Sunday, December 23, 2012

White Christmas?

Sunday, December 23, 2012
10:46 P.M.

First off, let me apologize for not being more punctual when it comes to posting on this blog. I had three pretty rough finals in two days, and the evening after my last final, I had a seizure (which may have been related to the stress... who knows), so I've been trying to collect my thoughts and just relax my first week of break.

I feel no shame in telling people that I have epilepsy on this blog, and I honestly did the best I could on my finals. My medications to control epilepsy make abstract thinking and high-level cognition difficult, something which is kind of necessary for the high level science classes I am taking. So it's taken me a little while to try and enjoy my break since the quarter ended, but I'm feeling a bit better now. Some successful businessman guy named Bo Bennett said that "frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success." That will probably make more sense when I'm less frustrated.

It's ok though. Because in the end...

I have some very positive news for you all. Parts of the region could see a White Christmas. Of course, forecasting snow here is pretty intimidating, particularly when I'm forecasting for kids who are in school. Thankfully, there's no school on Christmas anyway, so the stakes are a little less high with this forecast. In addition, this is only forecast to be a minor snow event.

The National Weather Service released a Special Weather Statement for Western Washington highlighting the possibility of snow in places for Christmas Day. I've reprinted it below for your viewing convenience.




A white Christmas is defined as having one inch or more of snow on the ground. December 25, 2008 had around half a foot of slush at my house, so it technically counts as a White Christmas, but it was a pretty sloppy one. I still remember December 26, 1996, when we had a White Day-After-Christmas. It was incredible. The snow was almost as tall as me. As I grew older, I got the whole memory mixed up, and thought that it had actually snowed on Christmas Day. I remember not being surprised waking up to all the snow, because in my mind, it was supposed to snow on Christmas. That's just the way things were. "Tide goes in, tide goes out. You can't explain that." (Bill O'Reilly). And you can't explain snow falling on Christmas Day. It just happens.

Of course, I've grown to recognize over the years that Christmas Day is usually rainy, not snowy. There is less than a 10% chance of having a White Christmas on any given year.

So what's my outlook for snow chances in the lowlands? Some places with elevation and away from water may see some snow to start, but it will not accumulate and it will change to rain pretty quickly. I live down by Lake Washington, so I'll see all rain. The lowland spot with the best chance of getting some snow is Hood Canal. As has happened in recent weeks, cold air has a harder time being flushed out by storm systems in the Hood Canal area, and snow often occurs there even when there is a chilly rain throughout the rest of Western Washington. Let's take a look at the UW WRF-GFS model to get a better idea of what we are dealing with.

Valid 04:00 pm PST Tue, 25 Dec 2012 - 48hr Fcst - UW 00z 4km WRF-GFS Western Washington 24-hour snowfall

As you can see, the only accumulating snow that will fall on the lowlands on Christmas is in the Hood Canal region. Places like Hoodsport, Potlatch, and Skykomish could see anywhere from 3-6 inches of snow, with lower amounts near the water and much higher amounts as you go closer to the Olympics. The snow doesn't quite make it to Olympia.

The Cascades will definitely get some snow. I, for one, am dying to get back on the slopes, and I hope to do so after Christmas. I haven't skied in two years though, so there is a decent chance I will fall flat on my face more than a couple times. I'll just get back up and show that mountain who's boss. That's how we grow.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

An Update!

Sunday, December 16, 2012
2:40 P.M.

Hi everybody! It's great to be back! I survived finals, although I sustained some serious injuries during the battle. Oh well, I'll recover from them soon enough.

We've got a lot to talk about. First off, we have a fairly large storm swinging through our area tonight. Take a look at all those pretty warnings over the region. This is what I live for.

Not a country spared. Wonderful.

The main things I want you guys to look at are the high wind warnings over much of Western Washington and the blizzard warnings over the Cascades and Olympics. High wind is relatively common around the coast, but it is much rarer inland. The one place that doesn't have high wind warnings in effect is the Tacoma - Mt. Vernon region, as the strongest pressure gradients will reside south and west of there. It should still be noticeably blustery though, and a wind advisory is in effect in that region. Blizzard warnings represent the penultimate National Weather Service severe winter weather warning, and denote sustained 35 mph winds with heavy snow for at least three hours at a time. I was taking a look at some of the pass cams, and they don't look too bad yet.

But this will change. 1-3 feet of snow is possible through Monday night, and gusts to 60 in the passes and up to 90 on exposed ridges will pummel the Cascades and Olympics. This is not the time to be out backcountry hiking or skiing, as conditions could become life-threatening. It's also probably not the best time to try and make it across the passes either, although if you got a whole bunch of people up there, you could probably have a pretty large snowball fight.

Let's take a look at the current satellite.

02:30 pm PST Sun 16 Dec 2012

As you can see, there is clearly a strong storm racing into our area. It's fairly mature as far as its development goes, and we are probably already in the occluded part of the cyclone. There is a well-defined dry slot and an extended bent-back occlusion west of the center of low pressure. It's not the prettiest cyclone I've ever seen, but looks can be deceiving. This will be a strong storm.

The coast will see the greatest effects, but this should hardly come as a surprise; the coast always sees the greatest effects. There is a storm warning over all the offshore waters from Cape Flattery to the Californian border for sustained winds of 40 to 50 knots and associated waves of 20-25 feet. Vessels should stay in port. I can't even imagine what the bars will look like. It would be interesting to see the Grays Harbor and Columbia River Bars at ebb tide with waves this large. It would also be something that would be extremely dangerous to all but the largest vessels.

The storm passes through Monday morning, but that definitely won't be the end of its effects over the region. Particularly, I've got my eye on Monday night, where a possible convergence zone could bring some snow to the hills in the favored southern Snohomish/northern King county regions. This won't be a major event, and the snow won't stick around for long, but it could be the first significant snowfall for parts of the region this year.

