Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I have moved!

Hello everybody!

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

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

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

Thank you for your continued support over the years!
Charlie

 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A New Climate Change Movement

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

Credit: Tim Murphy for Mother Jones Magazine

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

Why do I bring this up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Wikipedia User ArchonMagnus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!
Charlie

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Our Corrupt Political System


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

Crazy Republicans!

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!
Charlie

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Transition To More Seasonable Weather

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

video

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

Credit: National Water and Climate Center

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

Credit: Climate Prediction Center

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

Thanks for reading,
Charlie

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Viva La Niña!

Credit: NOAA

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

Credit: NOAA

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

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

Credit: NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory

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

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

Credit: NOAA

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


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

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

Credit: NOAA

Credit: NOAA

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

In the meantime, Viva La Niña!

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

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Record Heat Today?

Frying an egg and two strips of bacon on the side of the road in Death Valley, California.
Credit: www.catholic.org

What a change a month makes! Back on the 10th and 13th of March, we had two powerful windstorms roll through the area, with the one on the 10th causing lots of damage to the Northern Interior and creating a lot of coastal flooding and the one on the 13th making my last day of teaching ski lessons to kindergartners up at Alpental an adventure for the ages. Now, here we are, less than a month later, and we're expected to hit the 80s throughout the area today. Springtime isn't known for dramatic shifts in weather, but we can get these big ridges of high pressure that bring us exceptionally warm days, and after all the rain we've had, the change has never felt so dramatic.

One of my favorite tools for predicting the temperature on these warm days is the ProbCast tool developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory at University of Washington. As we obtain more and more computer power, ensemble forecasting (where we run a whole bunch of models with slightly perturbed initial conditions) is going to take over our more traditional, "deterministic" forecasting, where we run one model and base our forecasts off of that. The ProbCast tool gives the estimated high temperature based on multiple models, and also lists the 10% probability of the observed temperature exceeding or not reaching a certain temperature. My most memorable ProbCast experience was during our record heat wave of 2009, when Seattle hit 103 degrees, which was exactly what the Probcast was predicting.

Many news outlets are predicting the high temperature to be around 80 degrees or so. Let's see what the ProbCast says!

Credit: University of Washington Applied Physics/Atmospheric Sciences

85! Yikes! And there is a 10% chance that the temperature could exceed 89, meaning there is an outside chance the temperature could exceed 90! I personally think this is a little bullish and I don't think we'll hit 85, but low 80s is a good bet.

Credit: University of Washington Applied Physics/Atmospheric Sciences

Here's the ProbCast map throughout all of the Pacific Northwest for today. As you can see, many places west of the Cascades are forecast to be in the 80s - not just in Washington but in Oregon as well. If you want to escape the heat, go to Wyoming.

A big ridge of high pressure over our area is enough to make us warm and sunny, but the key to our record warmth is the offshore winds that are forecast to come down the Cascades into our area. As air sinks, it warms, and even though the air in the upper atmosphere is generally cooler than the air in the lower atmosphere, it warms at such a rate that by the time it reaches the lower atmosphere, it is often warmer than the air that was previously in place. The key to having offshore flow is to have higher pressure in Eastern Washington and lower pressure in Western Washington, and as the map below shows, we will have that today. It isn't the biggest pressure difference, so winds won't be too strong, but it is enough to bring us that warm, offshore flow while preventing the cooler, maritime, onshore flow from cooling off our neck of the woods.

Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Thu 07 Apr 2016 - 12 Fcst
Credit: University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences

On Friday, we'll start to cool down in Western Washington, but we'll still be pretty darn nice.  Eastern Washington will see it's warmest weather of the year. By Saturday, stronger onshore flow returns, cooling us off dramatically back into the 60s.

 Enjoy the sun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Charlie

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Another Beautiful Week On Tap


Wow, what a change in weather we have had! From the wettest winter on record to two consecutive weeks with temperatures above 70 degrees! Our transition from autumn to winter is swift, but our transition from winter to spring usually takes a little bit more time. It certainly hasn't taken much time so far!

Last week, many places around Western Washington, including Sea-Tac, got into the 70s on Thursday and Friday. Although some morning clouds prevented us from reaching those same temperatures in the lowlands on Saturdays - temperatures were extremely warm in the mountains. I was skiing up at Alpental and was absolutely boiling. It was stunningly beautiful though, and I had a lot of fun.

The reason last week was so nice was because we had a large, persistent "Omega Block" right over our area, giving us clear skies, warm temperatures, and for some people (including myself), terrible allergies. We will also be warm and sunny later this week, but the warmth won't last for an extended period of time. However, Thursday in particular will be much warmer than any day last week.

Let's take a look at the WRF-GFS 1000-500 hPa thickness chart. I love this chart because it does a great job of quickly showing which areas are expected to be warm and which areas are expected to be cool. This is because "thickness" between two pressure levels is a function of density, and the less dense the air, the higher the thickness.

Here's what the thicknesses are like over the West Coast around 11 am this morning. As you can see, we have a ridge to our south with relatively high thicknesses over the area, but in order to get into the 70s, you'd want that ridge to become stronger and you'd want thicknesses to be in the 560s or higher.

Valid 11:00 am PDT, Tue 05 Apr 2016 - 6hr Fcst
 Credit: University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences

Wednesday morning, we look a little better. Right now, I think that Sea-Tac will stay below 70 on Wednesday, but I would not be surprised if they got all the way into the low 70s.

