Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Solid Day of Rain

Thursday, August 29, 2013
11:48 p.m.

We got a quarter of an inch earlier this month, but we got nothing in July, and I don't recall it raining very hard in June either. I was in Micronesia and it was plenty rainy there, but I don't recall hearing of any torrential rains in Seattle.

And while the rains we saw today were paltry by Micronesia standards, they were Noah-like compared to our past summer. One of my friend's roommates just said there were "rivers on Montlake," to which my friend responded "that sounds like more fun than it probably was." I've seen heavier rainstorms in Seattle, but I haven't seen a dry streak come to such a spectacular end. Of course, we did see some rain in August, so we didn't have an actual streak of consecutive dry days going, but these rains were likely the first of many to follow. I'm not saying we are in for 40 days and 40 nights of rain, so no need to initiate a no-holds-barred search for a male and female specimen of the world's most endangered species... this weekend will actually be quite nice. But it does seem like change is in the air. Rains are becoming more frequent, the days are rapidly getting shorter, and my brother just got settled into his freshman dorm at Whitman. That last one has spawned a quarter-life-crisis of sorts... I'm getting old.

We saw some fairly steady rains throughout Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Our real kicker, though, was this afternoon, when a pretty heavy squall came through Seattle. I check KOMO for much of my weather information (along with the UW, anything affiliated with NOAA, and models that are made by organizations outside the U.S. such as the ECMWF), and at around 4, I saw an alert posted on the homepage that said that extremely heavy rains were currently in Tacoma and were heading northward. I decided to take a look at UW's composite radar loop, and this is what I saw.

There was a pretty decent-sized cluster of storms over Tacoma at this time, and they were heading NNE at  a pretty quick pace. There were also some showers (possibly thundershowers) that had sprung up to the south in the unstable atmosphere that dominated much of Thursday, but the main action was centered around Tacoma at this time.

However, these showers were moving northward at a pretty decent pace. Thirty minutes later, they were entering Seattle.

I actually went outside and filmed the whole thing from an outlook above my house. I saw some brilliant flashes of lightning and got soaked. I actually thought the rain would be heavier than it actually was, and when I took a look at the radar after the storm had passed, I noticed that the heaviest rain had avoided Seattle.

I turned the "opacity" down in the above image so that you could have a better idea of where the heaviest rain was in relation to the physical geography of the area. The heaviest rain was to the northwest and southeast of downtown, while us city folk enjoyed a nice little valley between the peak radar reflectivities. Monroe saw torrential rains... some personal stations reported close to two inches. Here's one of them: The Farm at Woods Creek, Monroe.

Cheryl Monroe, a weather geek friend of mine who lives near Monroe, filmed the below video as a squall was passing through her area. The last time I can remember something this intense in the Puget Sound area was 4-5 p.m. of December 14, 2006. Alas, that was in the Seattle metro area and caused massive urban flooding throughout the region, while this was in a suburb with much better drainage. Still, it doesn't make the intensity of the rainfall any less amazing.

And it's not just the afternoon rainstorms that were newsworthy. There was a supercell over Omak that didn't quite form a tornado but came close. Take a look at the photo below.

Photo Credit: Tim Engh - maintenance supervisor of Omak High School.

Yikes! That would be newsworthy if it was over the plains, let alone Washington.

The SPC (Storm Prediction Center) at Norman, Oklahoma pondered putting a tornado watch over our area but decided against it. I think they made the right choice. I would have liked to see a watch though if for no other reason than being able to take a screenshot of the Seattle NWS page with all the Western Washington counties under a tornado watch. That would be soooo cool.

The NWS posted a photo from the Space Needle that really shows the localized nature of this set of storms.

Retrieved from NWS Seattle Facebook page.

This weekend actually looks beautiful. Bumbershoot's lineup looks fantastic this year, and with perfect weather to boot, the festival should be pretty unforgettable. I'm planning on going... still need to find a way to get a ticket though. Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the sunny weather!

Ended Saturday, August 31, 2013
12:28 a.m.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Autumn on Your Skin

Thursday, August 29, 2013
12:00 midnight

It's raining, it's pouring, my father, is snoring...

It's been a long time since it has rained. Sure, we saw some rain earlier this month, but with only a quarter-of-an-inch, things dried up extremely quickly. Our garden's been doing fine because we have been diligent in watering it, but all those other plants in the nooks and crannies of our yard are probably figuratively jumping for joy and literally ecstatically existing right now with this rain that has moved into our area. And our grass is far from green. It's pretty hardy though, and even if rain wasn't occurring and nothing was forecast, it'd still find a way of hanging in there.

But the good news is that it is raining. Let's take a look at the most recent composite radar image composed of the Langley Hill and Camano Island Radars.

12:24 a.m. PDT, Thu 29 Aug 2013. UW Northwest Radar Loop.

The rain isn't particularly heavy, but it's significant when you consider how dry we've been lately. And it could get heavier later today.

Let's take a look at our current setup. It's quite complex. Anything would be complex after the weather we've seen recently (even the thunderstorms had a fairly typical setup), but this setup is one I'm not familiar with. With an opening sentence of "WE HAVE QUITE THE SET UP" in their Wednesday 8:40 p.m. forecast discussion, it doesn't sound like the forecasters at the Seattle NWS branch in Sandpoint have a mastery of the current situation either. Don't mind the caps, the forecasters use all caps for everything. Weather really is that important.

