Monday, June 18, 2018

Warm West, Cool East in the Pacific Northwest

Today was one of those unusual late spring/summer days when it was warmer over the interior of western Washington than over portions of eastern Washington.  The highs today (shown below) were in the upper 80s in the central and southern Sound and around Vancouver BC, with 90s over the western slopes of the north Cascades, while Spokane and vicinity were in the mid-70s.  Go eastward into Idaho and western Montana and 50s-60s dominated.  Downright chilly.

The reason for this contrast is apparent in the upper level (500 hPa, about 18,000 ft) weather map for 11 AM today, shown below.  A ridge of high pressure is offshore, while an usually strong low center is position over southern Idaho.  The high pressure provides warm, sinking air in the middle troposphere, and the combination of ridge and trough resulted in northeasterly flow aloft above the Cascades--which contributes to warming over the western slopes.

The low center was associated with cool temperatures and extensive clouds from eastern WA to the east, with substantial precipitation.   The MODIS visible satellite image around noon shows the clouds associated with the upper low--you can see the circular distortion of the clouds.
Along the coast, marine stratus hugged the shore.

A radar image during mid-afternoon shows the precipitation extending into far eastern Washington and northern Oregon.

The ridge will move eastward during the next few days and western Washington will have two more warm days, marine air pushing in on Thursday.  Then for the next week we will enjoy typical late June weather, with some clouds and highs in the lower 70s.    Perfection.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Are Americans Losing Interest in Global Warming?

There are many stories about global warming in the media, and some politicians are talking about the issue in increasingly strident tones. 

But what do the American people really think about the subject?  Are they increasingly worried about the threat of global warming?   Have the apocalyptic warnings encouraged folks to take global warming seriously, or do folks tune out the scary headlines as noise?  What is  the most effective communication strategy to promote society's attention to both mitigation (reducing CO2 emissions) and adaptation (preparing our civilization for the changes producing by  a warming planet)?

This blog will take a look at those questions.

Let's start by using the highly useful googletrends tool, which allows one to view the frequency with which folks have searched on any phrase or word from 2004 to today.   Below I will show some results for U.S. google inquiries.

A plot of the frequency of folks searching for the phrase "global warming" is shown below by the blue line  (100 represents the maximum frequency over the period).  There was increasing interest in the term early in the period, with a peak in 2007.  But interest greatly declined after the 2008 election of President Obama and remained at a steady, but low-level, since approximately 2011.

Frequency of search for "global warming"--blue line-- and "climate change"--red line

The term "climate change" has become more heavily applied in recent years, and often is used as a replacement for "global warming."    Googletrends statistics shows much less interest in this term than global warming early in the period, with a weak upward trend during the past decade.   In fact, there is a small preference of climate change over global warming during the last few years.

What about the use of the term "carbon footprint", which often is used to promote more individual responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions (see below)?   Almost no mention early in the period, a huge surge during 2006-2008,  a rapid decline after President Obama took office, and a steady level over the past decade.

carbon footprint googletrends

Next consider the term "extreme weather", which is often described by the media as being connected with global warming.    Pretty steady until 2010, followed by slow growth over time.  There tends to be a peak in winter, and a narrow huge peak occurred during the winter of 2013-2014, when there were severe cold waves and snow in the U.S. (which are NOT expected outcomes of global warming by the way).

The bottom line of the googletrends statistics is that after a period of increasing interest in global warming in the run up to the 2008 election, there was a profound decline in global warming related searches, declining to a steady state of low interest during the past 8-9 years.

How do the google trends compare to national polls?

A recent Gallup poll of the American people asking about the issues they cared about most revealed that environmental concerns (including global warming) were 13th on the list, noted by only 3% of those polled (see below).   Pretty small.

There is a climate communications group at Yale University that provides detailed geographical maps of the interest of the US population regarding global warming.

When asked whether they think global warming is happening (irrespective of magnitude), most Americans say yes. (see graphic).  There are hot spots of global warming "belief", such as King County, Washington, the San Francisco environs and in sections of the southwest US (like southern Texas and Colorado/ New Mexico).  Only about half the folks in the central Plains states think global warming is happening.

But if ones asks whether global warming is mostly caused by humans, the answer changes substantially (see below). 

 In most of the country, less than fifty percent of the folks agree with a predominant human origin to global warming.  Even in the most liberal/progressive areas, the percentiles only climb into the 60-65% range.

But now get ready to be shocked.  When folks are asked whether global warming will harm them personally in the future, only a small percentage (typically around 30%) answer affirmatively, even in the most liberal/progressive areas of the country.  Even western Washington.  