Valid 08:00 am PDT, Wed 06 Apr 2016 - 27hr Fcst
Credit: University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences

But wow, look at Thursday afternoon! Thursday is expected to be our warmest day of the week, with temperatures in the upper 70s for many locations. Sea-Tac's record high for that date was 78, set back in 1996. I think we are going to break it!!!

Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Thu 07 Apr 2016 - 72 Fcst
Credit: University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences

Another thing to look at is what the actual temperatures are like in the upper levels of the atmosphere. The Storm Prediction Center has a really cool tool where you can see the average and record values for a given parameter throughout the entire year. These parameters were measured using radiosondes - those big weather balloons with instruments that travel up to 100,000 feet through the atmosphere, taking measurements along the way.

850 hPa temperature climatology at Quillayute (UIL)
Credit: Storm Prediction Center

The 850 mb temperatures at 5 pm Thursday are forecast to be 16-17 degrees Celsius, which would set a new record not only for April 4th but for all of February and March as well, and possibly even January and April. Needless to say, it will be extremely warm in the upper atmosphere, and that warmth will make its way down to the surface.

Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Thu 07 Apr 2016 - 60 Fcst
Credit: University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences

A key factor for making temperatures really toasty here in the lowlands is the existence of offshore winds. We should have offshore flow on Thursday, with the foothills getting the strongest offshore flow and thus warming up the most. This will hold true for the coast as well - places like Forks (and, to a lesser extent, Quillayute) get a warming, offshore flow from the Olympics. I suspect that most places on the coast will set new record highs on Thursday.

On Friday, the ridge moves east of the area, but we should still have enough residual warmth to squeak out another day in the 70s. We cool off for the weekend, and beyond that, we look seasonable, with highs in the upper 50s to lower 60s with periods of light rain at times. Definitely a far cry from the intense windstorm we saw less than a month ago!

Charlie

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Demise of The West Antarctic Ice Sheet

On Wednesday, the New York times came out with an alarming article. It said that a new, high-resolution model was showing that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), a massive ice sheet west of the "Transantarctic Mountains" that divides the continent into eastern and western sections, could melt far faster than previously thought, with sea levels rising as much as 6 feet by the end of the century. This is twice as high as what other models, such as those used in the reports given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, were showing for a similar emissions scenario.

I am always skeptical of these types of articles. New York Times likely wouldn't publish a story like this if sea-level rise with this new model was a meter or less. That's simply not an exciting story to write. And the problem with publishing these types of articles is that it gives the impression to the public that a significant portion of the scientific community believes that the sea level could rise higher than Russell Wilson by the end of the century when, in reality, this is just one study in a field where a lot of uncertainty currently exists.

Credit: NASA

I minored in oceanography at the University of Washington and was pondering double majoring in it and atmospheric sciences, but I ultimately decided to simply go for the atmospheric sciences major because doing both of these wonderful majors would require me to stay at the UW for two additional years. Still, I took plenty of oceanography classes, and in multiple classes, my professors stressed the importance of the WAIS in deciding how much our sea-level could rise by the end of the century. 

Like many glaciers and ice caps around the world, the WAIS has been shrinking since the end of the "Little Ice Age," and global warming has accelerated this process. However, there is a lot of uncertainty as to how the WAIS will react to warming in the future. This is because large parts of Antarctica, including much of the WAIS, actually lie below sea level due to the massive weight of the ice above the continent weighing it down in a process known as isostatic depression.

Subglacial topography and bathymetry of Antarctica.
Credit: Paul V. Heinrich

As the picture above shows, land generally slopes downward as you go inland in West Antarctica due to isostatic depression. In fact, some inland areas are actually over a mile below sea level. Because of this unique feature, the ice sheet is unstable, meaning that even a little bit of a retreat of the WAIS could start a destabilization process that would lead to a collapse of the WAIS. Our current computer models do not have the capabilities to simulate this process, and significant uncertainty in the scientific community exists as to how quickly the WAIS will continue to melt, and if there ever will be a catastrophic collapse of a large section of the ice sheet.

As such, sea-level rise estimates span a pretty darn wide range, even for given "emissions forecasts" looking into the future. As shown below, there is a degree of overlap between the sea level rise with RCP 8.5 (the high-emissions scenario) and RCP 2.6 (the low-emissions scenario), suggesting that there is considerable uncertainty in how much the sea level will rise over the next century. And much of this uncertainty has to do with our poor handle on how the WAIS will behave in the future.

Credit: IPCC 5th Assessment Report

The New York Times article was based on this study on the "Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise recently published in Nature. In the study, scientists showcased the results of a new, high resolution model that attempted to correctly model the response of the WAIS to subtle shifts in temperature. With this model, scientists were able to correctly reproduce the sea levels around 125,000 years ago, which are estimated to have been between 20 and 30 feet higher than today. Once they modeled this correctly, they used this model to forecast how the sea level would change in the future. According to the study, Antarctica alone has the potential to contribute one meter of sea-level rise by 2100 and over 15 meters (50 feet!) by 2500 if we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current rate.

Credit: Deconto and Pollard, 2016

Even more startling is the predicted rate of sea-level-rise. Since 1950, the sea level has been rising at about an inch per decade. Under the high-emissions (RCP 8.5) scenario, this new Antarctic model predicts that sea levels could rise as much as a foot per decade by the middle of the 22nd century. This would have tremendous impacts around the world, and while many large cities such as Miami, New Orleans, and New York City would be able to adapt to the increasing sea levels, it would be cost-prohibitive to build a seawall around the entire United States to protect all coastal areas from flooding. Donald Trump likes walls, but I believe our biggest threat in the future is from the ocean, not from our neighbors to the south. Developing countries would have an even harder time adapting.