 Just like every other NWS forecast office that I am aware of, the Seattle NWS office produces a forecast discussion four times daily, and does so at 3 a.m, 9 a.m., 3 p.m., and 9 p.m. What makes our discussions stand out are our forecasters usage of graphics to help explain their discussions, thus making graphical area forecast discussions.

Check out the picture below. It shows our 500mb height chart overlaid upon a satellite image of the current setup off the NE Pacific. We've got two main upper-level troughs in the jet stream - one off our coast, and one crossing the Aleutians. The one over the Aleutians will act to nudge the trough off our coast further inshore, bringing with it clouds and precipitation. In addition, the air associated with this trough is quite moist and unstable, and convective activity cannot be ruled out across the area as a result. 

Retrieved from 8:40 p.m. 8/29/2013 NWS SEW Graphical AFD

As this trough moves onshore, the height lines will arrange themselves in a way in which the air will tend to diverge aloft. When air diverges aloft, air converges at the surface and rises in an attempt to equalize the change in air pressure due to the divergence. Take a look at the picture below and notice how the lines are not parallel over Washington. Because air rotates counter-clockwise around lows in the Northern Hemisphere, the air ahead of the storm flows from southwest to northeast and does so in a manner that is parallel to the height lines as shown on this map. As the air moves northeast, it diverges in different directions, with the western portions turning northerly and the eastern portions turning easterly.

Valid 02:00 am PDT, Thu 29 Aug 2013 - 9hr Fcst: 500mb Heights, Relative Humidity. UW WRF-GFS 12km Resolution: Initialized 00z Thur 29 Aug 2013. Retrieved from the (University of Washington) Pacific Northwest Environmental Forecasts and Observations website.

Also, notice how high the relative humidities are. According to this chart, relative humidities are pretty darn close to 100 in our neck of the woods as I write this blog at God-o'clock in the morning.

Valid 00z Thu 29 Aug 2013. Quillayute Stuve Radiosonde Sounding. Retrieved from the (University of Washington) Weather Information - framed version website.

The above plot shows how the temperature, dewpoint, and winds vary throughout the atmosphere as measured by a radiosonde launched from the Quillayute Prairie Airport west of Forks Wednesday afternoon. I'm not super good with my correlations between atmospheric pressure and approximate altitude, but I do know that this is a pretty steep drop in temperature with elevation and that the air is pretty humid. Combine this with a significant amount of wind shear, and it becomes noticeable to the trained eye that the air is pretty unstable.

If you can remember from my The Graceful Apocalypse: Part 1 - Basic Thunderstorm Knowledge post, instability is needed for convection, and convection is needed for cumulonimbus clouds and thunderstorms to occur. We may in fact get some thunderstorms today. But before we get into the finer details of how our precipitation will be delivered to us, let's just take a look at how much rain we are supposed to get.

Valid 05:00 am PDT, Fri 30 Aug 2013 - 36hr Fcst: 24-hour Precipitation, 10-meter Wind Speed (Knots). UW WRF-GFS 4km Resolution: Initialized 00z Thur 29 Aug 2013. Retrieved from the Pacific Northwest Environmental Forecasts and Observations website.

Amounts above and below a half inch are forecast over a wide swath of Western Washington lowlands, with the highest amounts inland and south between Portland and Seattle. With the showery nature of this system, some places could receive much higher amounts, while some places may see nary a sprinkle. The orographic effects of the Cascades and, to a lesser extent, the Olympics, will cause heavier precipitation amounts there. According to this model, Mt. Rainier will take home the gold with over 2.5 inches of precipitation. I wonder what the freezing level is.

CAPE (Convective Available Potential Energy) values over the area don't look too impressive per the UW models, but the NWS is calling for values of 1000 Joules/kg over the area this afternoon. I'm not too familiar with CAPE, but apparently 1000 is large for Seattle. I'm sure Oklahomans would laugh at us, but we'll take what we can get.

Here is the NWS' "Active Weather Story." These things sure are helpful.

I have to say though... I'm not entirely sold on thunderstorms happening tomorrow, especially after seeing the CAPE as predicted by the UW models. I wouldn't be surprised if I heard a rumble of thunder, but I'd be bewildered, confused, and exhilarated if all hell broke loose in the afternoon.

The NWS forgot the last part of their last sentence about thunder roaring. The real saying is "When thunder roars, go indoors, get a camera, and go back outdoors." I'm not trying to encourage reckless behavior, I'm just trying to give advice on what I would do. That said, if you sailing, swimming, or just doing something that feels like it might be dangerous in a thunderstorm, better safe than sorry.

~ Charlie

Finished 2:08 a.m.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Living Within Epilepsy

Monday, August 26, 2013
3:21 a.m.

Modern science believes that we live in a fabric of space-time with at least four dimensions: three space dimensions and one time dimension. There are additional proposed theories, such as M-Theory which believes there are 11 dimensions, but for the purposes of this post, four dimensions will do.