People do not believe that they personally have been or will be harmed by global warming.  If they had asked whether they would be harmed by global warming caused by humans, the percentages surely would have been less.

Perhaps some people feel that global warming will be a positive in their lives...but that question was not asked.

The above numbers should have a profound impact on the climate debate and what climate actions will be taken.  Since most folks do not believe global warming will be a negative for them, it is unlikely they will make any real sacrifices to deal with the issue.

Thus,  carbon taxes/fees that would result in substantial costs to individuals and  that are used to address global warming have very little chance of passing.  My prediction is the proposed carbon fee initiative (1631) in Washington State is virtually certain to fail.  A revenue neutral approach (folks get all their money back) would have a better chance, or an initiative that hardwired real benefits (like rapid completion of mass transit).   Folks won't sacrifice to deal with global warming--they have to perceive some personal benefit for any actions.

The above numbers also show how ineffective the gloom/doom climate communicators have been, and will continue to be.  Folks sense the exaggeration and hype, and turn off/don't believe the  highly political/apocalyptic messages.  That is why I spend a lot of time dealing with the hypsters (like some comm Seattle Stranger, and "activist" scientists like Michael Mann) and work hard to produce a fact-based climate message.  It is the only way one can earn trust.  Folks won't sacrifice if they don't trust your information.

Americans sense the truth about climate change is more nuanced than they are being told by the media, activist groups, and politicians.   And they are right. 

The scientific community must better police its own communication, putting more emphasis on transmitting our best understanding of climate change and refraining from advocacy in scientific publications and in our transmission of information to the media.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Mystery "Missile Launch" Explained

In my last blog, I shared a startling picture from the Skunk Bay Weather website (run by Greg Johnson), showing what looked like a missile ascent over Whidbey Island (see below) at 3:56 AM on June 10.

I asked what folks thought of this, whether anyone heard or saw anything, or if someone had insights into this event.  There were 115 comments on this blog, with all kinds of theories.  Some were sure it was a missile, some suggested a contrail lit by the ascending sun, others thought it was a commercial jet, and others suggested alien activity.

Slowly, but surely, the possible explanations peeled away.  The routes of the few commercial flights were not positioned or timed to match the image.  Sunset was over an hour later and would not illuminate contrails at that time.  A missile launch would make a huge noise, which was not reported by anyone in the area.  Same thing with the bright light of the exhaust.  I will dismiss the alien origins as a matter of principle.

One comment by Tyler Rogoway was particularly insightful.  He noted that there was a Airlift NW helicopter that went right over the Skunk Bay location at exactly the right time (see below)


And the final piece of evidence fell into place today as the helicopter's pilot revealed that the search light was ON, facing straight down, and retracted under the nose.

And all of a sudden it all makes sense.   And it is a good example of confusing perspective and how the human eye/brain can jump to the wrong conclusions. 

This was not a missile launch far to the north over Whidbey Island.   All the action was close to the camera, which took an image that extended over 20 seconds.

A helicopter was flying at low levels towards the north, with the search light providing the illuminated line.  If you look closely you will see that the light is passing below the clouds, before going into them at the bottom.  So the helicopter was going from the top to the bottom of the image over time.

What about the apparent missile at the top of the light trail (see below)?  Elementary, Dear Watson!  The search light is on the front of the helicopter.  When the 20-second exposure began, the back of the helicopter body was lightly illuminated, producing the "missile-like" shape.  This was not seen later because the body followed the trajectory of the light.

So all is explained.  A nighttime helicopter with a search light.   Low and close to the camera.  No secret rocket launches, no Korean intrigue, no missile sub mishaps, and certainly no aliens.

But there is something that continues to be unnerving. 

A Coast Guard cutter has been stalking offshore of the Skunk Bay weather location (see below).  If this was just an innocent helicopter passage at night, why all the snooping on weather-loving Greg Johnson?  I will let the conspiracy theory crowd run with this.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Was there an unannounced missile launch on Whidbey Island early on Sunday morning?

Greg Johnson of Skunk Bay Weather on the northern Kitsap Peninsula has one of the most impressive weather cam facilities in the nation, including high quality digital cameras photographing the clouds at night.  He is an extremely reliable weather observer.

But early Sunday morning he picked up something that is both startling and unexpected:  what looks like a missile launch from Whidbey Island.

Here is the picture (with a 20-second exposure) at 3:56 AM Sunday morning from one of his cameras (looking north towards Whidbey Island).  Can you see the bright vertical streak on the left side of the figure?   Note the illumination both inside and outside the cloud.  It really looks like the ascent of a rocket.