After that, we look to continue in our unsettled ways, but the models are all over the place with regards to the details. One thing is for sure... the mountains will continue to see lots of snow, and that's all I could really ask for Christmas.

Enjoy the gloomy weather!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Watching the Satellite

Monday, December 3, 2012
10:36 A.M.

10:00 am PST Mon 03 Dec 2012 - UW West Coast 4km water vapor satellite

Good morning everybody, I hope you are all having a nice first week of December. It was pretty rainy last night, but we'll be heading into some calmer weather soon.

However, we've got a storm to go through first.

Sometimes, there is a large discrepancy between what the models initialize the current state of the atmosphere to be and what the atmosphere actually looks like on satellite. One example of this was the snow event back in January 2012 (which was probably my finest moment as a forecaster because I totally went against the models and ended up being correct). But looking at this satellite image compared to the initialization, you can see some pretty big differences. Let's first look at what the models say what the atmosphere should be like right now. This is 6 hours after the initialization because the UW doesn't have this model map for the initialization.

Valid 10:00 am PST Mon, 03 Dec 2012 - 6hr Fcst - UW 12z WRF-GFS 36km outgoing longwave radiation (similar to infrared satellite)

Take a look at that swath of clouds offshore. That's the low pressure wave that's expected to develop and slam into our area Tuesday morning. Now, let's take a look at the actual infrared satellite.

10:00 am PST Mon 03 Dec 2012 - UW West Coast 4km NWS infrared satellite

As you can see, the maps generally look the same, but there are some important differences. In the actual infrared photo, there is more of a "hook" at the upper left portion of the storm. This is called a bent-back occlusion and it is a classic feature of strong cyclones. This occlusion is not very pronounced in the infrared satellite.

For an even better comparison of images, take a look at the water vapor satellite picture.

10:00 am PST Mon 03 Dec 2012 - UW West Coast 4km NWS water vapor satellite

There is a very pronounced "dry slot" here, which is another indication of a strong cyclone. The low pressure center is typically located within the dry slot. 

Do I think we are going to see a major windstorm out of this? No. The cyclone is not developing very quickly and the jet stream supporting it is not particularly strong. However, I do think this is something the NWS service should keep an eye on. In their 9:15 forecast discussion, they mentioned issuing a wind advisory for the coast and north interior later today. They may have to upgrade that to a high wind warning, at least for the coast, and they may also have to issue a wind advisory for the Puget Sound lowlands if this storm comes in stronger than expected. It won't be a megastorm by any means, but it just goes to show that models aren't perfect representations of the atmosphere at a given time, and these satellite images show that.

Off to calculus, send your prayers my way. :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I get the stuff... except with this part:

"Taking moments around the point on the wall find the tension in the cable Tc
32.81 x 9.8 x 4 x 2 = 4 x Tc sin Ø
Tc = 643.1/sin Ø N"

I get the stuff... except with this part: Why do they multiply by 2 on the left side? There is the mass of the beam and g, and multiplying them together gives weight. Then you multiply by 4 to get the moment. But what about the 2?


Monday, November 26, 2012

Little Storms

Monday, November 26, 2012
1:37 P.M.

I was looking at the models this afternoon, and I noticed that there are a lot of little storms slated to hit our area later this week into next week. None of these storms look particularly strong. In some ways, they look kind of cute... in a nerdy meteorological way. If our rainstorm/windstorm last Monday was a bulldog, these storms would be adorable little pugs. Of course, I'd take a big bad storm any day over a cute one, but if I look at these storms from this perspective, maybe it'll tide me over until we get another fat cyclone headed our way.

Before I get any further, I'll show you the current 500mb chart over our area. Atmospheric scientists are obsessed with the 500mb level charts and use them all the time to determine upper-level flow patterns and the jet stream.

Valid 04:00 am PST Mon, 26 Nov 2012 - UW 12z WRF-GFS, 36 km 500mb absolute vorticity, heights

As you can see, there is currently a pretty sizable ridge over the West Coast from California to Alaska and a big ol' trough around 150 west. This ridge has been giving us the sunny weather with rather cool nights we have seen of late. I'm trying to go to 2013 without wearing long pants (apart from special occasions like weddings and stuff), but I was pretty darn chilly this morning in my gym shorts.

Over the next few days, this trough will drift on in to our region and we will start to feel its effects.

Valid 10:00 am PST Thu, 29 Nov 2012 - 78hr Fcst - UW 12z WRF-GFS, 36 km 500mb absolute vorticity, heights

The ridge has fallen off the wayside and we have a broad and modest (with respect to wind velocity) jet stream over the Pacific Northwest. The main upper level low around 140 west and 50 north will act as a chauffeur, escorting a variety of classy, well-mannered storms into our area.

The first of these storms will arrive Thursday. It could bring 2-3 inches of rain to the Olympics, which just might be enough rain to push the Skokomish River over flood stage. But this front will sag south over northern California and deliver copious amounts of moisture to the area via an atmospheric river. Take a look at the picture below!

 Valid 04:00 am PST Sat, 01 Dec 2012 - 120hr Fcst - UW 12z WRF-GFS, 12 km 48 hour precip, wind vectors

The WRF is forecasting 10-20 inches of rain in some regions, and it has been pretty consistent with this feature. Northern California should take action and prepare for river flooding.

After that, the details get really mushy as far as storms go. The good news is that I am fairly certain that the mountains will pick up some decent snow amounts with this pattern. The snow level looks like it will be all the way up to 8,000 feet early in the week and gradually settle down to around 5,000 feet by Friday. After Friday though, models show the snow level dropping below 3,000 feet, which means Snoqualmie Pass will get some snow and will probably open soon. 