What modern science does not take into account are dimensions of biology. I'm a shotty scientist on a good day and I took one year of biology my freshman year of high school, but I believe my theory, while perhaps completely nonsensical, is kind of cool. What if there is the "water dimension," or the "sex-drive dimension" that can be observed in all organisms? And then what about higher dimensions in higher-level organisms? Sub-sex-drive dimensions? Dimensions of acceptance? Dimensions of disease? In this proposed theory, all biological dimensions would spring from the Base Dimension - energy from the Big Bang. For example, the Base Dimension would lead to the creation of the Quark Dimension which would lead to the Atom Dimension (I'm skipping a lot of intermediate dimensions so as not to overload the cloud storage of the servers Blogger is run from). From the Atom Dimension, Hydrogen and Oxygen could make the Water Dimension. In a COMPLETELY oversimplified view, the Water Dimension could combine with the Carbon Atom Subdimension to make up the Organic Compound Dimension, which could lead to the Amino Acid Dimension. Billions of years later, the Amino Acid Dimension could have developed into a trillion other dimensions ranging from physical ones like the Homeostasis Dimension to emotional ones like the Love Dimension. Of course, the Water Dimension would always be explicitly required, and every dimension contained within an organism stems from a long chain of previous dimensions. For example, the Apple Dimension stemmed from the Photosynthesis Dimension 2.2 billion years ago. It's like a big family tree (no pun intended!) of dimensions. By now, I've realized that my theory is completely unpractical.

But think about it this way. We all experience the world through these different dimensions I am talking about. Some of us are introverted, while others will do anything to show the world how fantastic they are. Some people are asexual, most are bisexual, with the majority on the heterosexual side (I hesitate to exclusively use homosexual and heterosexual exclusively because love is not black and white).

I have generalized tonic-clonic epilepsy, a subdimension of epilepsy within the mammalian brain, and it's definitely changed my life. The changes are always dynamic, always growing and diminishing, taking on new forms while abandoning old ones. After my first seizure, I was terrified of going down stairs. Now, I don't really care about going down stairs because I know that I'll probably survive even if I break a leg or two. I used to be terrified of death, but after experiencing numerous seizures, death seems a lot less frightening.

People ask me all the time what a seizure is like, and I've always had the same response. Having a seizure is like, at least as well as I can hypothesize, drifting off into death without knowing it, and having a slow, slow increase in consciousness. Each time I have one, it gets harder and harder for me to give an accurate description of what it would be like. There is no "in between" mental state. And I don't get auras, so I have no idea a seizure is coming. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013
7:23 p.m.

I may have jinxed myself Sunday night. I think I had a small seizure alone in my room on Monday, and I had a much bigger one yesterday while I was running by Husky Stadium. I'll get to that below. First, let's pick up where we left off.

Often times, I'll be in denial when I first regain consciousness after a seizure. There's something very unsettling about being told you have just had a grand mal seizure. And it just seems so hard to believe when I have no recollection of it. Many times I'm later in denial that I was in denial because there is a lag time between me regaining consciousness and me actually being aware of what's going on. It's very strange. I wasn't in denial yesterday though... I felt like I was at an unusually high risk for a seizure because I was dehydrated and decided to go on a ~5 mile run anyway. Definitely a lesson learned there. I sustained some injuries from collapsing onto a gravel road while running, but I'm doing fine now. 

The denial generally fades away with increasing consciousness and when you see the injuries sustained from the seizure if you had any. For example, I have some gashes on my left hand and face and my left arm is messed up... I assume I just fell on it. And then there are the headaches afterwards... worst headaches I've ever had... barely tolerable with even multiple hydrocodone acetaminophen pills. It may have been worsened from a concussion I may have received when my head hit the ground. I know it hit the ground because it was covered in dirt when I came too and I had some bumps and bruises on my face. I almost got a black eye... the bruise was just a tad off. Believe it or not, I've been yearning for a black eye. Black eye = street cred.

But the point of this post is not to make people's hearts break for epileptics. Heartbreaking stories are generally bad... whereas heart-fixing stories are good. And the wonderful thing is that there is a lot of hope for epileptics. Drugs are becoming more effective, scientists are continually making strides in their knowledge and understanding of epilepsy, and society as a whole is becoming more accepting of epileptics. My great aunt had epilepsy that was characterized by frequent absence seizures, and it was something that was never to be spoken of in the family. Now, I freely talk about... even joke about... my epilepsy with friends. I know not every epileptic has this optimistic of an outlook, but hey, there's not much I can do about it, so having a negative outlook would only make things worse.

I never quite understood why famous people who had a certain disease would suddenly donate so much of their time and energy to raise public awareness and money to help fight the disease in some way, shape, or form. It seemed shallow to me for somebody for somebody to start taking public action in response to a disease/infection/syndrome etc. only after they had contracted it. But now I realize the significance behind that. It's not that I think epilepsy is suddenly a bigger problem than AIDS. It's not. But I feel as though I can offer something on behalf of epileptics to the public because I have had these experiences that I would have never imagined epileptics would have to go through. I'm knowledgeable about the disorder I have, and I feel as though that helps me become a more effective proponent for justice, treatment, and equality in society today. Before, all I knew was that I wasn't supposed to play video games if I have epilepsy. Thankfully, my type of epilepsy is immune to flashing lights, so I can play all the SEGA Bass Fishing Duel I like. It's the first game I learned to play on my PS2, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Retrieved from "The Iso Zone" website

Most of the stipulation for me writing this particular blog comes from my Micronesia trip and how the UW International Programs & Exchanges Department handled my situation. That was the first time I felt completely different from everyone else. There's that whole not-allowed-to-drive thing, but I honestly could care less about that because I love to walk and run all over the city and take the bus during the school year (we get free access to Seattle Metro). When I was in Micronesia, I wasn't allowed to partake in certain activities, and that made me feel different. It wasn't anything new though... I had felt different ever since I first got that letter from the UW attempting to slyly convince me not to go. But when the UW demanded that my mom fly over to be my "emergency evacuation escort" and denied me the chance to stay even with the teacher's and doctor's approval, I felt like I lived a world away from everybody else.