Even though this all sounds very scary, it is important to remember that this is just one study. It is a very important study because it offers new insight into the fate of the WAIS, but in the coming years, more accurate, higher resolution models will be created, and we'll see if they come to similar conclusions. One thing is for sure - we need to decrease our CO2 emissions immediately, because we are just digging ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole. Honestly, when you consider the impact on future generations, I think it is quite selfish of us to be as lackadaisical as we have been. Global warming can't be avoided, but it can be mitigated. 

My challenge to you is to think about one thing you could do every day that would reduce your carbon footprint. Maybe it's taking the bus instead of driving to that doctor's appointment, or maybe it's wearing a sweater in the winter and turning down the thermostat a bit. Maybe it's simply going for a walk instead of watching TV, or maybe it is educating other people about climate change, ocean acidification, and sea level rise. Although our individual impacts on Earth's climate are negligible, we are having a profound impact on the Earth as a whole, so if we could all just work together to try and decrease that impact, that would be awesome.

Thanks for reading!!!
Charlie

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Beautiful Week Ahead!

I had meant to get to this earlier, but then a funnel cloud occurred over Mill Creek and I had to write about that. Believe it or not, there are people who prefer stormy days with funnel clouds to beautiful, clear, warm sunny days, and I belong to that unique group. However, I'm a big fan of sun as well. In the words of John Ruskin, "there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather," so let's talk about the good weather ahead.

Well, on second thought, let's just talk about the good weather now. It is calm as can be on Lake Washington as I look outside my window, and the only clouds I see are some harmless cirrus clouds. Mt. St. Helens is always spectacular, but right now it is downright gorgeous. I'd love to hit the slopes of the Cascade volcanoes sometime.

Credit: US Forest Service

Right now, we have a HUGE ridge of high pressure over us. Those of you who read my blog regularly know how much I love the satellite images from the MODIS instruments aboard the AQUA and TERRA polar-orbiting satellites, so I'll post one here showing how clear it is over the West Coast. Even if you have no idea what the last sentence just meant, I'm sure you'll understand the picture.

High pressure over our area as seen from NASA's TERRA Satellite. Credit: NASA

Yeah, it's clear. By the way, that diagonal line you see simply shows the boundary of one passage around the pole of this satellite. The satellites that we usually use for meteorology are called "geostationary" satellites and are very useful because they orbit the Earth at the same velocity that the Earth is rotating, so they always stay above a single point on the equator. This allows them to get continuous shots of nearly every place on the globe. However, in order to be geostationary, they must be about 22,326 miles above sea level. Polar orbiting satellites do not have the advantage of remaining stationary over a single point, but they are only several hundred miles above the planet and can thus get much higher-resolution images.

The weather models show this too - the current UW flagship WRF-GFS model shows a massive ridge of high pressure over the Eastern Pacific.

Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Wed 30 Mar 2016 - 12hr Fcst
Credit: University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences
 
Also, notice how there are areas of low pressure on either side of the high - this pattern is known as an "omega block" because the flow resembles the Greek Letter omega - and it is a very hard pattern to break.

Idealized Omega Block
Credit: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

This omega block will live up to its reputation, and won't go anywhere for the remainder of the week. 24 hours from now, the omega block has hardly moved at all.

Valid 05:00 pm PDT, Thu 31 Mar 2016 - 36hr Fcst
Credit: University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences

I don't think we'll be breaking any records, but highs on Thursday and Friday have a good chance of breaking the 70-degree mark for many areas in Western Washington, especially Friday. We "cool down" to the low 60s for the weekend, still well above our average high of 56, and turn rainy by next week. Still, we do not look stormy by any means. Spring arrived a little late this year, but I think it's safe to say that it is finally here.

Get outside, and don't forget to wear sunscreen!


Cheers,
Charlie

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Funnel Cloud Over Mill Creek!


Credit: NASA AQUA Satellite, ~2pm on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

Yesterday was definitely a crazy day for weather! For much of the day, a pretty strong Puget Sound Convergence Zone set up shop in the Northern and Central Puget Sound regions, waxing and waning in intensity and shifting northward and southward as the day went on. The convergence zone ventured further south than usual, actually making it south of Seattle at times. The above satellite picture not only shows a well-defined convergence zone but also shows clearing to the north and south of the zone due to sinking air on either side of it, and lots of scattered clouds (popcorn) offshore denoting little showers and indicating an unstable atmosphere. An unstable atmosphere means there is a large decrease in temperature with height, and as Mother Nature would have it, Sea-Tac had a high of 55 yesterday while Snoqualmie Pass has picked up 8 inches of snow in the last 24 hours. There's still a ton of snow up there, go and get it before it all melts away by the end of this week (but that's for another blog).

Credit: Travis Miller

In addition to bringing gobs of snow to Stevens and Snoqualmie Passes, yesterday's convergence zone actually brought a funnel cloud to Mill Creek! Interestingly enough, funnel clouds are not all that uncommon with strong convergence zones. However, these are called "cold core" funnel clouds and are due to localized areas of circulation due to wind shear within the convergence zone. They are NOT like the funnel clouds and tornadoes common in the Great Plains, which are formed from supercell thunderstorms and are much larger and stronger. For comparison, take a look at the F5 tornado below from Manitoba. Yup, even Canadians get tornadoes!

Category F5 tornado approaching Elie, Manitoba on June 22, 2007
Retrieved from Wikipedia

Huge difference. Even so, even our little cold-core funnel clouds can become tornadoes, and when they do, they can cause quite a bit of destruction.

