Friday, January 10, 2014

It's Been Eons!

Friday, January 10, 2014
7:42 p.m.

Triceratops vs Tyrannosaurus rex. This makes Holyfield vs. Tyson look like a game of Kidz Bop. I wonder who got their ear bitten off.

It's been eons.

Well, OK, maybe we still have the same continents now as we did when it last rained, but it's been at least a month since we had ourselves a good ol' Pacific Northwest extra-tropical cyclone. This baby's gonna bring our classic "trifecta" of wind, rain, and mountain snow. We may even end up getting a bit of river flooding on the Skokomish, as snow levels will skyrocket to 6-7,000 feet due to the warm front associated with this storm.

Speaking of warm fronts, the one associated with this system is quite strong. Look at the model below, and look at the temperature gradient associated with the front! You don't need those silly red semicircles. You don't even need the isobars or wind barbs. That's a helluva warm front.

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But the real fun comes in Saturday morning, as a strong low pressure system heads toward Central Vancouver Island.

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No, this isn't the strongest low we've ever seen, but it's the strongest we've seen of 2014 (and the last month of 2013 for that matter). Additionally, it will drop quite a bit of precipitation over the area.

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See the purples over our area? Those represent 1.28 to 2.56 inches of predicted rainfall in the 24-hour period ending 4 p.m. Saturday. Those reds? 5.12 to 10.24 inches/ Wow. Those amounts are almost certainly overdone, but needless to say, Western Washington will be WET tomorrow. I wouldn't be surprised to see flood-prone rivers such as the Skokomish in Mason County or the Tolt in King County flood, and I expect to see some crazy ponding on the roads tomorrow. Should be fun.

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Once the warm front moves on out, however, we WILL get mountain snowfall, and lots of it. Here's the 24-hour snowfall ending at 4 a.m. Sunday. Lots of yellos, meaning 2-3 FEET in many places. Even Snoqualmie Pass gets 2 feet or so if you look really closely. Snoqualmie Pass is right where that little "hook" is on that road (I-90) that crosses Seattle and goes through the Cascades.

There's also going to be some wind affiliated with this storm. High wind warnings are in place for the coast and Admiralty Inlet, and STORM warnings are in effect off the Southern Washington Coast and well offshore. You don't see those around here very often.

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Evem the Puget Sound area will get in on the action. Our winds are expected to peak at midnight or so, and they'll roar at around 30 sustained, with gusts up to 45/ Well, maybe not roar, but you get the idea. This just barely qualifies as a wind advisory, but trust me, you'll wanna hold onto your hats.

By the way, if you haven't noticed, I kind of have a fetish for these super-high resolution charts. I don't think there's that much of a point in having 4/3 km resolution charts when you already have 4km (don't tell anybody I said that), but man oh man are they pretty to look at.

It's been a very long time since we've seen a NWS homepage like this. Ideally, those pinks would be 50 miles to the west, but hey, let's not be too greedy here.

Oh and those Seahawks? Rainy and breezy. If that's not home-field advantage, I don't know what is!


The Storm Is Upon Us

Friday, January 10, 2014
7:35 p.m.

It's been eons.

Ok, maybe we still have the same continents now as we did when it last rained, but it's been at least a month since we saw ourselves a good, old-fashioned Pacific Northwest extratropical cyclone. This baby's gonna bring our "trifecta" of rain, wind, and mountain snow. We may even end up getting a bit of river flooding on the Skokomish, as snow levels will skyrocket to 6-7,000 feet due to the warm front associated with this storm.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cascade Concrete

Thursday, January 9, 2014
2:35 a.m. (yup, one of those nights)

They say the Eskimos have 100 different words for snow. I doubt "Cascade Concrete" is one of them, because I don't know of any Inuit peoples in the Cascade mountain range. However, it is definitely one that many people, and certainly every skier and snowboarder around here, is familiar with. It might be worthwhile to let the Inuit know about this type of snow so that they can add yet another one to their ever-increasing list.

What is Cascade Concrete?

Well, I Bing'ed it up, and the first result that I got was that Cascade Concrete is an industrial plant that utilizes state-of-the-art manufacturing and specializes in "producing CriblockTM  system components for many large scale projects simultaneously while maintaining an on hand inventory." Below is the logo at the top of their website.

You can't go wrong with that domain name.

Now, I'm frankly not interested in any CriblockTM  system components, but I do want to point something out to ya'll. See how logo consists of snow covered mountains? That's right... Cascade Concrete actually started out as a term for snow... it was not simply stolen from from our CriblockTM -producing comrades.