But even being forced to leave Pohnpei was OK, because I had the time of my life in Hawaii with my mom as we switched plane tickets and had an "emergency evacuation vacation."

I've posted a link to The Epilepsy Foundation at the top this blog (not the individual post) in hopes that some readers (and myself) will take a look at it. The foundation's mission statement is to "ensure that people with seizures are able to participate in all life experiences; and to prevent, control and cure epilepsy through research, education, advocacy and services."

I don't "live with epilepsy" in the same way that people don't "live with time." They live within time, and I do so with epilepsy. It's just another one of those gajillion dimensions in which we experience the world. And I'm perfectly comfortable here.I just hope I can help others feel the same.

Thanks for reading. If you know anybody with epilepsy and you'd think they'd like this post, go ahead and show it to them! Or anybody in general. This is my personal blog, and believe it or not, I'm not always thinking about the weather.


Finished Wednesday, August 28, 2013
9:48 p.m. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

SST Anomalies vs. Psychological Fortitude

Thursday, August 22, 2013
12:19 p.m.

People always want to know what the upcoming late autumn and winter weather will be like. Of course, it's impossible to predict individual storms so far out in advance (but that doesn't make the Old Farmer's Almanac any less entertaining), but it is certainly possible to make some general predictions of the type of weather any one place might see. Solar activity cycles and oceanic temperature oscillations are just a few of the characteristics forecasters take into account when making long-term predictions. Of course, if you look in the super long term, forecasts become more based on greenhouse gas concentrations than anything else, but their impact right now is low compared to natural variability (except in the arctic summer). The world will be a completely different place 100 years from now

By far the most notable pattern I'm aware of that affects weather season-to-season is the state of the equatorial waters of the eastern Pacific as a function of El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO). There is a general cycle of warm and cool SST in the eastern Pacific, and these phases are called El Nino and La Nina phases, respectively. They both occur every 3-5 years and usually (but not always) oscillate. When the SST in the eastern Pacific are average, we say that the ENSO is in a "Neutral" phase. It looks like we will, just like last year, be in a solid Neutral phase for this upcoming winter.

Occasionally, I do blog "projects" as opposed to blog "posts," and I did one such project about ENSO back in 2012. I'd recommend giving it a thorough read before the rest of this post so that you can better understand how ENSO works, but I thought I'd just give a brief review of the effects of El Nino, Neutral, and La Nina events over North America.

El Nino Conditions. Retrieved from the NWS' Climate Prediction Center website

When there is a strong El Nino, the Eastern Pacific High, a semi-permanent ridge of high pressure in the Eastern Pacific, gets "less high" (weaker). When it does this, the jet stream off the Pacific shifts south and tends to deliver an endless barrage of storms to California, while the polar jet stream stays well to our north, leaving us in "no man's land" between the two jet streams and giving us warm and dry weather. That's right... folks in L.A. get all these massive cyclones while us Pacific Northwesterners are mere spectators. I hate El Nino winters for a variety of reasons... far too many to count. Upwelling along the Pacific Coast is reduced, so the fishing sucks, and skiing generally ranges from adequate to horrible.

La Nina Conditions. Retrieved from the NWS' Climate Prediction Center website.

La Ninas are actually pretty cool. We are generally wetter and cooler than normal, and since upwelling is increased along our coast, salmon get big and healthy. Instead of having one persistent Pacific jet stream to our south and an polar jet way up north, a big ridge of high pressure over the Eastern Pacific acts to split one jet stream into separate Pacific and polar jets; just like a rock in a river pushes water to either side of it. The Pacific jet stream doesn't usually get super strong, so while we may remain in a wet and cool pattern, we usually don't get big honkers of storms.

But Neutral... that's where things start to get interesting.

Neutral Conditions. Retrieved from the NWS' Climate Prediction Center website

Neutral years tend to be highly variable. Sometimes, the Eastern Pacific high will retrograde to the west and allow the polar jet stream to come into our area, giving us cold, snowy conditions. Our last significant arctic outbreak was during the winter of 2008-2009, which was a Neutral winter. Our last major windstorm (the Hanukkah Eve Storm) for Western Washington was in December 2006, which was actually a very weak El Nino year (there was an even bigger one in December 2007 (The Great Coastal Gale), a La Nina year, but this only affected this coast). November 2006 was straight-up insane and was the craziest month that I can ever remember for Seattle weather (rumor has it that the entire 1861-1862 winter was off the hook, though). Sea-Tac got 15.63 inches of rain, crushing the previous January 1953 record of 12.92 inches, and we tacked on some thundersnow at the end of the month. Take a look at the picture below, and you'll see that there is a very clear correlation between windstorms and Neutral years.

Sea-surface temperature anomalies over the eastern tropical Pacific (Nino 3.4 region) for November
through February. Years with major windstorms are indicated by red squares, with non-windstorm years
shown by blue diamonds. It appears that major windstorms avoid El Nino and La Nina years. Retrieved from UW Atmospheric Sciences website. Credit: Cliff Mass

On the other hand, last winter was also a Neutral winter, and I essentially dozed off to sleep.
I have a habit of making mathematical analogies for essentially everything... a skill I no doubt picked up from Mikko Nynas, some weird Scandinavian 70's transplant guy who thinks we're friends. I was thinking about the strength of an El Nino/La Nina in terms of temperature departures from average in the Nino 3.4 Region, the main region meteorologists use for forecasting and observing the current state of ENSO, and how this corresponded to the easiness of a seasonal forecast. I ended up graphing the hyperbolic function 1/x to approximate the uncertainty a typical Pacific Northwest forecaster has as a function of SST departure from average in Nino region 3.4.