Valid 04:00 pm PST Mon, 03 Dec 2012 - 180hr Fcst - UW 12z WRF-GFS, 12 km 24-hour snowfall

I'm dying to get back on the slopes!

Enjoy your Monday!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Tuesday, November 20, 2012
12:06 A.M.

Yesterday, I thought I had found true love. Sitting in math class, I occasionally took a few peeks out the window, yearning for the spiritual and enlightening connection I have been striving for my whole life. And every time I turned, I experienced a feeling so tender, so loving. I had no time for surface integrals. Instead, I bathed myself with the soft, silky touch of euphoric love.

And then just like she came into my life, she left for good. I would sacrifice my belongings and crucify my every societal standing just to get one more exalting smile and feel the that incredible, exciting, soothing empathy radiating through my every cell of my body.

Yeah, it's pretty hard to date a midlatitude cyclone.

When the Pacific storm train really gets ramped up, you are transfixed in a conveyor belt of shimmering beauty delivering gorgeous storms to your doorstep. But when the conveyor belt ends, I would do anything to bring it back.

Long story short: this was the last irresistible storm we'll see for a while. It's never the right time to say goodbye. Farewell, my one and only true love.

I'll post all that analysis stuff later.

Yours faithfully,
Charles Robertson Phillips

Friday, November 16, 2012


Friday, November 16, 2012
8:50 A.M.

I'm happy. You know why I'm happy? Because we will finally see a string of strong storms that will streak from ocean to peak through next week. Now that was clever.

Let's look at the timeline for our storms. 

Our first storm comes in on Saturday morning. This one looks pretty impressive in the model, but the front will stretch out and weaken before it hits the Western Washington lowlands. It won't be a notable storm, but it will open the door for the other storms to follow.

Valid 07:00 am PST Sat, 17 Nov 2012 - 27hr Fcst - UW 12km 12z WRF-GFS 3 hour precip

It will also bring some solid wind to some areas, mainly the coast. The map below shows the surface temperature, and more importantly, the isobars over the region at the given time. It also shows wind barbs, but unless you have the eyesight of a Peregrine Falcon, they are hard to see. It looks like there will be gale-force winds off our coast, though.

Valid 07:00 am PST Sat, 17 Nov 2012 - 27hr Fcst - UW 12km 12z WRF-GFS SLP, 2m temp, 10 wind

We'll get another storm Sunday night. This one will be significantly wetter but probably won't be as windy. Look at the three-hour precipitation map below, and you'll get an idea of the front of this storm.

Valid 07:00 pm PST Sun, 18 Nov 2012 - 63hr Fcst - UW 12km 12z WRF-GFS 3 hour precip

But the main thing that the meteorological community is looking at right now is a storm slated for Monday night. This storm will bring heavy rainfall totals here and massive amounts of rain in southern Oregon. It also has the potential to bring high winds to the area. Let's take a look.

The WRF-GFS brings a 982 mb low, deepens it to 979 mb, and brings it into southern Vancouver Island. This would certainly bring gales to the coast and would probably bring 25-35 mph sustained winds over Puget Sound, with gusts up to 50 in exposed regions, like Alki Point. Places. The pressure orientation isn't quite right for super high winds in the Puget Sound area, as there won't be a massive pressure gradient between Bellingham and Portland. In the 2006 Hanukkah Eve Storm, there was a pressure difference of over 22 mb between the two sites, and the current WRF-GFS shows a maximum pressure gradient of 9mb or so. It will still be our windiest storm of the season though, and it's a ways out. It bears watching

Valid 10:00 am PST Mon, 19 Nov 2012 - 78hr Fcst - UW 12km 12z WRF-GFS 10m wind, SLP

The bigger story with this storm will be the massive amounts of rain it will bring to the Pacific Northwest, especially southwest Oregon. In 48 hours, places like Brookings could see well over 10 inches of rain.

Valid 04:00 pm PST Tue, 20 Nov 2012 - 108hr Fcst - UW 12km 12z WRF-GFS 48 hour precip

In fact, the Portland office for the National Weather Service has issued a hydrologic outlook for Kelso, WA to Eugene, OR. South of Eugene, the Medford office is in charge, and they haven't issued any hydrologic outlooks yet, but they are predicted to see even heavier rain. 

Yesterday, in my WeatherOn long range blog, I mentioned that this would be a "Pineapple Express" type setup. Well, I read Cliff Mass' blog yesterday, and he had a better name for it: the "Teriyaki Express." He dubbed it as such because the moisture is originating from the higher latitudes closer to Asia than the subtropics from Hawaii. During true Pineapple Express events, the temperature can rise into the 60s. The warmest temperature recorded at Sea-Tac in December was 63 degrees and occurred during a Pineapple Express... at 2 A.M. in the morning! I'm only expecting highs into the mid 50s, which is still a bit milder than normal, but isn't too bad. The snow level will likely peak around 5,000 feet for the Monday storm. During a full-fledged Pineapple Express, the snow level can rise to 11,000 feet, meaning that it is raining in every single location in the state except the tops of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams.

One more thing... the track of the Monday storm is still pretty uncertain. It will be wet and windy, but it's hard to pin down the details at this point. As always, I'll keep you posted as the event comes closer.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Misrepresentation of Science in the Public Domain

Thursday, November 15, 2012
8:42 P.M.

So, I was thinking a lot about global warming today (like I always do), but I was struck by one thought. When I hear people talk about global warming, there seems to be a debate, even among scientists. Richard Lindzen, Joe Bastardi, and even our own George Taylor (Oregon State Climatologist) are all climate change skeptics or deniers. And in politics, it seems like it's almost a 50-50 debate, with most Democrats believing in climate change and most Republicans not believing it (that's a huge generalization, I know... it's just a trend I have observed).