Cascade Concrete refers to snow that falls in the Cascades and has a texture and mass akin to concrete. In other words, Cascade Concrete is really heavy, wet snow that falls in the Cascades. A normal water-to-snow ratio is that one inch of water = 10 inches of snow, but than ratio can be 1:5 with Cascade Concrete. There are more than a couple times (mainly when I was a kid) when I'd be super excited to go to the pass and would be begging my mom to take me skiing because I simply expected that a large snow dump automatically meant a "powder day." Of course, as soon as I took my first turns, I knew that the snow wasn't the "powder" I had expected. As it turns out, some of my worst skiing performances were during these "powder days gone wrong."

So a lot of skiers hate Cascade Concrete. I don't really care for it... honestly, I'll take what I can get at this point. They all want powder. The kind of stuff you can't make snowballs with. Some places in Colorado and Utah can have ratios of 1:30, even as high as 1:40 rain:snow ratios. I've never skied on stuff like that before.


But... OK... tangent time, sorry. When I was in my freshman year of high school, my friend Jeff brought me along to Whistler for a nearly-all-expenses-paid ski trip over some three-day weekend (I think it was MLK). We stayed at the Westin. Anyway, when we were driving up to Whistler, we were driving through some snow showers at sea-level on the Sea to Sky Highway along Howe Sound. We got into Whistler around 1, and skied until they closed at 4 or so. The conditions were brutal... we were at around 5-6,000 feet on Blackcomb, and the winds were howling over 40 km/hr and the temperature was right at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. That's a wind chill of -25 degrees. It was snowing, the visibility was near 0... it sucked. After that, we stayed below the tree line for the rest of the day.

But the next day... oh. my. goodness. Jeff and I had purchased this special package called "early tracks," which entails getting up early, catching the Whistler Village Gondola from 2,214 feet all the way up to Roundhouse Lodge at 6,069 feet, having a delicious all-you-can-eat breakfast there, and then skiing on the mountain before anybody else. It was still absolutely frigid, but the skies were completely blue, and the powder...

There wasn't that much of it, but since it had been snowing at sea level the day before and we were up at 6,000 feet where it was 0 degrees the day before as well, the snow was as dry as could be. It was truly an amazing day of skiing... probably the best I've ever had in my life, and an experience I'll never forget. 


So, we've established that skiers love dry snow. Snow-fort builders and snow-based weaponry personnel hate it, but skiers and snowboards love it. For these upcoming systems, snow levels will remain right around 3,000 feet with the exception of a strong rise to 6-7,000 feet Friday afternoon to night as a strong warm front associated with a strong low pressure center (more about that later) rolls into the area. Because snow levels will be right around pass level, the temperatures will be right around freezing, and the snow will be nice and heavy. That's right... Cascade Concrete. Moisture is also an influencing factor; places with lots of moisture tend to have low liquid water to snow ratios, while places that are drier (like those guys in Utah) have higher ratios.

But what if I told you that wet snow was actually good in this instance? The thing about dry snow is that just like it doesn't stick to other snow to make a snowball, it doesn't stick to rocks to cover them up. The good thing about wet snow is it does stick to all these obstacles and is a much more solid base. If there is a blizzard after this snow has fallen, it won't get pushed around. It is too dense. Really dry "champagne" snow, on the other hand, could fly right away. So we won't only get four feet of snow at the pass, we will get four feet of solid, heavy, Cascade Concrete, and this should be more than enough for the Summit at Snoqualmie to open. As I've said before, Alpental's terrain has a bit more gnarl, and a larger base is needed to cover the obstacles, so I don't know if Alpental will open. They usually need around a 50 inch base to consider opening, so amounts will be marginal for them to begin operations. Fingers crossed.


Why exactly do warm temperatures and moist conditions lead to heavy, dense snow, while cold temperatures and dry conditions lead to light and fluffy snow? 

Well, different atmospheric conditions lead to different types of snowflakes. Take a look at the picture below, and take a guess at which one is associated with the driest snow.

Think about it. Dry, fluffy snow is un-dense. Which of these flakes looks the most lightest? The dendrites definitely look like the lightest to me. They also look like they are the prettiest, and they look like the snowflakes we usually see in our culture.

It turns out they are! Interestingly enough, once you get below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, you start seeing those other types of plates again, and the snow becomes denser. I hesitate to use the term "wetter" because there ain't nothing wet when it's -40 degrees outside. Fun fact: -40 degrees Fahrenheit and Celsius are the same temperature.