We just missed the Mukilteo/Clinton ferry by one car.

Anyway, let's get back to mathematical representations of psychological fortitude as a function of how warm the water is 5,000 miles from here.

I let the x-axis equal the departure from normal of the SST in degrees Celsius, and I let the y-axis correspond to the uncertainty of long-term forecasters in second-guesses per hour. As the temperature anomaly increases, forecasters second-guess themselves less and less per hour. This is actually not desirable, as the forecaster's brain activity will slow down more and more until they are a neuron away from entering a vegetative state.

The opposite is not desirable either, though. If the anomaly becomes closer and closer to 0, the forecaster will second-guess himself more and more. Soon, he will be second-guessing himself so much that his body will go into overdrive in an attempt to keep up with his ridiculously flippity-floppity mind. His pulse will reach millions and millions of beats per minute, and because his basal metabolic rate will be so high and he will have such a caloric deficit, he will evaporate into air until only an infinitesimally small quark exists.

Will I vegetate, evaporate, or somewhere in between? Let's take a look at the current SST.

Tropical Pacific Measured SST and anomalies. Week ending Aug. 14. Retrieved from NOAA CPC (Climate Predoctopm Cemter)

As you can see, the temperature is close to average in the Eastern Pacific. It looks to be half a degree lower, but this anomaly has been getting smaller, and and in any event, a 0.5 degree anomaly is not large enough classify the current status of the equatorial Pacific to classify an event as a La Nina event.So I think I'll have a nice, healthy degree of uncertainty... enough to keep me blogging, but not too much that I'll forget to take joy in all the other aspects of life.

Speaking of forgetting to take joy in all the other aspects of life... I've been laboring days and days to try and find what the integrals and derivatives of this function mean for forecasters, but I haven't been able to find any. If anybody has any ideas on what ln(x) or -1/x2 represent, let me know. That includes you, Mikko.


Finished Monday, August 26, 2013
12:55 a.m. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Last Warm Day for a While

Wednesday, August 21, 2013
4:17 a.m.

You ever have a night where no matter how hard you may try, you just can't fall asleep? Well, tonight is one of those nights. I worked 5-6 hours straight before this on a citation guide for the employees at WeatherOn (but I'll incorporate it into this blog as well), and then I tried to fall asleep, but I was still wide awake. The worst thing you could possibly do when you are trying to fall asleep is lying in bed awake hoping that you'll drift off into dreamland. That's like sitting at Barrow, Alaska in June waiting for the sun to set. It's an exercise in futility. At least the sun doesn't set later because you are staring at it. When you lie in your bed wide awake, you are only making yourself more vigilant.

The two main things that make me fall asleep are writing these blogs and reading the Bible. I'm not Christian. I'm not religious, I'm not atheist, I'm agnostic, because science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a higher power. They are completely separate paradigms. The Bible is great because it's without a doubt the most influential book ever written and is also one of the most boring, at least for me. Combine those two together, and you've got a book that you want to read that makes you doze off. Pretty good combo for getting some sleep.

I haven't done a local forecast post for a long time because there is nothing of interest to talk about. However, the name if this blog is "Charlie's Weather Forecasts," not "Charlie's Weather Aftercasts." Let's take a look at what the models are showing.


August 21, 2013
11:17 p.m.

I just felt like I needed to rewrite the date here. As promised, I fell asleep soon after I began the blog. Anyway, Thursday is going to be pretty darn hot. Let's take a look at the evolution of temperature throughout the day.

Valid 05:00 am PDT, Thu 22 Aug 2013 - 12hr Fcst: 2m Temperature (F), 10m Wind (full barb = 10 knots). UW WRF-GFS 4km Resolution: Initialized 00z Thu 22 Aug 2013. Retrieved from the (University of Washington) Pacific Northwest Environmental Forecasts and Observations website.

Above is what our temperature is forecast to be at 5 a.m. Our low temperatures are nearly always between 50 and 60, and they will be again Thursday morning. Sea-Tac's average low for this time of year is 56 degrees, and the record low is 46, only 10 degrees below average. Our record high is "only" 88, which is actually quite low compared to many other days. It's easier to get really hot days than really cold nights because at night we cool by radiative heating and onshore flow and onshore flow is essentially always the same temperature. If we don't have a marine push (for example, we have a system coming in from our west), then although the daytime high temperatures are colder, we can't cool off as much at night because clouds prevent infrared radiation from escaping to space. I'm sure it has happened recently, but I can't remember seeing a low temperature more than five degrees below average. Meanwhile, some places in Western Washington saw highs 30 degrees above average on July 29, 2009, which was the hottest day on record at Sea-Tac and for much of Western Washington.

It seems obvious that the temperature would be cooler at 5 A.M. than 1 A.M. Even though 1 A.M. is right at the middle of the night (and this changes to 12 A.M. when we end daylight savings time), the temperature keeps cooling off when we don't have the sun to warm us up. One thing that I didn't know going into college and learned in my atmospheric sciences 101 class with Cliff Mass is that the lowest temperature of the day actually occurs just after the sun rises! Here are the temperatures at 8 a.m. and they are cooler than the temperatures at 5 a.m. even though the sun rises at 6:14 a.m.! I would predict that the coldest time of the day would be around 6:30 or so, but don't quote me on that.

