Saturday, December 26, 2015

Gigantic Pattern Change

Saturday, December 26, 2015
9:46 pm

Hi everybody! I got back in Seattle late on the 22nd, and now that I've gotten through Christmas, I'm excited to start blogging again once more.

We recently had a major, prolonged snow-producing pattern for our region. I actually went up to Snoqualmie Pass today for a job interview to be a ski instructor (it was a success... I'll be teaching Saturdays & Sundays at Alpental), and there was a TON of snow there. Snow was already plainly visible on the Issaquah Alps, and it really started piling up once we got to Denny Creek, which is about 6 miles west of the Summit. Once we finally hit the Summit, we bore witness to a base that was easily over 6 feet (the Summit At Snoqualmie says their base at Summit West is 93"), and it was even more when we went to Alpental. The trees were absolutely buried in snow; some were fully submerged. It was quite a sight to behold. We brought our dog with us, and he was very happy to be there.

The two pictures below show the snow water equivalent (how much water you would have if you melted down all the snow in one location) for two dates: December 8 (the day I left for Indonesia), and today, December 26. Both pictures were retrieved from the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center.

On December 8, the Washington Cascades had a modest snowpack, but amounts were still below normal. The Oregon Cascades were really suffering; there was hardly any there. Now, both places are absolutely covered in snow, and Eastern Washington and Oregon have a ton as well. The Olympics have a healthy snowpack, as does Vancouver Island. There has even been some snow in the lowlands north of Portland and in some places away from the water around Western Washington. There's snow everywhere. Life is good. But if you think it's been snowing hard in Washington, check out what's been happening to Southeast Oregon, Southwest Idaho, and Northern Nevada. One basin in Northern Nevada has 239% of their normal SWE! Pretty much everybody in the West is at or well above normal when it comes to snowpack. The only exceptions are the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming and a few select stations in the Central and Northern Rockies.

Credit: USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center

It's been great so far. But things are changing.

We've had a good run, but we could only postpone its arrival for so long. Remember that big blob (not the "Blob;" that has died) of warm water in the tropical Pacific? That whole El Niño thing? Well, El Niños tend not to truly unleash their fury (or as you will see, lack thereof) for the West Coast until the New Year. Our latest El Niño picture shows one comparable to the massive El Niño of December 1997, and that is saying something.

Credit: NASA

The jet stream, the high altitude winds that shape our weather, is heavily dependent on temperature differences between the tropics and poles. The larger the temperature difference, the faster and more powerful the jet stream, and the stronger the storms that it carries. El Niño makes the atmosphere in the tropical Pacific warmer than normal, causing there to be a larger temperature difference and therefore causing the jet stream to strengthen.

Retrieved from

One would think that this strengthening jet stream would translate into stronger storms for us. However, during El Niños, the jet stream often gets so strong that it splits into two weaker sections off our coast, with one going to our north and one going to our south. We are left with dry and relatively warm conditions with the occasional weak storm, while our friends in California and Alaska experience above-average rainfall. The major models all indicate that we will be undergoing this pattern change and they have been very consistent in doing so.

In fact, let's take a look at the jet stream right now from the GFS model. This model shows the winds in knots at the 300mb level of the atmosphere, which is about 30,000 feet or where your typical Boeing 737 cruises.

Even now, you can see that the jet stream in the Eastern Pacific is starting to break down. Meanwhile, the jet in the Western Pacific is as strong as ever.

Credit: NCEP

Uh-oh. At hour 54 (Monday night our time), a split develops. Look at that maniacal jet in the West Pacific though.

Credit: NCEP

At hour 135, the split is even stronger.

Credit: NCEP

How long does this pattern last? It looks like it will last for at least the next two weeks, and I have a feeling it will last even longer than that. The models have repeatedly shown that this pattern isn't letting up. Here's the forecast for hour 384, which is the farthest this model goes out.

Credit: NCEP


Our rain/snow/wind/fun looks to be over for quite some time. The Climate Prediction Center is predicting below average precipitation and above average temperatures for this time frame for the Pacific Northwest. I love hot and dry weather in the summer, but not in the winter! 

Credit: CPC
Credit: CPC

I wish it weren't so, but it looks like the most exciting of the winter is behind us. However, I'm quite interested to see what will happen to Southern California, especially in February. They should get some tremendous drought relief, and they need water far more than we do. They could see some pretty intense storms then, but that is a month away. We will see.