Greg provided me with a close up of the top portion of the image (see below).   Really looks like an ascending missile.

For your orientation, the map below shows the location of the Skunk Bay camera (red circle) and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station (blue circle)

I have never heard of rocket launches from Whidbey Island Air station in Oak Harbor.   And checking online, I can not find any discussion of this feature.

This feature does not look like a meteor, nor are there any meteor reports for the area that I could find online.  The lightning networks did not show a strike in that area.

Scott Sistek at KOMO TV says that they contacted the Navy about it yesterday.   The Whidbey NAS spokesperson says they don’t have missile launch facilities there; Navy west coast spokesman said no ships in area.

Was there a missile launch on Sunday AM?   Is there some other explanation of this feature?

I would be interested if someone had some insights into this sighting.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Snow in the Mountains this Weekend

Paradise Ranger Station at 7 AM Sunday

After a front went by on Friday, cold, unstable air started to move into Washington State .   By Sunday the snow level will be down to approximately 4000 at the elevation from roughly Steven Pass and above some snowflakes will be in the air, with higher elevations getting several inches.

The IR satellite image this morning shows the front over eastern WA and convective instability clouds offshore.

Not impressive by winter standards but this is June.   Friday's front brought plenty of precipitation  along the coast and north Cascades (over an inch), with a third to half inch  in the rest of the Cascades.

The forecast for temperatures, wind, and humidity at Sea-Tac (see plot below, time is in UTC on axis, y axis is height in pressure)) shows the freezing level (solid red line), dropping to roughly 870 hPa pressure (about 5000 ft).  The snow level can be 1000 ft below the freezing level, so the snow level could head down to around 4000 ft.
The latest high-resolution WRF snowfall (not necessarily accumulation) show extensive snow above 4000 ft...and most of that will occur on Sunday.  On the higher peaks (above 6500 ft), there could be as much as a foot of the white stuff.

So if you are going into the mountains, be prepared for cool, showery and occasionally snowy weather.  Doesn't look to pleasant at Paradise on Mount Rainier:

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Cool, Wet Weather with SNOW in the Mountains for the Northwest

The weather over the next few days is going to be shocking for many in the Northwest.

After an extended period with very warm and dry weather, much cooler and quite wet conditions will hit starting later tomorrow.

But the real stunner will occur in our mountains, with very wet conditions and snow falling above 4000 ft.  So if you are planning on high-elevation recreation this weekend, you should pay attention.

The cumulative rain (purple color) at Sea-Tac airport for the last 12 weeks tells the story.  After a very wet early to mid-April, the spigot turned off over western Washington.  The combination of a wet April and a dry May resulted in the 12-week cumulative rainfall ending up near normal (the cyan line).
And while the last month was dry over western Oregon and Washington, conditions were wetter than normal east of the Cascade crest (see departure of precipitation from normal for the last month below).  Why?  Lots of thunderstorms.

During the next few ways, a deep trough of low pressure will develop over the eastern Pacific, pushing an active front through the region, with cold unstable air behind.  The latest (1 PM) visible satellite image shows a front offshore, followed by lots of convective instability clouds.

By Sunday AM, very cold air will move in aloft.  Here is the forecast for 5 AM Sunday for temperatures at 5000 ft, with blue colors indicating very cool air for this time of the year.

 High temperatures on Saturday and Sunday will only get to 60F, nearly 10F below normal.

Ok, now lets look at the precipitation forecasts.

The total for the 24 hr ending 5 PM Friday, shows substantial rain on the coast, with precipitation just reaching the Cascades.

 The next 24h, ending 5 PM Sunday, predicts lots of precipitation over the western side of the Cascades and substantial amounts in the north Sound as a result of a Puget Sound convergence zone.   Even eastern WA gets rain!

But the fun doesn't end there, on Sunday there will be an influx of cool unstable air produceing lots of showers over the western side of the Cascades and across SW Washington.

With cool air over us on Friday, the snow level will drop quite low---possibly down to 4000 ft (Stevens Pass!).    To illustrate, here is the 24h snowfall ending 5 PM Sunday.   Some snow over the north Cascades and the major volcanic peaks.

 Hiking will not be pleasant over and to the west of the Cascade crest on Saturday and Sunday--so be prepared if you go.    You might even have a chance to throw a snowball!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Fixing the Warm Temperature Bias At Yakima

The accuracy of temperature sensors used by the National Weather Service, FAA, and others is very important.   Agricultural interests depend on reliable temperatures to make critical decisions about planting and other issues.  And the evaluation of global warming can be undermined by biased temperature sensors.