Valid 08:00 am PDT, Thu 22 Aug 2013 - 15hr Fcst: 2m Temperature (F), 10m Wind (full barb = 10 knots). UW WRF-GFS 4km Resolution: Initialized 00z Thu 22 Aug 2013. Retrieved from the (University of Washington) Pacific Northwest Environmental Forecasts and Observations website.

Another thing to point out: the coldest temperatures in the state are right off Cape Flattery. Take a look at the map of sea-surface-temperatures below. The coldest SSTs are also off Cape Flattery. There are many times when Cape Flattery has a higher low while the lowest lows are found further east where the SSTs are sometimes lower due to increased upwelling. SSTs and surface temperatures are closely linked.

1:46 pm PDT, Mon 21 Aug 2013. Sea-Surface-Temperature. NOAA POES Satellite. Region: Washington Regional. Resolution: 1km. Retrieved (with permission) from the Terrafin SST-View website.

 Things start to warm up quickly as we head throughout the day. Here's 11 a.m.

Valid 11:00 am PDT, Thu 22 Aug 2013 - 18hr Fcst: 2m Temperature (F), 10m Wind (full barb = 10 knots). UW WRF-GFS 4km Resolution: Initialized 00z Thu 22 Aug 2013. Retrieved from the (University of Washington) Pacific Northwest Environmental Forecasts and Observations website.

... here's 2 p.m. ...

Valid 02:00 pm PDT, Thu 22 Aug 2013 - 21hr Fcst: 2m Temperature (F), 10m Wind (full barb = 10 knots). UW WRF-GFS 4km Resolution: Initialized 00z Thu 22 Aug 2013. Retrieved from the (University of Washington) Pacific Northwest Environmental Forecasts and Observations website.

... and 5 p.m. ...

Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Thu 22 Aug 2013 - 24hr Fcst: 2m Temperature (F), 10m Wind (full barb = 10 knots). UW WRF-GFS 4km Resolution: Initialized 00z Thu 22 Aug 2013. Retrieved from the (University of Washington) Pacific Northwest Environmental Forecasts and Observations website.

... and finally 8 p.m.

Valid 08:00 pm PDT, Thu 22 Aug 2013 - 27hr Fcst: 2m Temperature (F), 10m Wind (full barb = 10 knots). UW WRF-GFS 4km Resolution: Initialized 00z Thu 22 Aug 2013. Retrieved from the (University of Washington) Pacific Northwest Environmental Forecasts and Observations website.

As the below plot shows (look at the black line for the third sub-plot), temperatures generally increase faster during the daylight hours than they decrease during the nighttime hours, but the difference isn't huge. They tend to increase and decrease logarithmically.

72-hour Rooftop Summary Plots. Begins 12:20 am PDT 19 Aug 2013. Station: UW Atmospheric Sciences Building Roof. Retrieved from the (University of Washington) Weather Information - framed version website.

Thursday will be hot. I'm forecasting a high of at least 80 for Sea-Tac with higher temperatures further inland near the foothills and lower temperatures by the Sound. The coast will experience onshore flow in the afternoon, so temperatures on the immediate coast will not get out of the 60s. The timing of the arrival of the onshore flow is difficult to forecast, so places further inland could stay in the 60s or break out into the mid 70s before the maritime air takes over. Most of Eastern Washington will be under a Fire Weather Watch and most of Eastern Oregon and points south will be under a Red Flag Warning, as some moisture from a low pressure system off the Southern California coast will direct moisture and instability into those regions. At this point, it does not look like thunderstorms will make it over the Cascade crest.

Friday will be MUCH cooler, as a strong marine push will likely drive down temperatures 15 degrees from Thursday's maximums. Read my previous post on how marine pushes work here.

Marine pushes will dominate much of next week as a zonal flow resides over our area. Hold off on buying some air conditioning today... you certainly won't need it by next week.

Time to do some more editing to my citation and formatting guide for WeatherOn. WeatherOn is getting bigger and bigger every day. If you want to get involved, contact me at In the meantime, like us on Facebook and enjoy the last warm day you'll see in a while.

Have a good one,

Ended 1:26 a.m.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Graceful Apocalypse: Part 2 - Synopsis, Repercussions, and Explanations

Sunday, August 18, 2013
11:38 P.M.

Hey everybody. Sorry for not posting for a while... I had a seizure several nights back and screwed up my sleeping schedule, so I've just been really unorganized for the last few days. I'm totally fine now. Regular readers of this blog know I have epilepsy, and I talk about it freely. There were some lessons I learned from my Micronesia trip about my condition, so I'll take some course of action with the University of Washington before my summer is over and see if I can spur some positive changes in the way epilepsy is handled. It's not like I have anything better to do.

I was originally going to write four parts about these thunderstorms we saw, but seeing as time has kept on slipping into the future over the past week, I'm going to abridge parts 2, 3, and 4 and just smush them into one. Last week was amazing, but we have to keep up with the times, you know? 

Alright. Let's take a look at what happened last Friday night. My previous blog explained how thunderstorms - and lightning in particular - worked, so if any of the stuff I say here seems confusing, just refer to that blog.