Still, let's be thankful for all the great snow we've gotten so far this season! The Summit was packed today, and most people weren't even skiers or snowboarders. They were just coming up to see the snow. There were toddlers, dogs, and plenty of toboggans, and everybody looked like they were having a fantastic time.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Indonesia - Days 4-5

Sunday, December 12, 2015
8:49 pm

Greetings from the Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia! We are finished with our stay at the Mirah Hotel in Bogor, and are now headed to Yogyakarta, which is ~260 miles to the ESE of Bogor on the island of Java. Bogor is a suburb of Jakarta.

Yesterday, we went and saw the botanical gardens in Bogor. It was fascinating to see so many different types of trees, and although these gardens had nothing on some of the amazing flora I saw in Micronesia when I did a study abroad program there during college, they were amazing nonetheless. 

Unfortunately, I didn't get the names of all the plants and trees, but I took some pictures of those I found particularly beautiful.

Cool roots!

I actually do know the name of the one below - it is "Rattan," a type of palm that has long, light, and strong wooden vine-line branches. These vines are often used for furniture... we have a couch that has armrests made out of rattan!

A rattan palm with its trademark vines

Here is a Pterocarpus indicus Willd. It had extraordinarly broad roots that stretched for several meters (gotta use the metric system here in Indonesia). Our firs in the Pacific Northwest topple so easily in windstorms; I wonder what kind of winds it would take to topple a tree like this, or if it is even possible for it to topple at all.

No botanical garden would be complete without a tree that could unequivocally gore you to death, and we found that in the Pholidocarpus majadum. All palms have spikes at their stems, but the spikes on this palm were particularly noteworthy. Note to all tree-huggers: stay away from Pholidocarpus.

Finally, I saw one more tree that actually reminded me of home. The leaves of Quassica indica Noteboom looked somewhat similar to the laurel hedge that is so present around Seattle. It wasn't a particularly pretty tree (sorry, tree) but still, it reminded me of Seattle, so I had to take a picture of it.

We later came across a stunning orchid greenhouse, which was without a doubt the highlight of our flora adventure. Unfortunately, my camera battery was toast by then.

After seeing much of the botanical garden, we crossed a suspension bridge across a cement canal made for diverting water that falls over the mountains above Bogor out to sea. The mountains above Bogor are exceptionally rainy, and Bogor itself is known as the "rainy city," amassing over 140 inches of rain each year. When we crossed the bridge, it had not started raining in Bogor yet, but it was pouring over the mountains, as evidenced by the torrent of water rushing through the canal.

After we crossed the bridge, we came across a museum with a massive blue whale skeleton. It's easy to take for granted how big whales are, but when you really think about it, it's absolutely stunning how massive these animals can be. When an animal's tongue weighs as much as all 22 football players on the gridiron, you know you are dealing with a truly massive animal.

The museum was filled with all sorts of models of lower-level life forms. Even though I'm a huge fan of marlin, there's no denying that they do not have the brainpower of a blue whale. There were models of amphibians and reptiles as well. Unfortunately, I did not see any live animals or plants.

There were, however, tons of schoolboys and schoolgirls, and wherever we were, they would always flock to us and want to take pictures with us. It was extremely flattering. I know I will be treated more 'regularly' when I go back to Seattle, but hopefully I can take away some confidence knowing that I am a very unique person. I definitely feel very out of place pretty much all the time, but that's one of the attractions of going to a foreign country. If you never took any chances and never went outside of your comfort zone, I think you would be missing out on chances to broaden your worldview and improve your self-esteem. That being said, it really helps that my mom and brother know some Indonesian and that most people speak some English.

Living is very cheap here. A good meal costs 1-2 dollars per person, meaning that four people can eat out and get drinks for less than 10 bucks. The most expensive restaurants are actually foreign chains. There are lots of KFCs, Dunkin' Donuts, and Starbucks scattered throughout the area, and the prices there are far higher than anything at any sit-down restaurant.

Because everything is so cheap here, you don't need much money to survive. Still, many people here are extremely poor. There are many 'becak' drivers roaming the streets looking for work (a becak is like a rickshaw), and they may earn a couple dollars a day, if they are lucky. Some people have rotten teeth (though I think this is mainly due to a lack of emphasis on dental hygiene than being too poor to brush your teeth), there are lots of beggars, there are TONS of street vendors who hardly make any money, and there is just a lot of poverty in general. Municipal tap water is not safe for drinking unless boiled, and there are relatively few social services readily available to the impoverished living in rural areas. Coming here has opened my eyes to just how good we have it here in the United States. I already knew it by looking at statistics on paper, but it's different when you actually experience it through your own eyes.