This blog has described a number of examples of problematic surface temperature observations at a number of sites, with a recent blog noting issues at Yakima Airport in central Washington, where temperatures have consistently been too warm compared to other observing locations in the region.  These problems have been obvious for several years. 

The problem had to be the temperature sensor, since there was little urbanization in the area (see satellite map below).

The good news is that the National Weather Service has finally replaced the Yakima temperature sensor on May 8 and the problems seem to have been ameliorated.  Let me show you the impact of the new sensor and show you more about this long-standing problem.

Here is the temperature anomaly (the difference from average) for daily average temperature over Washington State for the last three years.  Repeat: three years.   Temperatures have generally been above normal for the past three years over Washington, with one location being crazy warm (red color, 3-5F above normal).   Which location?  Yakima Airport.

Last two years?  Yakima was too warm.

Last year?   Yakima is again standing out as an anomalously warm location.

Last three months?  Yakima is still very warm.

The last month, which only includes a short period with the bad sensor?  The Yakima problem is almost non-existent.

 The last week?  The warm anomaly is gone!   

The bottom line:  it is clear Yakima had a bad temperature sensor for years and that replacing the unit corrected the issue. 

But why did it take so long to identify this problem and swap out the sensor?

You might have noticed another problem station...a cool one..over the northeast side of Washington State.  Perhaps a topic of a future blog.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The First Imagery from the New Geostationary Satellite

The new GOES-17 weather satellite has sent back its first imagery.   But  the excitement of these stunning images has been tempered by the revelation of a major problem that may not be repairable.

The GOES-17 is from the new generation of geostationary weather satellites, with advanced sensors and roughly twice the horizontal resolution. They provide color visible imagery, more frequent scans, and even the ability to observe lightning from space.   The first of the generation (GOES-16) is in place over the eastern U.S. and GOES-17 was meant to replace the western NOAA/NWS geostationary satellite (GOES-15) that was launched on 2010. 

The most important new system on the satellite is the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) that provides high resolution visible and infrared radiation information.

Here is one of first images from GOES-17 ABI.  Full color, high resolution.   The satellite is over the equator and sees the whole hemisphere.  And it will be moved westward later to its final position at 137W longitude.

Here is an animation fro GOES-16 of low-level clouds along the California coast...just marvelous.

And here is image showing example of lightning observed by GOES-17.

How about a video of some smoke from wildfires over Canada observed by the new satellite?

GOES-17 was scheduled to go operational later this year, replacing GOES-15.

But there is a problem.... a serious one.   

The infrared sensors on GOES-17  must be cooled to around 60 Degrees Kelvin (minus 351 degrees Fahrenheit) to enable them to be fully sensitive to infrared light coming up from below.   The problem is that for roughly 12 hours each day, the cooler inside the Advanced Baseline Imager is unable to chill the detectors to such cold temperatures.  Bad AC.

And there is no way to send a technician up to the orbit of the satellite (about 35,000 km above the surface).   Perhaps there is some remote fix possible, but if not, we will have a substantially degraded weather satellite in orbit.

Visible imagery will be fine, lightning information will be available, but critical infrared imagery (and vertical soundings) will be degraded for half the day.  In the meantime, the old weather satellite (GOES-15) is working fine for the time being.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Warmest May on Record for Seattle, Tied for Driest May

Weatherwise, we just went through what was probably the finest May at Seattle for the entire period of record (from 1894 to today).

The monthly average was 61F, beating out the 60.5 in 1940 (see below).     In precipitation, the monthly total was .12 inches tying the amount observed in 1992.

It was a real nail-biter yesterday around dinner time as a line of showers went through...fortunately, there was only a trace of rain...which doesn't count.

But there is more: the average temperature this May was higher than the normal average for June (59.5F), this has happened only once before.  And every day this May reached 60F, something that only happened once in the climatological record--in 1947.

Why such a nice month?  Because there was a persistent ridge of high pressure over and to the north of Washington.

To illustrate this, here is the difference from normal of the heights at the 500 hPa pressure level (around 18,000 ft).  The yellow blob north and east of western Washington shows a center of above-normal heights... known as a ridge of high pressure.  Such a ridge of high pressure is associated with warm, sinking air.

The weekend should be pretty normal-- middle to high 60s, considerable clouds, and a few sprinkles, through mid-day Sunday, followed by an increasing shower chance later in the day.