One of the many great things about the University of Washington's mm5 and wrf models is that the UW keeps archives of the runs that go back at least a month. This is actually the second time I've looked at the model archives; the first time was when I looked at the December 1-3, 2007 Great Coastal Gale, which was a storm for the record books. Check it out on Wolf Read's The Storm King website for more info on that particular storm and a bunch of other intense windstorms to hit the Pacific Northwest. But anyway, I took a look at the model data on the morning of the Friday, the 9th. Thunderstorms occurred the entire weekend in Eastern Washington, but the big event in Western Washington occurred Friday night.

Let's take a look at what the upper-level air pattern looked like that day.

Valid 05:00 am PDT, Fri 09 Aug 2013: UW 8/9/13 12z WRF-GFS: 36km Resolution - 500mb Vorticity, Heights.

As you can see, things seemed fairly calm in the upper-levels. The height lines are pretty far apart, meaning that the temperature contrast in the upper atmosphere is not all that great and the jet stream is essentially nonexistent, with the only semblance of it south of the Aleutians. As we transition into autumn and the polar regions cool considerably, we will see the jet stream ramp up. When Thanksgiving comes around, hold onto your hats - that's the stormiest period of the year. But here, things look pretty quiet. The main feature is that there is a large, weak upper-level low pressure system to our south. As far as pressure gradients go, it is pretty weak, but it is providing a little bit of moisture and instability. And that's all it takes to sprout summer thunderstorms in Western Washington.

For the sake of comparison, below is a picture of what the same chart looks like from tonight's run. You can see that it is vastly different with a much more "zonal" (east to west) flow with higher height gradients and therefore higher wind speeds. Our upper-level air is coming straight off the Pacific. This is a more typical summer scenario, but the jet stream (the area with the highest gradients) is usually a bit further north. This is one of the first signs that autumn is approaching... the southward movement of the jet stream. The "cut off" low off Southern California is currently sparking up some thunderstorms into California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Sun 18 Aug 2013: UW 8/20/12 00z WRF-GFS: 36km Resolution - 500mb Vorticity, Heights

So, we had a super weak low pressure system to our south that was ushering air into Washington. Let's take a look at what this looked like at the surface.

Valid 08:00 am PDT, Fri 09 Aug 2013 - 3hr Fcst: UW 8/9/13 12z WRF-GFS: 4km Resolution - 10m Wind, Sea-Level Pressure, 2m Temp

You can see that the surface winds do not show as much of a pattern. This is typical. Because of its topography and proximity to the cold, upwelled waters off the Pacific, the Pacific Northwest has many diurnal wind patterns. These amplify during the day. There is some weak counter-clockwise circulation near the Tri-Cities, indicating that there may be a super weak low pressure center there. If there is, it is too minuscule for the isobars to reflect it.

Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Fri 09 Aug 2013 - 12hr Fcst: UW 8/9/13 12z WRF-GFS: 4km Resolution - 10m Wind, Sea-Level Pressure, 2m Temp

As the day went on, Eastern Washington heated significantly, and Western Washington heated up a fair amount as well. When air heats, it expands and becomes less dense, and it rises. If you look closely, you can see that the wind barbs on either side of the Cascade crest are pointing toward it. This is called "upslope flow," and this convergence of winds caused cumulus congestus clouds to form over the Cascades. By 5, many had developed into thunderstorms.

Upslope winds converging at the crest of a mountain ridge. Retrieved from a UCAR COMET Program online textbook.

As the day went on, the CAPE (Convective Available Potential Energy) rose. CAPE is a measure of the potential energy an air parcel would have if it rose a certain distance in the atmosphere. If an air parcel has high CAPE, it means that it is buoyant and will tend to rise. Rising air leads to clouds, which lead to thunderstorms. Take a look at how the CAPE changed from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Valid 05:00 am PDT, Fri 09 Aug 2013: UW 8/9/13 12z WRF-GFS: 12km Resolution - CAPE
Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Fri 09 Aug 2013 - 12hr Fcst: UW 8/9/13 12z WRF-GFS: 12km Resolution - CAPE

MUCH greater instability nearly everywhere, especially near the mountains. The high CAPE and unstable air was responsible for allowing these thunderstorms to grow to exceptional heights... 30 - 35 thousand feet. Storms of this height are common east of the Rockies, but they are very rare here in Western Washington. It's noteworthy if we get to 20,000 feet, as most of our storms are in the low teens.

But instability in the atmosphere doesn't necessarily mean convection. In order to form clouds, you have to have moisture. Well, this air with southerly origins had a fair amount of moisture associated with it. The map below shows the dewpoints at 11 p.m. This isn't 80+ dewpoint Pohnpei humidity, but it's pretty high for the Pacific Northwest, especially for Eastern Washington, and it was definitely noticeable.

Valid 11:00 pm PDT, Fri 09 Aug 2013 - 18hr Fcst: UW 8/9/13 12z WRF-GFS: 12 km Resolution - 2m Dewpoint

This model got the general idea of thunderstorms in the mountains perhaps drifting down into the lowlands spot on, but it did horrible with the actual finer details of predicting when and where the thunderstorms would come. It didn't predict a graceful apocalypse for Friday night, but it certainly did for Saturday night, with more emphasis on the "apocalypse."

The National Weather Service didn't need the specific precipitation predictions though. Once they saw the general setup, they knew to post red flag warnings all over the state. And post they did, both for Washington and points south and east. The flash flood watches were posted because these thunderstorms could drop a ton of rain in a short period of time, and some flash flood warnings were issued due to thunderstorms doing just that. State Route 20 in the North Cascades was submerged under nearly a first-down's depth of mud due to the heavy rain. More on that below.