I was disheartened by this article, where Peter Ferrara, for Forbes Magazine, said that the Earth is actually cooling, but he did something that caught my attention. Peter went to the "International Climate Change Conference," which is sponsored by the Heartland Institute. Check out this quote.

The conference featured serious natural science, contrary to the self-interested political science you hear from government financed global warming alarmists seeking to justify widely expanded regulatory and taxation powers for government bodies, or government body wannabees, such as the United Nations.  See for yourself, as the conference speeches are online.

What you will see are calm, dispassionate presentations by serious, pedigreed scientists discussing and explaining reams of data.  In sharp contrast to these climate realists, the climate alarmists have long admitted that they cannot defend their theory that humans are causing catastrophic global warming in public debate.  With the conference presentations online, let’s see if the alarmists really do have any response.

Well, my first thought was that this guy seems rather egotistical, but I love unbiased science, even if it goes against global warming. I went and checked out the International Climate Change Conference (ICCC), and much to my dismay, on their home page, there was a quote that said "The world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change.” — The Economist, May 26, 2012. This is the kind of stuff I hate because I don't like it when scientific organizations present only one view... that's not science, that's just cherry picking. That's like me saying that trail mix is unhealthy when I'm only cherry picking the M & Ms.

But anyway, I decided to check out some of these videos, because I wanted to see what these scientists thought. I checked out Bob Carter, Ph.D's video entitled "The Misrepresentation of Science in the Public Domain." Trust me, I was anxious to hear this one.

It actually started out well. He talked about the scientific method and Richard Feynman, and made the point that a hypothesis is wrong if it does not agree with the data. I was very happy to hear this! That is absolutely true.

Things started to get a little sketchy though when he pulled out a graphic showing the IPCC's (International Panel on Climate Change, which is the leading scientific organization on climate change, and is, at least to my knowledge, in no way affiliated with the ICCC) predicted temperature vs. the observed temperature. The evidence on the graph was clear. The predicted global temperature was below the IPCC's predictions. He then used this statement to prove that since the data and hypothesis didn't match up, global warming was a flawed theory. It sounds like it makes sense.

But the graph only showed ten years of data. It is well known by all climate scientists that the Earth has not significantly warmed since 2000, both those who believe in global warming and those who don't. His statement about global warming being false just by simply looking at one graph of the global temperature over the past ten years vs. the IPCC's prediction is the biggest oversimplication you could ever make. Just like that trail mix I was talking about. On a positive note, he had solid evidence... the bad part is that he focused on one piece of evidence when there are countless pieces of evidence to be observed.

But it went downhill from there. He cited a statement by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, which read "The world's climate scientists agree that the world is getting hotter," and he said that this is a completely false statement, and that the world's climate scientists do NOT agree on global warming and that there is a huge debate. He didn't have any evidence to back it up though.

So I did a Google search on the percentage of climate scientists that believe in global warming, and I found a statement  that was backed up with sufficient evidence that, to say the least, disagreed with Carter's statement about the global warming debate among scientists.

I found an article written by James Powell, who is the Executive Director of the National Physical Science Consortium. He, like most other scientists, believes that global warming is real, and serious. He did a study where he looked at peer-reviewed climate articles online and calculated how many of then accepted global warming and how many of them rejected global warming. Of course, there are many shades of grey, but he did his best to put in in accept/reject categories. The methodology he used can be found here.

His scientific findings, as you can see, disagreed with Carter's statement, to say the least. Here's what Powell had to say.

"By my definition, 24 of the 13,950 articles, 0.17% or 1 in 581, clearly reject global warming or endorse a cause other than CO2 emissions for observed warming."

That, my friends, shows Carter's hypocrisy. His "hypothesis" that there is no scientific consensus that global warming is occurring does not match up with the data.

Oh yeah, his "International Climate Change Conference" video has 520 views. My video on Geoduck clamming has 576. It's my turn to be egotistical now. ;)

Bottom line: check your facts before making outlandish statements.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pattern Change

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
7:05 P.M.

Hey everybody! I hope everybody had a nice Veteran's Day weekend. I didn't do much... besides sleeping of course. Funny story actually... I was going to bed last night (at my house) and our dog was already asleep on my bed. I tried to move him... but that guy is essentially a warm lump of organic matter when he is asleep. So I shoved him to the end of my bed and he tried to sleep there. Eventually he got off my bed... he was probably irked that I took his spot.

Anyway, I had two posts on WeatherOn today. One was a long range outlook, and you can find it here! The other was for the climate blog I run there, and it was just a copy of an old post I wrote on this blog. The title of the blog post is "A Response to the Deniers of Anthropogenic Global Warming." I'm the long range and climate blogger over at WeatherOn. You can find that blog post here under "Recent Posts" on the right side of the blog, or you can check it out on WeatherOn here.

As I've stressed before, my blogging at WeatherOn does not mean I cease blogging here. I'll post links to my WeatherOn posts though. The more blogging, the better, right?

Alrighty then, let's take at what's in store for us over the next several days.

The short answer is that the weather will be pretty mundane, particularly for mid-late November, which is, on average, our stormiest period of the year. Take a look at the current 500mb setup over us.

Valid 04:00 am PST Tue, 13 Nov 2012 - UW 36km 12z WRF-GFS 500mb absolute vorticity, heights

This chart shows the heights of the atmosphere at the 500mb level and the vorticity of the air parcels. The vorticity is defined as the tendency for an air parcel to spin and is generally low over areas of high pressure and higher over areas of low pressure (look at the storm in the Alaskan panhandle for an example), but don't worry about that. 