I had a great experience at the Mirah in Bogor, and I'll have more for you all in my next blog post!


Friday, December 11, 2015

In Indonesia!

Friday, December 11, 2015
4:38 pm

Hello everybody! There's been quite a bit of interesting weather lately in Seattle, and I haven't been posting much. However, it is not because I have suddenly lost my interest for meteorology. That would be impossible.

It is because I've been getting preparing, packing, traveling, and finally settling in Indonesia!

My little brother (he's 20... not quite so little anymore) has been studying abroad in Bali for this past semester, and my parents decided it would be fun to go to Indonesia and eventually meet up with him before coming back together just in time for Christmas. My mom taught English in Indonesia for one year after she graduated from college, so we thought it would be great to go back so she could revisit both the places and people she got to know so well back in the 70s.

We arrived at Sea-Tac airport around 10 pm on Tuesday, and hopped on a Boeing 747 flight to Taipei at 12:05 am. We didn't get into Taipei until 4:55 a.m. - a 12 hour and 50 minute flight. On my last transcontinental flight (a trip to Europe with the Garfield Jazz Band), I was lucky enough to automatically be upgraded to business class on the flight home from London to Seattle because they had overbooked coach. Alas, I wasn't so lucky this time, so I spent nearly 13 hours sitting in the same position. Luckily, there was enough turbulence to make things interesting, both coming out of Seattle and coming into Taipei. We were in the midst of a powerful atmospheric river event at the time with a 150-knot jet stream over the area, which not only added some bumps but slowed our flight across the Pacific. We're supposed to shave off nearly 3 hours on our return flight from Taipei to Seattle... we'll see if that happens!

My first impressions of Taipei were that it was more American than America. There were "Merry X-Mas" signs everywhere in the airport. When you walked down one of those long, straight stretches where the gates are located and moving sidewalks are often found, there were two "Merry X-Mas" signs spaced every 10 feet apart for as far as the eye could see. The Taipei airport is huge, and we walked by hundreds and could see hundreds more in the distance. There were also extremely high-end department stores, like Burberry and Gucci. I wanted to buy a Burberry scarf, but after the conversion from New Taiwan Dollars to US,, it cost $536. And I thought those $6 hamburgers at Sea-Tac were expensive!

After a three-hour layover, we boarded an Airbus A330 for Jakarta. This flight was significantly less turbulent and not as fun - there is something special about riding in a plane with four turbofans and two decks.

From the moment I stepped into the Jakarta airport, I knew I was in a completely different culture. No department stores here! It was incredibly hot and muggy, but people were covered up, with most women wearing head scarves (Java, the island Jakarta is on, has a very large Muslim population) and nearly everybody wearing long pants. I even saw a guy in a thick coat. For a guy who wears shorts in Seattle in the winter, the temperature change was a shock, and I have no idea how people could last in a climate so hot. However, when you live in a climate long enough, you acclimate, and I guess after a while, even temperatures in the high 80s with dewpoints in the high 70s warrants a jacket.

One of the first things that struck me was how kind people are in Indonesia. They always smile at you, slightly bow, and hold their hands together like they are praying when greeting you or thanking you. I've started to do the same. It's pretty amazing how kind the people are here, and they appear to be especially kind to foreigners (white people). Of course, they will also try to take advantage of our ignorance - for example, we had an extremely kind taxi driver who gave us change, but took a 400% tip in doing so. But he was so nice and gracious that we didn't really know what to do. And it was a cheap taxi anyway.

Thant's another thing - everything here is so cheap! A 1.5-hour taxi drive from the airport to our hotel in Bogor cost us around 25 dollars. Meals at restaurants cost 1-4 dollars per person for a grand total of no more than 15 dollars for all three of us, and often much less than that. The meals are HOT, and a lot of black pepper is used. I also decided to be adventurous/dumb (more the latter) and eat one of the small peppers that came with my noodles last night. My sinuses got a workout. It was the hottest thing I've ever lasted in my life - my mouth actually hurt, and of course I was tearing up like a true Westerner.

Today, we visited some of my mom's friends/bosses when she was working here decades ago. First, we went down to the school where my mom taught: the Indonesian Research Institute For Biotechnology and Bioindustry, where we met two wonderful people: Fajar and Titi. Fajar is the man below, and Titi is the woman.

All of us in from of the research institute where my mom taught. From left to write: myself, my mom (Sara), Titi, Fajar, and my dad (Steve)
Another picture of us by the school

There was lots of science and lab equipment throughout the building, but there didn't seem to be much activity going on. Nevertheless, we got a great tour and my mom was ecstatic.