The nice thing about these summer thunderstorm events is that most of the action in the lowlands occurs when it is dark out. The thunderstorms build up in the Cascades all day and finally drift into the lowlands as the sun sets. Since they are slow movers, you can see the lightning a far ways off in the distance. That was one of the things that made Friday night so spectacular. Even before the main event came through, you could see heat lightning over the Cascades as the sun began to set.

Our main action came with a line of thunderstorms that swept through the area around midnight. The pictures below are from the UW interactive radar on the UW Atmospheric Sciences website. I also scratched down a few notes during the storm... I've posted them below. I had a whole bunch of other notes related to the number of strikes I saw in 5 minutes (I used a stopwatch) at certain periods throughout the night but I can't find them right now. The general trend was down from a high of 65 when I first measured them at midnight (there were more before) that gradually dropped to 41 to 27 and to some other double digit number before hitting the single digits, and the show was over by 3. I look eastward out over the lake, so I couldn't see any of the strikes over downtown and points west.

~10:30 ... take dog for a walk, see flashes of lightning in the far distance. No thunder.

12:02: Took a look back at the lightning much closer. Still no thunder. 65 strikes in 5 minutes (300 seconds) so a strike every 5 seconds. Amazing.

12:24: can start to hear thunder barely. Looked at radar and saw precip heading NW to Seattle.

12:27: Precip is almost at Seattle. Just heard a definitive thunder. First one of the night.

Anyway, that's the main evolution of the stuff we saw. As the pictures below show, there were plenty of thunderstorms on the eastside on Saturday, but we didn't get any.


This storm sparked tons of fires. I've called it "The Graceful Apocalypse" because it was so beautiful in Western Washington. Eastern Washington got hit hard.

There was one particular cell that dropped incredible amounts of rain over North Cascades SR 20. I've seen reds on radar before, but I've never seen a blue. That's mind-boggling. I wish I was there.

Extremely heavy rain over the North Cascades. Retrieved from Cliff Mass' blog (I cheated. It's in the public domain though).

Here are some pictures the WSDOT guys took and posted on their Flickr of a huge mudslide that this cell caused. The slide was up to 25 feet deep in places. Can you imagine how hard it must have been raining?

Better put my summertime chains on

How rude of the mud to just barge in like that

Look how deep those front wheels are in!

It's amazing that this tree was left standing!

It looks like good fishing habitat. If only there was water...

Can't think of any more creative captions.

Roads weren't the only things that were destroyed. I heard that there were 50+ fires in Eastern Washington at one point. The picture below was taken by Mike Cushman and shows the Milepost 10 fire as seen from Rock Island in Chelan County. I contacted Mr. Cushman a week back asking if I could use his photo for my blog, as his copyright license prohibits redistribution without permission. He didn't respond.

When in doubt, break the law.

Check out his Facebook page and personal website.

Milepost 10 fire as seen from Rock Island - Chelan County, WA. Taken 8/10/13. Retrieved from Author: Mike Cushman

I also heard that there were as many as 2,500 lightning strikes over Eastern Washington on Saturday alone. I wish I had more facts to give, but that's all I have right now.


I asked Scott Sistek, meteorologist and web content producer for KOMO in Seattle, three questions about the storm, and I've paraphrased the questions and answers below. Scott's answers are in blue.

1.) Why was there so much lightning? Our winter thundershowers that roll through often have one or two big lightning strikes with loud thunder, but these storms had the opposite.

I think it has to do with the much stronger updrafts. We saw cloud tops at 30,000-35,000 feet with some of those storms. These updrafts create more static electricity in the storms to create the lightning.

2.) Why was there so little thunder? At one point, I counted 65 strikes in 5 minutes. I didn't measure the number of audible individual thunderclaps I heard, but it was far less than 65. There may have been a faint, constant rumbling in the background, but I didn't hear it. I was surprised by how quiet the storm was.

I've had a number of people remark on the lack of thunder. I think maybe what might have been going on were again -- these were very, very tall thunderstorms - much taller than we're used to around here. So some of that lightning might have been so high in the sky - on the tune of 30,000 feet instead of maybe 10-15,000 feet our thunderstorms usually are - that by the time the thunder reached the ground the air had absorbed much of the sound. Usually about 5 miles is as far as you'll hear thunder so if you think about it, anything higher than 25,000 feet would qualify. :)

* Personally, I have heard thunder over 10 miles away, so I think there are more factors at work than just distance. Humidity in the air might play a role... the nature of the bolt (intra/inter cloud vs. cloud-to-ground) may also. 

3.) These strikes seemed to be primarily cloud to cloud strikes extending miles across the sky. Also, they seemed to be more "gentle" strikes than other lightning I've witnessed. They just beautifully filled up the sky to make a pleasant show rather than an apocalyptic scene (this is where I came up with the "Graceful Apocalypse" name).

This might also be related to the height of the storms - the nearby clouds provided a better "path of least resistance" to release the charge than the distant ground.

The bottom line is that this event was unusual. It's not completely out of left-field, but it's not something that happens very often. I didn't realize how much lightning these storms could have and how many fires this lightning could start. I was also unaware of the flash flooding risk. I had never seen any event like this before. But I definitely hope I will again.

To leave you with something interesting, here's a video of a beautiful, beautiful flash that filled up the whole sky. I took it from my house after the peak of the storm. I'm not saying the Coen Brothers directed this lightning bolt, but it shows up decent on camera. In person... unbelievable.

Stay Sparky,

Ended 4:33 A.M. 8/19/2013