Supercells are large, severe thunderstorms with a rotating updraft, or mesocyclone. The mesocyclone forms when wind shear caused by relatively light winds at the surface and strong winds aloft creates a spinning vortex of air, and then strong updrafts tilt this updraft so that it is vertical. Both these pictures were taken from a powerpoint presentation I saved from my atmospheric sciences 452 (advanced synoptic meteorology and forecasting lab) class at the UW, and the credit goes to Nick Bond.


The difference in wind strength in the vertical can be quite high, especially in areas near the surface that are sheltered from the wind. I remember one time in December 2007 (the "Great Coastal Gale," to be exact), when winds around a mile up were an astounding 100 knots, while winds away from the immediate coast weren't even at advisory levels. The coast was a different story, and this was arguably the strongest storm on record for some parts of northwest Oregon and southwest Washington - even surpassing the Columbus Day storm!

While supercells get their rotation from differences in wind strength in the vertical, our tiny cold-core funnel clouds and tornadoes are formed from differences in wind strength in the horizontal. With convergence zones, you have winds coming from the south and winds coming from the north, and this can spin up small, localized vortices that manifest themselves as cold-core funnel clouds. I couldn't find a picture of this online, so I drew one myself. This is a picture of the convergence zone around the time that the funnel cloud was sighted, and the pinwheel represents a vortex formed by wind shear from the converging air streams. In this case, the pinwheel is over Mill Creek, which is where people spotted the funnel cloud.


In case you want to learn more about supercell thunderstorms, I have a much more detailed post here. I must of had a lot of time on my hands when I wrote it!!!

Thanks for reading!!!
Charlie

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Should Seattle Close Its Parks During Windstorms?

There's nothing a Pacific Northwest meteorologist likes more than a big windstorm. Flooding rains are interesting, but they make for terrible skiing (something many meteorologists like to do!) and are not nearly as vicious and intense as a windstorm. Snowstorms are awesome because they are so rare, and there's nothing more beautiful than Seattle with a fresh coat of snow on it, but they still lack the intense cyclogenesis that weather geeks rave about. I personally prefer snowstorms to windstorms (skiing down a hill is more fun than living without power), but when it comes to weather events that meteorologists go ga-ga over, windstorms generally take the cake.

However, I'm beginning to feel a little apprehensive about wishing for these big windstorms. It seems like every windstorm that hits us results in at least one tragic fatality. Recently, most of these have been due to falling trees, but I recall back during the Hanukkah Eve Storm that the majority of deaths were actually due to carbon monoxide poisoning in the days after the storm, as people left their generators running inside their homes and carbon monoxide built up throughout the house. Regardless, I am no fan of any windstorm when it results in loss of life. Damage is inevitable, but loss of life can usually be avoided.

The windstorm on March 13th killed somebody in Seward Park when they were crushed by a falling Douglas Fir, and this has sparked concerns over whether Seattle should close its parks during these windstorms. One of my friends actually went to Seward Park to go storm chasing, and although he planned to get there well ahead of the storm and set up in an area clear of trees, the storm moved faster than expected and he got there right about the time that this fatality occurred. Many trees were down throughout the park, and based on the damage, he estimated that gusts were reaching 55-60 mph. He recorded a gust to 49 mph, so winds above the surface impacting the trees were likely higher.

Credit: Seattle Times

On Thursday, I read an interesting article in the Seattle Times. The article stated that while many other parks and cities close their parks when severe weather strikes, Seattle does not. Seward Park remained open throughout the storm, while other parks like Olympic National Park closed well before the storm hit and others like Point Defiance Park in Tacoma closed as soon as the winds picked up. This begs the question: does it make sense to close parks in Seattle like Seward Park when the winds get too high? Or is this not necessary, and should we let people decide on their own if they want to go to parks during a storm?

My opinions are mixed. I identify as a liberal who likes small government. I am not a libertarian by any means, but in my opinion, government and public agencies should be as streamlined and efficient as possible while still fulfilling certain basic needs. I don't consider deciding whether to keep parks open or not a basic need. On the other hand, organizations like the Washington State Department of Transportation close roads when they are deemed unsafe (ex: the 520 bridge, which was closed during the height of this storm). The Coast Guard can close certain ports to prevent ships from going out if there are rough ocean conditions. The Forest Service can close certain trails, like they did last summer with the Big Four trail near Mt. Baker due to people illegally venturing into the ice caves there and being killed by collapsing ice. So, why shouldn't Seattle Parks and Recreation close certain parks during severe weather?

Credit: Washington Trails Association

It would be hard to enforce these closures, especially on places like the Burke-Gilman trail, which according to UW professor Cliff Mass is one of the most hazardous places to be in a windstorm. So I don't think that closing the parks is the most efficient way to go about solving this problem.

Cliff Mass actually got to this topic before I did, and he suggested that Seattle develop a "Seattle Environmental Hazard App" that would warn you of any threats of severe weather based on your exact location. I think this would be a good idea, and if it is done I'd definitely check it out.

However, at this point, I think the main thing we should be doing is educating people about what to do during severe weather. People should know not to drive or walk in areas with lots of trees when there is high wind, and they should not be out in small boats. For example, last spring, a group of kayakers were caught unaware by strong westerly winds coming down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, even though models predicted the winds perfectly. And that's another thing - we need to be better at communicating what the weather forecast is to the public (I could write a dozen blogs about this).