The main thing we are looking for here is the gradient of the 500mb height lines. If the lines are close together, that means the upper level winds in that particular area are strong because there is a strong pressure gradient. It does not necessarily mean that the winds at the surface are strong (although the two are related). 

Over us, the lines are fairly far apart. This means that the 500mb winds are weak. Many of you have heard the colloquial term "jet stream" used before. You can trace the approximate location and strength of the jet stream from looking for the area with the steepest gradient lines. As you can see, the jet stream is extremely weak over the Pacific Northwest, as the lines are very far apart. 

Take a look at the 300mb isotach chart below. It shows the height lines at 300mb and the estimated wind speed, and is also useful for tracing the jet stream.

Valid 04:00 am PST Tue, 13 Nov 2012 - UW 36km 12z WRF-GFS 300mb isotachs, heights

You can never get exciting weather with this type of setup. Mid-latitude storms thrive off of horizontal temperature gradients in, well, the mid-latitudes. A strong jet stream implies strong temperature gradients, and areas of low pressure are formed by divergence aloft ahead of the direction the storm is travelling, and convergence behind the direction of the storm. The stronger the jet stream, the more air is brought up from the surface to the top, where it diverges, and the storm at the surface becomes lower in pressure and strengthens. Strong jet streams lead to strong storms. Our Hanukkah Eve Storm rode into our area on a 190 knot jet stream. The jet stream above our area in the above picture is a mind-boggling 60 knots. 

But, there is hope.

Over the next week, the jet stream pretty much departs from our area completely. But after 7 days, both the ECMWF and GFS place a fairly strong jet over our area. Here's the 500 mb chart, and below that is the 300mb chart.

Valid 04:00 am PST Tue, 20 Nov 2012 - 168hr Fcst - UW 36km 12z WRF-GFS 500mb absolute vorticity, heights

Valid 04:00 am PST Tue, 20 Nov 2012 - 168hr Fcst - UW 36km 12z WRF-GFS 300mb isotachs, heights

By day seven, there is a 140 knot jet stream centered right over our area. It's not historic by any means, and there aren't any big storms coming over our area within the end of this run (hour 180). However, if this pattern continues, we could see some nice systems swinging over our area.

Until next time,

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Nor'easter for the Northeast

Monday, November 5, 2012
2:39 P.M.

Let me first start out by saying that this storm will be nowhere near as strong as Sandy. I was looking at some of the statistics from Sandy... 185 fatalities and at least 52.4 billion dollars in damage (the second costliest hurricane in the history of the U.S.), and I was shocked. I knew the storm was going to be bad, but I had no idea it would cause as much devastation as it did. I underestimated the destructive potential of Sandy.

This upcoming Nor'easter is, however, a strong storm, and should be taken seriously, especially since it is hitting areas that have already been ravaged by Sandy.

The biggest differences between this storm and Sandy is that this storm is much weaker and is not a hurricane. Remember how I talked about hurricanes being "warm core" storms and extratropical cyclones being "cold core" storms? This shows up very clearly on the models. I took another look at the 850 mb temperatures forecast by the European model and was struck by how different the temperatures at the storms' core were. Below is Sandy. Again, it is from the Monday, October 29 12z HWRF model at 850 mb, and these charts show the geopotential heights (contours, 30m interval), temperatures (color fill, 2 degrees Celsius interval), and the wind vectors (m/s)

6 hour forecast (from 12z October 29)

And here's the chart for the upcoming storm.

75 hour forecast (from 12z November 5)

You can clearly see that the upcoming storm has much more cold air at its center than Sandy, and you can also see that it is considerably weaker than Sandy. However, comparing your typical Nor'easter to Sandy is like comparing a Toyota Prius to a Mack Truck.

This Nor'easter is expected to bottom out at around 984 millibars, which isn't historically strong but still qualifies as a major storm. The Hanukkah Eve Storm of 2006 bottomed out at 970 millibars offshore and weakened to 976 millibars by the time it crossed southern Vancouver Island, and the Hanukkah Eve Storm knocked out power to nearly 1.5 million people. This storm will pack a punch, and it needs to be taken seriously.

57 hour forecast

The chart above shows the 10 meter wind speed in knots, with the direction given by the streamlines. There is a swath of 50 knot winds offshore, and it looks like the strongest winds are ahead of the storm's warm front and bent-back occlusion. Places like Cape Cod and Long Island will get hammered with winds, and these winds are strong enough to push a weak storm surge into these areas, which brings the danger of re-flooding low-lying areas that were pummeled by the surge from Sandy.

81 hour forecast

This storm will also be extremely slow-moving, and 24 hours later, it has only moved ~ 350 miles at an average of 14.5 miles per hour, which is pretty slow for an extratropical storm. This is not a good thing; it means that the Northeast will get battered by wind and snow (yes, snow) for an extended period of time. The snow is predicted to start Wednesday afternoon, and the map below (which is 6 hours after the snow is predicted to start according to this model, which is the Euro) shows the three-hour snowfall over the area for Thursday November 8 at 03:00 UTC. I looked for a 24-hour snowfall map, but this was all I could find. 

 Thu, 08 Nov, 03:00 GMT

Forecast hour 63

Six hours later, the snow has moved northward into Maine. 

Forecast hour 69

These model charts show snowfall all the way down to the coast, but I seriously doubt the coast will see snow. Instead, it will see 1-3 inches of rain, which is enough rain to cause some serious problems, and places inland could see several inches of heavy, wet snow. We'll have a better idea of the predicted snow totals as we get closer to the event.

This storm has the possibility to bring flooding due to higher-than-normal water levels and waves to coastal regions and the potential to damage trees and structures that were weakened by Sandy. The bottom line is that this will not be a historic storm, but it will be strong, and it couldn't come at a worse time. My thoughts are with the people on the East Coast, and I hope this storm doesn't make things too much worse.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Climate Change and the Election

Sunday, November 4, 2012
~12:00 P.M.