Fajar, my mom, and Titi sitting inside the library
Date palms by the school

Fajar worked as the information technologies specialist for the school, and Titi was with us because she originally worked with Ibu Subandiya, who was my mom's boss when she was a teacher back in the 70s. We were lucky enough to visit Ibu Subandiya and her husbandPak Pranowo at their house shortly after we were done with our informal tour of the research institute.

Ibu Subandiya was in her mid-40s when my mom first met her. Now, she is 82! She certainly doesn't look it though... she has to be the most youthful 82-year-old I've ever seen. She was full of energy, both physically and emotionally, as was her husband. It was a beautiful sight to see my mom reunite with her old boss, and it was like they never missed a beat.

Ibu Subandiya even gave my mom a sarong as a gift. We gave her some Almond Roca. I don't know if that was a fair trade, but both of them really appreciated it!

Unfortunately, we learned that the woman who my mom had lived with, which was just next door, had passed away, as had one of her sons. Her other son was still alive and was living there, but he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was in bad physical and mental shape. It was shocking and sobering for all of us, but for my mom in particular, as he was in good health when she lived with him. Still, he remembered my mom and greeted her graciously and welcomed my father and me as well.

The house had really fallen apart, and you could see that this man was in a lot of pain. After his mom passed away, Ibu Subandiya became his unofficial godmother. What was also amazing to my mom was that the young girl who had been the family servant when she lived with them was still there, now taking care of the sick brother. She was so happy to see my mom, and my mom couldn't believe it. It was wonderful, but also a difficult and sobering end to an excellent afternoon.

I had been very eager to see some of the tropical fruit trees in Bogor, and I was not disappointed. Pictured below are mango and jackfruit, but there were also tons of lychee trees, date/coconut palms, and other assorted delicious tropical fruits. If I find a ripe mango (and am allowed to pick it), my life will be complete. All of these pictures were taken in front of Ibu Subandiya's house.

Three mangos. I love how they hang so freely from the tree, ala the "PetPals Group Hanging Teaser Scratching Post Cat Toy" below
Credit: PetCo

By the way, there are a TON of stray cats here in Bogor. Many of them are extremely thin and small. We saw one yesterday that was no bigger than the size of your foot and probably weighed less than one pound.

Lastly, we went to see Ibu and Bapak Askari. They lived in a very nice house which was actually built by Ibu Subandiya's son, who is an architect in Jakarta. They also remembered my mom from when she lived here. The husband had to leave early to go to pray at the Mosque, but Ibu stuck around and chatted with us. Again, we had a fantastic time.

Now, a  CharliesWeatherForecastsTM   blog post would not be complete without a quick discussion of the weather. Bogor is known as "the rainy city," and the neighborhood we are in commonly gets over 140 inches of rain a year. So far, all of the days have been the same; it is extremely muggy with a slightly thickening overcast throughout the morning, but claps of thunder start around 3 and hangs around until 6, peaking near 5. In the afternoon/early evening, there is so much lightning that the thunder constantly rumbles in the background. The rain accompanying the thunder is not too heavy, particularly earlier, but it can get heavier as evening rolls on. After 6, the thunder dies down but the rain does not, and the rain actually continues until near 9:30. Then, everything dries up and the cycle begins anew!

Yesterday, lightning struck a building just across the street from ours. Needless to say, it was an electrifying experience. We're about to head out, look at some botanical gardens, and do some more exploring, but when the rains come back in this afternoon, I'll have my camera out, and I'll see if I can get record a strike or too. I may be missing the rain and wind of the Pacific Northwest, but I'm having a heck of a time here in the southern hemisphere.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Stormy Week Ahead

Tuesday, December 1, 2015
10:15 pm

Hey everybody. Sorry for being absent for over a week. It's been a crazy past eight days here in Charlie-town, and when you add that to the extraordinarily boring weather we've had, you nearly almost always end up with a blog drought. Thankfully, the drought ends now, as the first storm of many has just exited the region, and another is entering right now.

But before we talk about our active week ahead, I'd like to touch on some of the weather that occurred over the past couple days. Since Thanksgiving, we've been victims of what I (and many other meteorologists) like to call "fake cold." This "fake cold" I'm talking about is cold air that is concentrated right at the surface, while air aloft is much warmer. This is known as an "inversion," and is called such because the temperature increases with altitude. In 'normal' situations, the temperature decreases with altitude in the troposphere (the lowest level of the atmosphere, where almost all our weather occurs).
To see the difference between real cold and fake cold, let's take a look at some of the temperature soundings from the profiler over by Sand Point. 

