Monday, February 8, 2016

The Death Ridge!

Monday, February 8, 2016
4:59 p.m.

Valid 10:00 am PST, Mon 08 Feb 2016 - 6hr Fcst
Credit: University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences

We’ve seen our fair share of suffixes and nicknames for atmospheric and oceanic phenomena of all types these past two years. We had “The Blob,” a simple but very accurate designation given to a massive pool of warm water in the Northeast Pacific. We’re in the midst of the “Godzilla El Nino,” an El Nino truly monstrous in size and intensity. Just this past month, we had Snowzilla/Snowmageddon/Winter Storm Jonas, a blizzard that paralyzed the eastern third of the country and dumped feet of snow across some of the largest cities in the country.

For the first half of this week, an incredibly strong ridge of high pressure will set up shop over the Western U.S., killing any chance of exciting weather over thousands of miles for the next several days. The name for this beast?

The Death Ridge!

Before I go any further, let me give you some meteorology 101 and explain what a ridge is. A ridge is simply an area of high pressure that extends into the upper levels of the atmosphere. Ridges, especially strong ones, push the jet stream or storm track northward. Similarly, troughs are areas of low pressure in the upper atmosphere, and they cause the jet stream to sag southward. 

Credit: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

What makes this ridge special is simply how big it is. Many of the ridges that affect us in the winter, especially those between storm systems, are very weak and only result in a temporary decrease in shower activity in some areas. This ridge will prevent any weather system off the Pacific from coming even remotely close to our neck of the woods, while making snow levels skyrocket to well over 13,000 feet in the process. Camp Muir, at 10,110 feet on Mt. Rainier, has been hovering between 44 and 48 degrees since 9 am this morning, and their most recent measurement (5 pm) was their coolest. Simply incredible. 

Still don't fully grasp how strong this ridge is? Look at the satellite image below.

Image taken ~ 4pm PST from NASA's AQUA Satellite
Credit: NASA Worldview

Folks, this is early February during an El Nino year. The West Coast has no business being this calm. There are hardly any clouds in the sky, and the few clouds you see are fog due to local inversions from - you guessed it - this massive ridge of high pressure. Honestly, it's kinda spooky.

The clear skies give us a great view of the snow lying on the ground, and as the picture below shows, we are at or above normal in most locations.

Credit: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Winds aloft are very light as well. Since 1 pm today, Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier has not reported a gust over 5 mph. On Friday, they gusted to 118! I guess you could say it is "dead calm" up there.

Tomorrow will be similarly spectacular, and although clouds and a few showers may move in on Wednesday,  highs should still reach into the mid-upper 50s. The rest of the week looks unsettled at times but we do not look stormy by any means. The days are getting longer, football season is done, and spring isn't too far around the corner.



  1. As soon as the surface high in the Columbia Basin weakens a bit, the inversion should soften up and temps in places like The Dalles and the Tri-Cities could jump up to the low/mid 60s by Wednesday or Thursday. I've seen this exact pattern play out a couple times before in February (last year around the 11th-13th), and the west wind often warms us up a few degrees.

  2. Amazing things can happen when warm air aloft breaks through the inversion and gets to the surface, especially if it sinks dramatically and warms in the process. North Bend on the Oregon coast hit 82 degrees on Monday and Quillayute on the Washington coast hit 70 on Monday and 73 on Tuesday due to warm air sinking off the Coast Range/Olympics.