This election season has been pretty intense from both sides. I've seen some outrageous, unsupported claims on Facebook from people in support of both Obama and Romney, although I have to admit, I've seen more ridiculous posts in support of Romney. I've honestly gotten to the point where I am tired of all this stuff and just want the election to be over and done with. I'll go out and vote, but I won't be voting for Romney or Obama.

Why, you may ask? America has its fair share of problems right now. We have a massive debt, we involve ourselves in unnecessary wars, we have very high unemployment levels, and, in this day and age, we are still actually debating over the right of same-sex couples to get married. Homelessness, hunger, health, and poverty are all immediate issues, and the candidates have addressed these. But they have not addressed global warming as an immediate issue. As obvious as the evidence for climate change is, it is invisible compared to the fear and dread a soldier feels when he/she learns they will be sent off to war, and silent compared horrific suffering that same soldier feels when one of their comrades is killed, or when they, years after returning from combat, are still reeling from the pain, depression, and anxiety associated with PTSD. From this perspective, it seems immoral to spend money on trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when so many people in the U.S. are suffering, and even worse when you consider the rest of the world. Hell, it seems immoral to spend money on anything that doesn't help people.

But global warming and ocean acidification are immediate issues. Since "Superstorm Sandy" struck last week, Michael Bloomberg, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent mayor of New York City has expressed his unequivocal support for Barack Obama, stating that Obama has worked the last four years to reduce carbon emissions from power plants and cars, while Romney has "reversed course" and abandoned the pro-environmental positions he held while he was governor of Massachusetts.

"Our climate is changing," Bloomberg wrote in an editorial on Thursday, which you can find here. "And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be -- given this week's devastation -- should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action." It's not scientifically sound to say that Sandy was the direct result of global warming. Sandy was the direct result of, as Scott Sistek said in his blog, "a hurricane, an arctic storm, a strong jet stream, a strong blocking pattern in the western Atlantic, and a full moon" (the full moon made the storm surge worse). Sandy was a freak storm, and it makes just as much sense to cite Sandy as a direct result of climate change as it does to put a screen door on a submarine. Ok... maybe not that bad, but still, be wary of people pointing to Sandy as clear-cut evidence for climate change. It's not.

But let's go back to the topic of climate change/ocean acidification being immediate issues. When you are not prepared for something that will happen relatively soon, the issue needs to be given immediate attention to mitigate damage in the future. It's bad already here in Washington. There have already been massive oyster larvae kills in places like Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor due to decreasing pH levels in the ocean, and by the next 100 years, the water content of our snowpack will decrease five-fold at mid-elevation locations in the Cascades like Stampede Pass, which is located at 3,671 feet. As a result, river flows will decrease dramatically in the summer months, leading to problems with shortages in both water (for people, agriculture irrigation, and different flora and fauna that inhabit our region) and electricity (since 75% of our electricity comes from hydroelectric dams). Our ecosystem is not prepared for this, and neither are we, which means that it is an immediate issue.

But as bad as it is here, climate change will have exponentially worse consequences in the developing world. Take Bangladesh as an example.

The sea level is predicted to rise around 1.5 meters by 2100. This would displace 17 million people in one of the world's poorest countries. Add this with a predicted increase in the strength of typhoons in the tropical Pacific due to increasing heat energy in the oceans (95% of the increase in heat due to global warming has been absorbed by the oceans), and you have a recipe for disaster, as storm surges will be even more catastrophic to the area. The 1970 Bhola Cyclone killed over 500,000 people in Bangladesh. Imagine if a slight increase in sea levels meant that a similar cyclone could affect 17 million more people. That's a pretty immediate issue.

Heat waves will become more intense in regions, due to two reasons. First, since the average global temperature will rise, heat waves that are a certain anomaly above the average temperature will have bigger consequences because the average temperature will be higher. Second, heat waves are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity in certain regions, and even if the global average temperature wasn't rising, certain places would see more extreme events. I did some research last year (the research paper I wrote can be found here), and I looked in particular at a certain study by Tyler W. Ruff and J. David Neelin that predicted Gaussian "tails" in terms of temperature distribution in many areas, meaning that certain places would have a wider range of temperature distribution, and with it, the increased chance for unprecedented extreme heat events. The aging baby-boomer population will be especially sensitive to heat waves, particularly in California, where are large increase is expected to occur in many regions, particularly those in Southern California. But what about places in the third world that do not have the luxury of air conditioning or ample water supply? If these same Gaussian tails were present in, say, the Sahel, the consequences would be exponentially worse.

Who will I be voting for? Either Rocky Anderson, of the Justice Party, or Jill Stein, of the Green Party. I don't know which one yet... I still have to do some more research. But both of these candidates are not afraid to speak up about global warming in their campaigns. Yeah, I know they won't win... but I feel like my vote to support them will help them gain more recognition, and hopefully, make it clear that global warming is worldwide, extremely serious, and is an immediate problem that must be addressed on a level that it has not been addressed before, both for the U.S. and the rest of the world. If we, as the human race, are actually going to show the compassion and morality that we claim to have, we need to address climate change and ocean acidification as issues that require immediate action for the welfare of every other organism that lives on Earth.

Thanks for reading, and please choose your vote wisely on November 6th.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Official 2012-13 Winter Outlook!

Thursday, November 1, 2012
9:00 P.M.