The number one weather-related killer in the Pacific Northwest is roadway ice, and it is how I almost died while traveling near Blewett Pass when I was 5 years old. But with our large, shallow-rooted trees and often-saturated soils, falling trees are a real danger to lives and property, and we must be better at limiting the frequency of these tragic deaths, because we have had far too many over the past year.

Rest in peace.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sneezing Up A Storm

Wednesday, March 23, 2016
2:28 pm

Every year, around the first week of March, springtime allergies hit me harder than a bottle of caffeine pills. For the majority of the winter, I'm totally fine, and then suddenly, my eyes are the wettest they've been since stupidly eating some absurdly hot chili pepper in Indonesia. Ten to thirty percent of the world has seasonal allergies, and I am one of those people. In fact, I almost sneezed as I was just typing that sentence. Now, I'll be yearning for a sneeze for the rest of the day.

I'm allergic to cats (though we still had one) and mildly allergic to dogs (though I love my dog and wouldn't give him up for the world), but I'm incredibly allergic to horses. Put me on a horse, and I'll sneeze, cry, and punch my nose like you wouldn't believe. I love riding horses too - I just need to take a ton of allergy medicine well beforehand - it takes weeks for the medicine to fully get into my system and have a noticeable effect on my horse allergies.

Luckily for me, my allergies are just an inconvenience. I do not have life-threatening allergic reactions to peanuts or bee stings. But even though those allergies are much more severe, the basic mechanism behind all allergic reactions is the same. So before we get specifically into hay fever, let's talk about how allergic reactions work.

Allergic reactions occur when the body's immune system identifies a normally harmless substance as a hazard to the body's health. When a person is exposed to an allergen for the very first time, they generally do not experience a severe allergic reaction. However, some individuals develop antibodies to these allergens, and the next time an allergen enters the body, the antibodies produce "histamines," which then act on various areas of the body and create different types of allergic reactions. Some allergies, like hay fever, are relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things, while others, like nut allergies, can cause the body to experience a rapid drop in blood pressure and go into anaphylactic shock. In these cases, a shot of epinephrine (an Epi-Pen) must be administered immediately, as the sufferer could die in as little as 15 minutes after being exposed to the allergen. Allergies are not just found in humans; even man's best friend can go into anaphylactic shock if they are exposed to a particular allergen.

A scanning electron microscope image of pollen grains from sunflower, morning glory, prairie hollyhock, oriental lily, evening primrose, and castor bean. Credit: Dartmouth College

Hay fever is caused by the body's immune response to pollen. The severity of hay fever symptoms varies among different people, but it is extremely rare for a person to go into anaphylactic shock because they have been exposed to pollen. That's a good thing, because pollen is pretty much everywhere!

Pollen itself is a powdery substance composed of individual pollen grains, or microgametophytes. Though we usually don't think of plants as having a certain sex, pollen grains produce sperm cells, and therefore are the "male" part of the plant as a whole. This is why bees are so important... they allow plants to reproduce by depositing the pollen grains on the female receptacles, or megagametophytes. In a flower, the microgametophytes are found on the stamen, while the megagametophytes are found on the stigma. So ladies, next time you get ambushed by hay fever, find one of your guy friends and blame him and all his microgametophyte friends for making you sneeze!

Credit: American Museum of Natural History

In the springtime, trees are the most common source of pollen. Particularly notorious trees in my neck of the woods include Cedar and Maple, especially Maple. In summer, grasses are the most prevalent source of pollen, and by autumn, weeds are the main offenders. Although pollen decreases in the winter, some people are still allergic to mold and dust, and indoor air is generally dirtier than outdoor air. Allergies are generally worst on breezy days when lots of pollen has been knocked off of plants, but if it is too windy, cleaner air from the upper atmosphere will get mixed down and pollen concentrations will decrease. Pollen concentrations are usually lowest if it is raining cats and dogs, as raindrops capture pollen and other aerosols and remove them from the atmosphere.

There are a variety of medications you can use to mitigate hay fever. Many are "antihistamines," which reduce the amount of histamines your body produces so you don't have as much of an allergic reaction. Some, like Benadryl, cause drowsiness, while others, like Claritin, keep you perfectly awake. However, in recent years, prescription nasal sprays such as Flonase have become available over-the-counter, and I've had better success with these. These are steroids instead of antihistamines, and are stronger and longer lasting than most antihistamines. If springtime has got you feeling under the weather, get a nasal spray, and you'll be back to feeling better in no time.

Thanks for reading!
Charlie 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sunday Windstorm Review

Pi Day 2016
4:55 pm

I apologize for not being in the blogosphere yesterday - I was up at Alpental introducing 5-year-olds to poles. I taught lessons up there this year on the weekends and had a spectacular time, and I'd highly recommend anybody who loves kids and skiing to consider teaching ski lessons up there. The kids are so fun, kind, and carefree, and they don't judge me for being a complete goofball weirdo around them. It seems like we let go of these qualities as we grow older, which is too bad because I think they make us special. I hope the kids learned from me, because I know I learned a lot from them.

Yesterday was stormy throughout Western Washington. There were blizzard conditions at times up on some of the ridgetops at Alpental, and I believe ~250,000 people lost power here in Western Washington. Many of the kids were crying because the fierce winds were very scary! I'd estimate that there were gusts 40-50 mph affecting us at times... it was intense. The NWAC site at Dodge Ridge at Summit West clocked multiple gusts to 68 mph yesterday afternoon, and they are significantly lower in elevation than where we were at Alpental.