It's time for me to work on some weather and math homework now. The weather homework I have to do is identifying the observations that are decoded in annoying airport code shorthand, and the math homework I have to do is associated with my "dynamical systems and chaos" class, which is my first 400-level class and may end up being the hardest class I'll ever take. It's bound to be interesting though, and the "chaos" part of the class is highly relevant to weather modeling. I'll let you guys know what I learn from my studies of chaotic systems, and I'll be sure to put in some nice, easy-to-understand* proofs for ya.

Charlie :)

*for engineers, physicists, and mathematicians only

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Finally... Snow in the Mountains!!!

Wednesday, January 8, 2013
9:37 p.m.

I've been waiting for this date for so long!

Franklin Falls Webcam on I-90:

Snow in the mountains. But not only that... snow at Snoqualmie Pass. I'm taking a class with Cliff Mass this quarter, and he's a bit skeptical that the Summit at Snoqualmie will get enough snow to open next week, but he is certain that they will get more than they have than a while.

I am certain that ski operations will begin at the Summit next week. Well, I am certain that they will have enough snow that they should. I don't know the inner workings of Boyne USA.

I've reposted the diagram I had yesterday of the SNOTEL snow-water-equivalent (SWE) percent of normal for the Western U.S. Percentages are well below average in Washington, and Oregon and California are nearly completely barren. We'll see how this has changed once this storm cycle is over.

How can I be so certain that we will see such heavy snowfall amounts? Well, first off, we have some pretty powerful systems entering the area. We've already seen some fairly sizable rainfall totals... yesterday we picked up 0.48 inches at Sea-Tac, and today we have 0.38 with two hours to go (our precipitation is mostly over). Snoqualmie Pass, at an elevation of 3,022 feet, has had 9 inches of snow measured at 3,010 feet in the last 24 hours, as strong orographic enhancement has kept the snow falling there all day.

Another weak system will arrive on Thursday and should bring another half foot or so of snow to the passes, but the big story is Friday, as a degrading 970 millibar low makes landfall on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Associated with this system will be a strong warm front, which will initially give us rain both here in the lowlands and in the mountains save the highest elevations, but after this warm front passes through, we will be under the influence of a cold front, and this will continue to bring rain to the lowlands but will bring snow to the mountains. One thing is for sure... this system will bring a LOT of precipitation all around.

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And how about the snow? You're gonna like this...

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This model shows two feet in two days at Snoqualmie, and I've generally found that these mesoscale models tend to underestimate the snow directly at Snoqualmie Pass. See those whites in there? Those represent over four feet of snow in two days. Wow.

But we aren't done yet!

I'm going to have you look at the upper-air chart, because I think it is important that you understand why the Cascades will get a lot of snow even after all the systems have gone through.

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This chart represents the height lines at the 500 millibar level of the atmosphere. Think of it as a topographical map, with the mountain to the south and the valley to the north. The flow in the upper atmosphere is geostrophic; that is, it is parallel to these lines of constant height. When these lines are close together, the geostrophic flow is faster. Look at how close the lines are together over our area, and think about what happens when fast moving air encounters a mountain range. It rises, right? And on the leeward side of this mountain range, it sinks. Now, take a look at the image below.

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The mountains get tons of precipitation, while the central Puget Sound area is completely shadowed because this flow is coming from the west-northwest, as opposed to our typical southwest flow, where Sequim gets shadowed. The northerly component is key because it helps keep our snow levels below pass level.

How many feet will Snoqualmie Pass get total from this storm cycle? I would guess at least four feet, which would certainly be enough for Summit West to open. We'll see if I'm right!


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Don't Mess with the Polar Vortex - The Midwest Arctic Outbreak and Climate Change

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
12:14 a.m.

I don't know how many of you watched the Packers-49ers game on Sunday, but it looked absolutely frigid. The grass was brown. The surface temperature was 3 or 4 degrees. Green Bay actually got down to -18 that day, which is a record. That'll freeze cheese. 

My cousin Colleen showed me this article from the New Yorker. The New Yorker is known for its rigorous fact checking, but these guys are stretching the truth in this article. Or at least dancing around it. Since it is brief, I've simply pasted it below.


JANUARY 6, 2014


MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—The so-called polar vortex caused hundreds of injuries across the Midwest today, as people who said “so much for global warming” and similar comments were punched in the face.