I am extremely excited to announce the release of WeatherOn's Official 2012-13 Winter Outlook! I worked extremely hard on writing this outlook, and Tanner did an OUTSTANDING job creating some wonderful graphics to complement my writing and formatting the whole thing for his website. Please check it out, and I hope you find it informative, useful, and... as usual... pretty entertaining as well ;)


Monday, October 29, 2012

A Record-Breaking Storm

Monday, October 29, 2012
3:06 P.M.

19 years old, and Spongebob is still my favorite cartoon. 

It seems like everywhere I go, people are talking about Hurricane Sandy. Most of what I'm seeing are Facebook posts from people on the West Coast praying for the health and safety of those affected by this massive storm. Some posts are from people who are experiencing the onslaught of the storm. Other posts juxtapose Sandy with other topics, such as the presidential debate or global warming. And of course, there is the occasional egotistical braggart who feels they need to tell the world how sunny and warm the weather is at their locale.

Sonja Breda, one of my good friends who is a freshman at Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania, updated her status as "I have to say that I love radical weather, so I have been really enjoying watching Sandy's progression as I sit drinking tea with my pals, watching tree branches fly past our windows." Sounds like my kind of woman!!! On the other hand, I asked my friend Alex Dyring, who I thought was living in Boston, what the weather was like there, and he said "I actually live in Spain right now although I'd be happy to give you a report of my sunny day today." And of course, my good friend Nicholas Efthimiadis commented " It's very windy today... We've been so focused on Sandy, we forgot about our own weather." I agree, it has been a tad breezy. But it has been nothing like the East Coast.

Here's the latest satellite image of Sandy, and below that is a video that show's Sandy's development. I believe the loop approximately shows the last ~48 hours up to the time of the latest satellite image below.

NASA GOES 13 Satellite - Valid 2232 UTC, October 29, 2012


As of 2:00 PDT, Sandy was a category one hurricane located at 38.8 N and 74.4 W. It was heading WNW at 28 mph, has maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, and has a pressure minimum of 940 millibars. At some point, the pressure may dip below 940 millibars. Simply incredible. To put things in perspective, the Columbus Day Storm, which was by far the most powerful windstorm to ever strike the West Coast, only got down to 960 millibars. The record for the lowest pressure recorded north of Cape Hatteras is 946 millibars, and was recorded on Long Island during the New England Hurricane of 1938. I'm not sure if this record has been broken, but there is a good chance it will be.

There are, well, a trillion things about Sandy that make it different than your typical hurricane, but I'll just name a few. First off, it is exceptionally large. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale rates hurricanes based on their central pressure, not wind speed. Since Sandy is so large, the wind is spread out over a huge area, but it isn't as strong as it would be if Sandy was a more compact cyclone. Hurricane Charley, which hit Florida as an extremely strong category four hurricane in 2004, had a minimum pressure of 941 millibars. So to say that Sandy is "just a category one" is misleading. It still has extremely high winds, and the large size of the storm helps to create a storm surge that has already inundated parts of the East Coast.

Second off, the thing that makes Hurricane Sandy different from your typical hurricane is that it is undergoing a transition to an extratropical cyclone. I mentioned this in my previous blog post on Friday, but it is the singular thing that makes this storm so unique. You regular readers of my blog know the whole spiel that I've given numerous times... tropical and extratropical cyclones are extremely different. Tropical cyclones form over warm water where there are minimal horizontal temperature gradients in the atmosphere, and they derive their energy exclusively from the ocean's warmth. Their warmest temperatures are at their core, and they have no fronts. Extratropical cyclones, on the other hand, typically have their coolest temperatures at the core, as the counterclockwise flow (in the Northern Hemisphere) brings cold air originating from the poles right into their low pressure center. Hurricanes and extratropical storms are often called warm and cold core systems, respectively.

What Sandy is doing is undergoing a transition from a warm core storm to a cold core storm. Take a look at some of the pictures below, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Disclaimer: I got the idea of showing these pictures from Cliff Mass' blog, because I thought he did a good job at explaining it. These are not the exact same pictures and aren't even from the same model run. These are from the Monday, October 29 12z HWRF model and are the charts at 850 mb. They show the geopotential heights (contours, 30m interval), temperatures (color fill, 2 Celsius interval), and wind vectors (m/s).
6 hour forecast

Six hours after the initialization (which was at 12z this morning, so this is chart models the storm as it was several hours ago), the storm has its warmest air at its core, and looks pretty darn symmetrical.

12 hour forecast

Six hours later though, its symmetry is starting to fade and it is getting cooler at the center. Most hurricanes weaken when their warm cores die, but this storm is special because it is actually strengthening off of the horizontal temperature gradients across latitudes. It has a ton of energy and moisture and the gradients are very sharp, so it undergoes explosive cyclogenesis.

18 hour forecast

Six hours after that, the process continues. The warm air at the center is being replaced by cold air.  You can  see the nice "hook" shape, this is due to the occluded front wrapping around the center of the low. This is called the "bent-back occlusion" and is a hallmark of strong extratropical storms.

24 hour forecast

24 hours after the initialization, the process is essentially complete. No more warm air in the center. Cooler air continues to flow in. By this point, the storm is starting to weaken, because the horizontal temperature gradients are weakening due to the evolution of the fronts, but it'll still be strong nonetheless.

The third main thing that makes this storm unique is the fact that it is causing blizzard conditions in the Appalachian Mountains. The National Weather Service is calling for up to three feet of snow in the southern Appalachians above 3,000 feet! That's some crazy stuff right there. You usually don't associate tropical systems with snow. But folks, this is no ordinary storm.

AP Photo/Robert Ray - Snow in the mountains of West Virginia - 10/29/12

I've seen a lot of headlines dubbing this storm the "Superstorm." What makes this storm any more super than other storms? In my opinion, it's just the most incredible, rare, meteorological setup. Hurricane Katrina was way stronger than this storm. But Hurricane Katrina didn't undergo an extratropical transition, and New Orleans did not receive any snow from this storm. This storm, whether it's just known as the "Superstorm," the "Frankenstorm," "Sandy," or something else, is a meteorologists' fantasy. 

