of the "Niño Regions" across the Pacific. The higher the number, the further west the region.


Temperatures are clearly decreasing everywhere. Niño 1+2 had a little rebound in March, but they'll cool off soon enough. One interesting fact - the El Niño of 1997-1998 that everybody likes to compare to this one had a far bigger influence in the far Eastern Pacific (Niño Region 1+2), while this one was mainly situated over the Central Pacific. The distribution of water plays a significant role in how weather is affected by El Niño, and an El Niño centered over the Central Pacific has different effects than one over the Eastern Pacific. As this year showed, our seasonal forecasts weren't very good at all - so studies into how the distribution of warm water throughout the Pacific affects the effects of an El Niño throughout the world should be further studied.

One of the most telling signs that our El Nino is ending is that even though the temperatures at the sea surface are above normal, those just beneath the surface are actually below normal. In fact, the total heat contained in the upper ocean (upper 300 meters of water) is actually below average now. Ol' El is clearly on his way out.

Credit: NOAA

Credit: NOAA

Adios, El Niño. You and your record-breaking, horribly predicted rains will be missed. See you in a couple years.

In the meantime, Viva La Niña!

Clearing snow at Chinook Pass in June 2011. The 2010-2011 winter was a moderate La Niña winter.
Credit:WSDOT