Sunday's storm was not very well predicted. Early forecasts showed the potential for a major windstorm across the Puget Sound region, with sustained winds of 30-45 mph and gusts up to 70 mph. Storm warnings (sustained winds of 48-63 knots or 55-73 mph) were issued for Puget Sound, something that happens very rarely. Even late Saturday night/Sunday morning, these storm warnings were still up.

Credit: National Weather Service

However, Saturday night's model runs significantly cut back on the predicted strength of the windstorm, and by early Sunday morning, the National Weather Service had replaced the storm warnings in Puget Sound with lesser gale warnings. However, these models didn't have a good handle on the storm either, and neither did Sunday morning's runs, which were initialized approximately 6 hours before the storm was forecast to make landfall. UW's flagship WRF-GFS model had the low making landfall just to the north of the mouth of the Columbia River around 11 am as a rather elongated 984 mb cyclone.

Valid 11:00 am PDT, Sun 13 Mar 2016 - 6hr Fcst
Credit: University of Washington

Instead, the storm made landfall significantly further north on the northern Olympic Peninsula and deepened to ~978 mb. This caused forecasters to increase the forecast strength of the winds for the coast and North Interior, but tone down their forecasts for the Puget Sound area due to the low traveling further north. Although high wind warnings were still up at this time, some forecasts from various outlets were calling for gusts below 45 mph for most of Puget Sound.

Instead, winds ended up being stronger than forecast, even for the Seattle area. Sea-Tac hit 56, and West Point in Magnolia hit 66! Here are some peak gusts from around the region that I retrieved from the National Weather Service... I bolded gusts from major stations or ones that were particularly high.

PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT
 NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA
 935 PM PDT SUN MAR 13 2016

 ...WIND REPORTS PAST 12 HOURS...

 HERE ARE SOME PRELIMINARY WIND REPORTS FROM THE WEDNESDAY
 EVENING/THURSDAY WIND EVENT. REPORTS OF LESS THAN 40 MPH WERE
 OMITTED. REPORTS ARE GUSTS...EXCEPT (P) ARE PEAK WINDS AND (S) ARE
 SUSTAINED WINDS.

 LOCATION                       SPEED     TIME/DATE       LAT/LON             

 ...ADMIRALTY INLET AREA...
 MARROWSTONE POINT LIGHT      67 MPH    0406 PM 03/13   48.10N/122.69W      
 WHIDBEY ISLAND NAS           66 MPH    0359 PM 03/13   48.35N/122.67W      
 COUPEVILLE                   45 MPH    0410 PM 03/13   48.22N/122.69W      
 PORT TOWNSEND                45 MPH    0333 PM 03/13   48.11N/122.77W      
 2 W OAK HARBOR               44 MPH    0404 PM 03/13   48.29N/122.69W      
 2 W FREELAND                 40 MPH    0340 PM 03/13   48.01N/122.58W      

 ...BELLEVUE AND VICINITY...
 1 S EASTGATE                 57 MPH    0246 PM 03/13   47.55N/122.13W      
 1 WNW KIRKLAND               46 MPH    0403 PM 03/13   47.69N/122.22W      
 1 NNW BOTHELL                44 MPH    0403 PM 03/13   47.78N/122.21W      
 KENMORE                      44 MPH    0310 PM 03/13   47.76N/122.25W      
 ISSAQUAH                     40 MPH    0340 PM 03/13   47.53N/122.03W      

 ...BREMERTON AND VICINITY...
 INDIANOLA                    51 MPH    0139 PM 03/13   47.74N/122.51W      
 BREMERTON AIRPORT            40 MPH    0155 PM 03/13   47.50N/122.75W      

 ...CENTRAL COAST...
 HOQUIAM BOWERMAN AP          63 MPH    0122 PM 03/13   46.97N/123.93W      
 1 WNW ABERDEEN               52 MPH    0146 PM 03/13   46.98N/123.84W      

 ...EAST PUGET SOUND LOWLANDS...
 LAKE STEVENS                 45 MPH    0333 PM 03/13   48.03N/122.06W      
 2 W SNOQUALMIE               44 MPH    1044 AM 03/13   47.52N/121.88W      
 ENUMCLAW                     41 MPH    0252 PM 03/13   47.21N/122.00W      

 ...EASTERN STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA...
 EDIZ HOOK CG                 45 MPH    1255 PM 03/13   48.14N/123.41W      

 ...EVERETT AND VICINITY...
 PAINE FIELD AP               60 MPH    0316 PM 03/13   47.91N/122.28W      
 ARLINGTON AP                 52 MPH    0355 PM 03/13   48.16N/122.16W      
 HARBOUR POINTE               49 MPH    0300 PM 03/13   47.89N/122.32W      
 ALDERWOOD MANOR              41 MPH    0415 PM 03/13   47.82N/122.28W      

 ...HOOD CANAL AREA...
 1 WSW BRINNON                56 MPH    0312 PM 03/13   47.67N/122.93W      
 SHELTON AIRPORT              52 MPH    0305 PM 03/13   47.24N/123.14W      
 4 E PORT LUDLOW              47 MPH    0425 PM 03/13   47.92N/122.58W      

 ...LOWER CHEHALIS VALLEY AREA...
 MINOT PEAK                   43 MPH    1100 AM 03/13   46.89N/123.42W      

 ...NORTH COAST...
 QUILLAYUTE AIRPORT           47 MPH    0355 PM 03/13   47.94N/124.56W      
 LA PUSH NOS TIDE GAUGE       42 MPH    0336 PM 03/13   47.91N/124.64W      