Credit: UW Atmospheric Sciences

This group of soundings (one every hour from 4 am to 10 am Wednesday) shows that the air is pretty cold throughout the atmosphere. Yes, the atmosphere is more stable than usual and there are a couple inversions, but there is not one giant inversion separating cold air below from warm air above.

Now, look at that same group of soundings on Sunday.

Credit: UW Atmospheric Sciences

Now THAT'S an inversion! At 12 UTC, the inversion starts at the surface, and for the others, the inversion starts around 100 meters above sea level. We go from near freezing at the surface to 9 degrees C by 900 meters, and I think it's safe to assume that we've hit 10 degrees C by 1 kilometer. In Fahrenheit, that's an 18 degree temperature change. This means that the top of Tiger Mountain near Issaquah was likely near 50 degrees from this period, while many places in Seattle were around freezing, and many places in the Cascade foothills and South Sound dipped into the low 20s. Freezing levels were up near 9,000 feet, which is higher than they've been all November - including during our atmospheric river events.

Inversions often trap moisture and pollutants near the surface, so we had deteriorating air quality throughout the latter half of the week and dense fog near the surface, particularly near bodies of water or in valleys/sheltered areas. Some of this fog was "freezing fog," meaning the droplets froze on contact with a surface and made for very slippery and dangerous conditions on the roads, particularly for the morning commute. 

Credit: UW Atmospheric Sciences

This morning, we still have some of our inversion left, but it is much shallower and will continue to weaken throughout the week. Inversions are pretty common, but it's not often when Camp Muir up at 10,110 feet is warmer than Olympia!

This Week

Credit: National Center for Environmental Prediction

The United States' flagship global model, the GFS (Global Forecast System) is painting a very wet next two weeks for us. The above picture shows the total accumulated precipitation over the entire period the model is run (384 hours, or 16 days). The chart above has pretty low resolution (something tells me Mt. Rainier will get more rain than Seattle!), and once you get past 10 days, it's almost impossible to forecast individual storms, but it is still great for getting a general idea of the weather over the next two weeks. The GFS is showing 20-25 inches of precipitation over Vancouver Island, and only a little less than that over the Olympics and Northern Washington/Southern BC Cascades. The rain even extends to Cape Mendocino in California, and the Sierras look to get some much needed snowfall.

Over the weekend, we had a stubborn ridge of high pressure directing storms far north into the Alaskan Panhandle, but now that ridge has collapsed, and the Pacific Northwest is once again in the direct path of some powerful, wet Pacific storms. Even though the effects of El Niño become more pronounced after the New Year, I'm surprised by how different our weather has been from what was forecast by climate models. We've been wetter and cooler than normal, while Southern California has been warmer and drier than normal. We've got the strongest El Niño on record brewing in the tropical Pacific, but you wouldn't know it if you lived on the West Coast.

Several ski resorts around the area have opened with limited operations, but we should get gobs of snow in the mountains over the next couple weeks, and I suspect that most resorts throughout the Pacific Northwest will be open to at least some degree by mid-December. Many places in the Cascades picked up 6-12 inches of snow last night, and they will pick up another 6-12 inches over the next 72 hours. Even though snow levels will generally be above Snoqualmie Pass, there is enough of that residual low-level "fake cold" in Eastern Washington that will be flowing east through the pass to locally lower the snow level to the surface, so be prepared for snow, sleet, or freezing rain at the Summit and points east tonight before switching over to rain tomorrow. Stevens Pass could see a foot of snow before the precipitation changes to liquid Thursday afternoon.

Valid 04:00 am PST, Sat 05 Dec 2015 - 72hr Fcst
Credit: UW Atmospheric Sciences

Even more snow falls over the next 72 hours! Massive amounts for Southern British Columbia. The passes should mainly see rain or a mix because the cold air will have been scoured out, but snow levels may lower again next week.

Valid 04:00 am PST, Tue 08 Dec 2015 - 144hr Fcst
Credit: UW Atmospheric Sciences

None of these systems look particularly strong, but it will be an active period. I like to think of stormy periods in terms of famous boxers from the 60s and 70s. Right now, we are in a Muhammad Ali pattern with lots of powerful, rapid-fire storms (as opposed to a Joe Frazier pattern, where we would have a single massive left-hooking storm from the southwest that could knock out power to millions with a single punch). I'll keep you posted!

Thanks for reading,