Authorities in several states said that residents who had made ignorant comments erroneously citing the brutally cold temperatures as proof that climate change did not exist were reporting a sharp increase in injuries to the face and head regions.
In an emergency room in St. Paul, Harland Dorrinson, forty-one, was waiting to be treated for bruising to the facial area after he made a crack about how the below-freezing temperatures meant that climate-change activists were full of shit.
“I’d just finished saying it and boom, out of nowhere someone punched me in the face,” he said. “This polar vortex is really dangerous.”
The meteorology professor Davis Logsdon, of the University Minnesota, issued a safety warning to residents of the states hammered by the historic low temperatures: “If you are living within the range of the polar vortex and you have something idiotic to say about climate change, do not leave your house.”
Now, do polar vortexes specifically seek out climate change deniers? We're not sure at this point, but our preliminary guesses are that they do not. One of the atmospheric science TAs for my class on thermodynamics is currently doing his doctoral dissertation on the subject, and those have been his findings thus far. However, he still has more research to do, and things may well change before it is all said and done.

But it is true. There is a large debate in the general population (NOT in the scientific community) about this being a global warming issue or not. The global warming deniers say "By Jove, this is cold. And you are telling me we are supposed to warm? You must be crazy." Meanwhile, the global warming alarmists are saying "This is yet another example of an extreme weather event caused by global warming."

And again and again, just like we've gone over before many times on this blog, neither side is correct.

I've generally found that the media swarms over one specific event as being evidence of global warming, like Hurricane Sandy, the Joplin tornado, and the 2004 White Christmas in New Orleans (yes, that actually happened). I'll get back to this global warming mumbo-jumbo momentarily. But now, let's define what actually injured those global warming deniers.

So, what is a polar vortex?

Polar vortexes are these massive (1000-2000 km in diameter) and persistent cyclones near Earth's poles and are in the mid-to-upper levels of the troposphere and stratosphere. They are not, as the New Yorker article insinuates, the snow version of a dust devil (I get a very funny image in my mind of some global warming denier... say, Dick Lindzen, a meteorology professor at MIT... getting whacked by one of these fellas). When these vortices are strong, the Westerlies increase in strength and zonal flow predominates, but when they weaken, the jet stream tends to buckle and that is when you can get significant cold outbreaks in the winter.

Here's what the 500mb height pattern looked like during that frigid game at Lambeau Field Sunday. This is a view from the North Pole, so you can see the entire Northern Hemisphere. Typically, there are two polar vortex centers, one over Baffin Island and one over Northeast Siberia. You can clearly see the one by Baffin Island and the one over Siberia, and it also looks like there are some other ones over the Pacific and Atlantic. And of course, there's the massive one plunging down into the plains that ended up injuring all those global warming deniers.

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See how "wavy" the jet stream is? We have this longwave ridge over our area, while there is a longwave trough over the eastern half of the country. In a situation with strong polar vortices, these waves are gone. Check this out.

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Here the Baffin Island vortex has migrated slightly west (it's not in a penitentiary, it's allowed to move from time to time) and strengthened, and look at how much more zonal the flow across the the Pacific and North America has become. This zonal flow will finally direct some precipitation into the region, and Snoqualmie Pass should FINALLY get enough snow to open in the next week. Alpental needs more snow to open to cover all the gnarly terrain and probably won't quite pick up enough. It's too early to tell right now, but if this pattern holds, Alpental should eventually be able to open too.

Meanwhile, where's that Siberian vortex? Definitely not over Siberia. It is pretty weak as well. Consequently, the area "under its domain" is dominated by ridging and troughing.

So now you all know all there is to know about polar vortices. Give yourselves a high five.

Anyway, let's get back to those deniers vs. alarmists. The deniers say that this cold wave proves that global warming is obviously not occurring. The response I would have for one of these deniers is that this is not a global cold wave. Southern California was basking in the 70s. When you have these polar vortices dropping south and you have significant troughing and ridging, temperatures generally depart far from average depending on which side of the jet stream you are on.

Besides, if global warming is not occurring, why is the Cascade snowpack well below average? Why are we getting rain at the passes instead of snow? Also, if you think things are bad here, look at Oregon and California. Take home lesson - while some places just experienced extreme cold, much of the West is warm and very dry with very little mountain snowpack.

The alarmists talk about this being an example of another "extreme event" and cite global warming as causing more extreme heat AND cold waves. Here's where I read some of Cliff Mass' blog and took some notes, and I think what he found pretty much obliterates this argument. The IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) said that "there is likely to be a decline in the frequency of cold air outbreaks (i.e., periods of extreme cold lasting from several days to over a week) in NH winter in most areas." It says nothing about the intensity of the cold waves, only the frequency of them.

The diagram below is from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). The blue bars represents the percentage of the country covered by extreme low minimum temperatures. You can see that we are seeing less and less blue, which means the cold waves, as a whole, are likely becoming less extensive. 