 ...OLYMPICS...
 HUMPTULLIPS                  63 MPH    0308 PM 03/13   47.38N/123.76W      
 JEFFERSON CREEK              42 MPH    0536 PM 03/13   47.55N/123.22W      

 ...SAN JUAN COUNTY...
 LOPEZ ISLAND                 66 MPH    0351 PM 03/13   48.53N/122.87W      
 4 SSW ROCHE HARBOR           58 MPH    0549 PM 03/13   48.55N/123.16W      
 NW DECATUR IS. BEACH         51 MPH    0403 PM 03/13   48.51N/122.83W      
 FRIDAY HARBOR AIRPORT        51 MPH    0315 PM 03/13   48.52N/123.02W      
 2 SE EASTSOUND               48 MPH    0445 PM 03/13   48.67N/122.87W      
 ORCAS ISLAND AP              45 MPH    0615 PM 03/13   48.71N/122.91W      

 ...SEATTLE AND VICINITY...
 SEATTLE TACOMA  ARPT         56 MPH    0138 PM 03/13   47.44N/122.31W       
 BOEING FIELD/KING COUNTY INT 54 MPH    0130 PM 03/13   47.53N/122.30W      
 POINT ROBINSON               53 MPH    0400 PM 03/13   47.39N/122.37W      
 NORMANDY PARK                52 MPH    0149 PM 03/13   47.44N/122.34W      
 3 NW WHITE CENTER            49 MPH    0213 PM 03/13   47.56N/122.39W      
 UNIV. OF WASHINGTON          49 MPH    0403 PM 03/13   47.65N/122.31W      
 3 SW SEATTLE                 48 MPH    0507 PM 03/13   47.58N/122.40W      
 RENTON MUNICIPAL AIRPORT     48 MPH    0220 PM 03/13   47.49N/122.21W      
 1 NNW FEDERAL WAY            45 MPH    0438 PM 03/13   47.34N/122.35W      
 2 NW WHITE CENTER            44 MPH    0415 PM 03/13   47.55N/122.38W      
 3 NW WHITE CENTER            43 MPH    0320 PM 03/13   47.56N/122.39W      
 4 NW SEATTLE                 43 MPH    0506 PM 03/13   47.67N/122.41W      
 1 SE SEATTLE                 42 MPH    0242 PM 03/13   47.59N/122.32W      
 3 WNW SEATTLE                42 MPH    0455 PM 03/13   47.65N/122.41W      
 1 NE SEATTLE                 42 MPH    0159 PM 03/13   47.62N/122.32W      
 1 NE SEATTLE                 41 MPH    0317 PM 03/13   47.64N/122.33W      
 2 W KIRKLAND                 41 MPH    0330 PM 03/13   47.69N/122.26W      

 ...SOUTHWEST INTERIOR...
 OLYMPIA AIRPORT              46 MPH    0239 PM 03/13   46.97N/122.90W      
 YELM                         43 MPH    1250 PM 03/13   46.94N/122.61W      
 1 WNW NISQUALLY              41 MPH    0210 PM 03/13   47.07N/122.72W      
 5 S LACEY                    40 MPH    0202 PM 03/13   46.96N/122.80W      

 ...TACOMA AREA...
 JBLM-FT LEWIS                58 MPH    1258 PM 03/13   47.08N/122.58W      
 JBLM-MCCHORD                 55 MPH    0119 PM 03/13   47.13N/122.48W      
 3 NNE FREDERICKSON           46 MPH    0330 PM 03/13   47.13N/122.34W      
 TACOMA NARROWS AIRPORT       44 MPH    0255 PM 03/13   47.27N/122.58W      
 1 NW FIRCREST                43 MPH    0150 PM 03/13   47.25N/122.53W      
 RUSTON                       41 MPH    0225 PM 03/13   47.30N/122.52W      
 2 NW ARTONDALE               40 MPH    0327 PM 03/13   47.34N/122.67W      
 2 SW FEDERAL WAY             40 MPH    0143 PM 03/13   47.29N/122.38W      
 SOUTH HILL                   40 MPH    0302 PM 03/13   47.14N/122.27W      

 ...WASHINGTON...
 DESTRUCTION ISLAND           79 MPH    0300 PM 03/13   47.68N/124.49W      
 1 SW KBLI                    68 MPH    0510 PM 03/13   48.78N/122.56W      
 WESTPORT TIDE GAUGE          68 MPH    0200 PM 03/13   46.90N/124.11W      
 CHERRY POINT                 66 MPH    0436 PM 03/13   48.86N/122.76W      
 WEST POINT                   66 MPH    0400 PM 03/13   47.66N/122.44W      
 SMITH ISLAND                 60 MPH    0300 PM 03/13   48.32N/122.84W      
 POSSESSION SOUND             59 MPH    0413 PM 03/13   48.02N/122.27W      
 CAPE ELIZABETH BUOY          58 MPH    0250 PM 03/13   47.30N/124.70W      
 S. LOPEZ ISLAND              56 MPH    0304 PM 03/13   48.40N/122.90W      
 HOOD CANAL BRIDGE            56 MPH    0420 PM 03/13   47.86N/122.62W      
 PORT TOWNSEND NOS TIDE GAUGE 55 MPH    0336 PM 03/13   48.12N/122.75W      
 RICHMOND BEACH               55 MPH    0405 PM 03/13   47.77N/122.39W      
 BLANCHARD                    54 MPH    0350 PM 03/13   48.59N/122.43W      
 SEATTLE                      52 MPH    0306 PM 03/13   47.60N/122.34W      
 HEIN BANK BUOY               49 MPH    0550 PM 03/13   48.30N/123.20W      
 GOLDEN GARDENS SEATTLE       48 MPH    0305 PM 03/13   47.69N/122.40W      
 HENDERSON BAY                48 MPH    0330 PM 03/13   47.38N/122.63W      
 WINSLOW FERRY DOCK           44 MPH    0310 PM 03/13   47.62N/122.51W      
 POINT WELLS                  43 MPH    0410 PM 03/13   47.80N/122.40W      
 KEYSTONE FERRY DOCK          43 MPH    0415 PM 03/13   48.16N/122.67W      
 PORT OF TACOMA #1            42 MPH    0230 PM 03/13   47.28N/122.42W      
 4 ESE PORT LUDLOW            40 MPH    0327 PM 03/13   47.90N/122.60W      