That being said, my heart goes out for everyone who is affected by this storm, whether they are riding it out on the East Coast, or they are praying for somebody else who is. Please stay safe.

One more thought... there are some fake photos going around. 

The theme seems to be various types of horrendous weather the Statue of Liberty. If you want the most accurate information and photos available, well, you know where to find it.


Friday, October 26, 2012

The "Frankenstorm" of 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012
2:51 P.M.

Hi everybody. I just finished a hectic week. Two midterms. A ton of homework. I even finished an entire package of Omega-Three gummy bears from Costco. Maybe it's a stress thing.

But honestly, the thing that made this week the most hectic, was this.


This, my friends, is a wonderful satellite image that shows the evolution of Hurricane Sandy. I'm not sure where the loop starts, but I believe it starts at 22:15 UTC October 24 and ends at 18:46 UTC October 26. The loop is a composite image of very high resolution infrared imagery at night and visible imagery during the day. On October 24, when the storm legitimately looked like a hurricane, there were some serious signs that it could impact the U.S. One model (the ECMWF) was bringing it straight into New York City as a 950 mb megastorm. The other model, the GFS (which is the model I use the most and the model that the UW uses to initialize their WRF forecasts), showed the storm weakening and harmlessly moving out to sea. One thing I like to do on this blog is give people advanced warnings of historic storms that may be in the making. However, I just didn't have the time to do so.

I did, however, let some East Coast friends know that a potentially historic storm could be heading their way. I told them it probably wouldn't happen, but that it might, and it could be very serious if it does.

Before I show you the models and give you all a heart attack, let's look at some of the atmospheric and oceanographic conditions that have contributed to the formation of this once-in-a-lifetime storm. And no, folks, I am not exaggerating. 

For any tropical system to form, water temperatures need to be hot. Take a look at the pictures above. The top one is from "My Fox Hurricane." And no, these water temperatures are not conservative estimates (props to all of you who got that joke.) They are real measurements from buoys. The picture below is taken from satellites, and it shows the sea surface temperatures throughout the Western Atlantic basin. They are hot. The standard "rule of thumb" for hurricane formation is that they need water that is greater than 80 degrees Fahrenheit do a depth of at least 150 feet. If you take a look at the SSTs measured by the buoys above, they are well above 80 degrees. And the satellite picture shows that these warm temperatures extend up the East Coast thanks to the Gulf Stream. The water temperatures off the northern East Coast are up five degrees Fahrenheit above normal, and Sandy is predicted to perfectly follow the Gulf Stream, picking up more steam (literally) and becoming more powerful in the process. See the picture below for a map of the SST anomalies as of October 25. This picture was taken from NOAA's Office of Satellite Data Processing and Distribution.

But if you look at the last satellite image (below), the storm doesn't really look like a hurricane. It doesn't have an "eye" and is rather asymmetrical. It looks more like a mid-latitude cyclone than a hurricane.

Why is this? The storm is clearly over warm enough waters to be a hurricane. The answer, my fellow meteorological connoisseurs, is because of strong horizontal temperature gradients in the mid-latitudes. In terms of temperature, the transition from autumn to winter is much quicker than the transition from winter to spring. Even though the air temperatures to the northwest of this storm aren't incredibly cold, they contrast sharply with the tropically influenced temperatures to the southeast. This temperature difference forms fronts. Just a little meteorological 101 here... fronts are boundaries between two different types of air masses. And the air masses on either side of this storm are very different indeed.

I have a detailed blog post I wrote last (2011) summer about the differences in tropical storms vs. extratropical storms. I highly recommend reading it here.

This is clearly shown in the models. Take a look at the 18z GFS 500mb vorticity and height model below. Don't worry if you don't know what it means... just follow my lead and look at what I'm telling you to look at.

See that super red thingy over the Western Atlantic? That's Sandy. Pretty obvious. But now, look to the northwest of Sandy. See that big "trough" in the 500mb height level? It looks like a V. That represents colder air coming down from Canada. This chart is valid 00 UTC Monday October 29, and is 54 hours out.

And then, something extraordinary happens.

This image is valid 30 hours later, at 06 UTC on the 30th. Look at how far the trough has come, and look at how there is the slim line stretching all the way up into northern Canada connected to Sandy. That line represents increased vorticity at the 500mb level, which is simply defined as "the tendency for an air parcel to spin." High levels of vorticity are associated with foul weather and moving air parcels. What this diagram shows is how much cold, Canadian air Sandy is drawing into itself. This contrast between air masses will help transition Sandy from a tropical cyclone, which is built on a uniform mass of warm humid air, to a mid latitude cyclone, which gets its strength from horizontal temperature and humidity differences. As you can see in this picture, the differences will be absolutely massive, and this will lead to the formation of an extremely powerful storm.

I've got to head to a band practice now, but I will be extremely active on this blog and I will post more model forecasts in the future. As of now, it looks like a 940-950 mb cyclone will hit somewhere between North Carolina and Massachusetts, with 80 mph sustained winds on the coast and a very large gale-force wind field that will extend for hundreds of miles. Areas to the northwest of the storm will experience blizzard conditions, and areas along the immediate coast will experience a storm surge of at least 10 feet, nearly a foot of rain, and insane amounts of wind. This storm has already killed 42 people, and it will inevitably kill some more and cause billions of dollars of damage.

If you have any relatives or know anybody on the East Coast, WARN THEM NOW and let them know that the strongest extratropical storm they may ever see will be upon them in several days.

Stay safe.