The strength of these outbreaks, however, is largely unchanged. Cliff has another diagram for that, and I'm going to refrain from stealing it, because that is a immoral thing to do (even though I just did it above). I highly recommend that you read his blog post on the latest arctic outbreak.

If only people understood atmospheric science the way I do! OK, that sounded really egotistical, and compared to nearly everybody in the department, I hardly know anything about atmospheric science, but at least I understand that if you are going to attempt to make a conclusion about global warming based on one event (which is a bad idea in and of itself), you gotta do some research.

Neither side did their research, and the deniers hobbled away with some hefty injuries. What's the lesson here?

I say it's better to be an alarmist because if the world was full of alarmists, we'd try to accomplish something, but you don't want to be either. Being an alarmist is like "crying wolf" and spreading misconceptions and fear throughout the population about global warming, and in the long run, this will only hurt our efforts as mankind to mitigate it. On the other hand, most (not all) of the deniers I've heard of are cocky people who don't pay attention to the overwhelming amount of scientific data that supports global warming and just decide to go with the stuff they find.

You want to avoid both of these traps, and you don't have to be a scientist to do so. By now, many of the regular readers of this blog have probably developed an intuitive sense of what alarmism is and how it differs from the truth, and of course denial is easy to sort out. But most of all, DON'T PIN AN INDIVIDUAL EVENT ON GLOBAL WARMING. Climate change is about, you guessed it, climate. If we get 20 more of these things in the next five years, we should be concerned. But comparing singular events to climate is like comparing Beethoven to Bieber. Just don't do it.

Well, that's all for now! Thanks for reading. On a happy note, we should start seeing some snow start to pile up in the Cascades. I'll write that up for ya'll tomorrow. :)


A New Quarter

Monday, January 6, 2014
11:28 p.m.

Well, today was the first day of winter quarter. I'm already a little bit intimidated... OK... hella intimidated... by my AMATH 402 class. The professor lectures really quickly, so I was trying to listen and comprehend as much as I could while also writing down notes as fast as I could to study later, but very few others were taking notes. When he asked the class questions, everybody knew what he was talking about and and answered... except me. The class is "Dynamical Systems and Chaos." It'll be a challenge, that's for sure, and hopefully not too overwhelming. I'll read ahead and just study and recopy my notes before each lecture and hopefully that'll help. If I find the class too overwhelming and feel like I need more prerequisite training, I'll just drop it. If I do complete this class, however, I will have an applied math minor at the University of Washington, the first of three minors I am planning to ascertain. The others are jazz studies and oceanography.

Last quarter, which is approximately 2.5 months, I had 6 seizures. Over winter break, which is just under a month, I didn't have any. I definitely think stress has a lot to do with it. A similar thing happened last year... I had 5 seizures autumn quarter, and I don't know how many I had winter quarter, so it wasn't significant enough to keep track of. So hopefully I won't have any seizures this quarter. That's a lot to ask for, but if I take my medication on time, make sure I am properly hydrated, force myself not to get stressed, and don't do cocaine or methamphetamine, it is certainly possible. As always, I'm more concerned about the time/setting of the seizures than anything else.

I'm not doing the KOMO internship this quarter (I had to make way for the seniors), but I'm seeing if I can get an internship at any of the other TV stations. I'm not doing a UW-affiliated jazz combo, so I'll have more time to practice the stuff that I want to work on and more time to dedicate to the funk band I am in with Swedish 70's transplant Mikko Nynäs. I'm taking "Elementary Music Theory" this quarter because it is required for a music minor, but I already know the stuff, so I'm gonna see if I can test out of it. Right now, I am taking 16 credits, but this would be brought down to 14 credits if I took the test and passed. Last quarter, I took 18 credits.

All in all, this quarter looks to be a bit more relaxing than last quarter. There is that AMATH class, but I hope to find it challenging, not overwhelming.

A more relaxed quarter means more blogging! I didn't blog last quarter because I didn't have time/mental capacity to think about anything other than schoolwork and keeping my body in homeostasis. That's right, I had to think about keeping my body in homeostasis. That stuff is supposed to come naturally, but it doesn't when you have a huge workload on your back. But expect more blogs this quarter. It's hard to make promises when I don't know what the future is going to bring, but I can promise that I am going to place a high priority on having more-or-less daily blogs (except when midterms and finals rear their ugly heads or I'm passed out from a night of heavy drinking).

Cheers! All my UW friends, have a happy quarter! Everybody else who is starting soon or has already started, same to you! And to those in the workforce, uh, only four more days left!

Charlie :)