 ...WEST SLOPES NORTH CASCADES AND PASSES...
 KIDNEY CREEK                 41 MPH    0128 PM 03/13   48.92N/121.94W      
 SUMAS-RAWS                   40 MPH    0509 PM 03/13   48.91N/122.22W      

 ...WEST SLOPES NORTH CENTRAL CASCADES AND PASSES...
 SNOQUALMIE PASS              68 MPH    0500 PM 03/13   47.42N/121.43W      

 ...WEST SLOPES SOUTH CENTRAL CASCADES AND PASSES...
 PARADISE                     45 MPH    0400 PM 03/13   46.78N/121.74W      

 ...WESTERN SKAGIT COUNTY...
 SEDRO WOOLLEY-RAWS           47 MPH    0642 PM 03/13   48.52N/122.22W      
 BURLINGTON/MOUNT VERNON      46 MPH    0355 PM 03/13   48.47N/122.42W      

 ...WESTERN WHATCOM COUNTY...
 SANDY PT. SHORES             68 MPH    0354 PM 03/13   48.80N/122.71W      
 BELLINGHAM INTL AP           64 MPH    0510 PM 03/13   48.79N/122.54W      
 LYNDEN                       52 MPH    0535 PM 03/13   48.96N/122.41W      
 3 N FERNDALE                 50 MPH    0532 PM 03/13   48.90N/122.58W      
 LUMMI ISLAND                 47 MPH    0435 PM 03/13   48.73N/122.70W      
 3 W FERNDALE                 47 MPH    0427 PM 03/13   48.85N/122.67W      
 4 SSW LYNDEN                 47 MPH    0505 PM 03/13   48.89N/122.49W      
 BLAINE                       46 MPH    0515 PM 03/13   49.00N/122.74W       
 4 ENE FERNDALE               44 MPH    0534 PM 03/13   48.88N/122.51W      
 3 WSW SUDDEN VALLEY          44 MPH    0415 PM 03/13   48.69N/122.40W      
 BLAINE                       42 MPH    0523 PM 03/13   49.00N/122.75W      
 BELLINGHAM                   41 MPH    0504 PM 03/13   48.74N/122.45W      
 1 WNW LYNDEN                 41 MPH    0505 PM 03/13   48.96N/122.48W

These gusts are strong, but they aren't anything we've ever seen before. Still, it's pretty impressive to have a 66 mph gust at West Point in mid-March! The Seattle NWS office dubbed this storm the "Pre-St. Patty's Day Punch," which is pretty awesome. When it comes to naming notable weather events, alliteration counts.

Retrieved from Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Here's a picture I took from Cliff Mass' blog of max gusts recorded during the windstorm. As you can see, higher winds were located over the coast and North Interior. There are quite a few low gusts (10s and 20s), and these are from stations that are not well-exposed to the wind. Over water, gusts were in the 45-60 mph range across the region, and coastal headlands (like Destruction Island) accelerated these winds. Camp Muir at 10,110 feet on Mt. Rainier was the wind winner with a gust to 95 mph.

The most amazing thing about this storm, however, was simply how it appeared on radar and satellite. This was a compact storm, and had a very distinctive bent-back occlusion (the swirl of clouds that spirals counterclockwise to the center of the low). Take a look!

09:15 am PDT, Sun 13 Mar 2016
Credit: University of Washington

As this visible satellite image shows, the storm was off the mouth of the Columbia around 9:15 am, and was heading to the NNE. You can see the tight circulation around the low and the intense cold front along the Oregon Coast. Strong winds are occurring along the coast and mountain ridgetops at this time, but winds in the lowlands are relatively low.

I've seen some cool shots from our coastal radar, but this may very well be the coolest one yet. Take a look at the low! It almost looks like a hurricane. You can really see the movement of the storm with the animated gif below. Moreover, you can see how the reflectivity in the vicinity of the radar increases as time (and wind speed) goes on, and this is due to "sea clutter," or the radar beam reflecting off the top of wave crests. More wind, bigger waves, and thus more sea clutter.

Created with NOAA Weather and Climate Toolkit

Here's the view at 12:10 pm. Compare it to the image from the NASA TERRA polar-orbiting satellite below, which was also taken around 12:10 pm.

Image taken ~12:10 pm by NASA's TERRA satellite
Credit: NASA

There were strong winds over 520, and the bridge was closed for a while. I can't remember the last time that happened, but it has been a long time!

Credit: National Weather Service

But, of course, the day finished on a beautiful note. Take a look at this incredible photo out at Alki Point from Tim Durkan. That has to be one of the most brilliant double rainbows I've ever seen.

Credit: Tim Durkan

Thanks for reading! Things look much calmer this week, especially after Wednesday. Inclement weather returns for the weekend, but it won't be anything like what we saw this past week.

Thank you!
Charlie