Monday, September 26, 2016

A Weather Data Revolution in the Cockpit

A weather data revolution is about to take place in the cockpit of commercial aircraft, a revolution that will make air travel safer and more comfortable.

As I noted in a blog last month, most pilots do not have access to the full range of critical, real-time weather information when  they are airborne.  The amazing truth is that a passenger sitting in coach with a laptop, using aircraft wifi, has much better real-time weather information than most pilots.  

With a lack of weather information some pilots have made serious and dangerous mistakes, taking their aircraft into thunderstorms and other weather threats.

A passenger with neck brace being taken off of JetBlue429

One example is the JetBlue Flight 429 incident in which an Airbus 320 flew directly into severe convection, sending nearly two dozen passengers and crew to the hospital.

And there are many more examples.  Take Delta Flight 1889, which went into a strong thunderstorm with big hail last August, smashing the windshield and destroying the nose cone.  As described here, this incident was easily avoidable.



Even today there was several aircraft flying into thunderstorms, needlessly endangering and discomforting passengers.    Don't believe me?  Here is an example from this afternoon.  The colors give radar intensity, with red being intense echoes (heavy rain, hail).  Look closely about two thirds up, just left of center and you will see a jet flying into red.  Bad move.


And nearly the same time, a crazy prop plane went into even stronger convection.

Or this one about the same time in which a jet pilot took his/her passengers on a needlessly exciting ride.


Aircraft Radars Are Not Sufficient

Airline captains don't get to view good radar imagery like shown above, but rather use their aircraft radar, which have relatively low resolution, limited range, and present all levels at once.  Here is an example:


Aircraft weather radars may be ok for tactical, short-term decision making (e.g., maneuvering around an isolated cell), but are completely inadequate for strategic decision making (deciding on route changes 10 minutes or more ahead of time).  Aircraft radars can't see behind strong echoes so pilots can get into trouble farther on.

A failure mode evident in the JetBlue and Delta cases was the filling of a gap in a convective line, problems that would have been evident if the pilots had radar and weather satellite animations.

The Technology Exists to Fix This Problem

Today our nation has a marvelous network of powerful high-resolution radars maintained by the National Weather Service.  New generations of weather satellites not only show the structure of clouds below, but probe the 3D structure of the atmosphere.  Real-time lightning detection networks define cloud to cloud and cloud to ground flashes.  And new rapid-refresh, real-time analysis and forecast systems are constantly updating the forecasts.  Plus, many planes are taking weather observations and radioing them in constantly.



But how get this rich data to pilots?   The solution is pretty much in place: most commercial jet aircraft now have wifi, including many flights over the oceans.  I should know:  I use wifi on every flight I take to follow the weather en route.   So a pilot with a laptop or a pad should be able to get virtually any type of weather information, but few have done so until very recently.

Why?

Part of the problem is with the airlines, who have been too slow in understanding the benefits of this technology.

Some of the problem has been with the FAA,  which even today PROHIBITS the use of weather software that shows the position of the aircraft.  Amazing.

Part of the problem is from concerns about wifi interfering with cockpit electronics, but that can be solved.

Weather Software in the Cockpit


A number of vendors are now developing or providing weather display systems for commercial pilots.  For example, JetBlue is now making such software available to their air crews.  I understand Alaska Airlines is working on the same thing.  Delta, working with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has developed a Fight Weather Viewer App, with particular attention to defining areas of turbulence:

Honeywell has weather software that loads on to iPads and are designed for relatively low-bandwidth aircraft environments:


And WSI/Weather.com/IBM has a solution for general aviation that uses XM satellite technology:

But technology is not the end of the problem.   Pilots will need the meteorological education to better understand weather threats and how they can be identified in radar or satellite imagery.

Bottom Line

 There is now an explosion of aviation weather apps that can be installed on laptops or pads.  If airlines and the FAA work together to encourage the use of real-time weather data in the cockpit, all of us can look forward to smoother and safer flights.
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Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Normal Summer

With summer just ending, it is time to look back on the summer of 2016 over the western U.S.  And by most measures it was a relatively normal one, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest.  I will show you anomaly (difference from normal) maps for the 90-day period from June 25 through September 22, 2016.

First, maximum temperature.  For most of Washington, maximum temperatures were modestly below normal, with the main exception being the Puget Sound region.  Inland CA was a bit warmer than normal

 Minimum temperatures were generally within two degrees of normal.  Nothing remarkable.

Precipitation? A few inches below normal in the west, except for portions of western Washington State.  But the west generally doesn't get much over summer anywhere because of the eastern Pacific high.
Now I could have given you a much, much scarier picture.  Here is the percent of average precipitation for the same period.  OMG!   Much of California received less than 25% of normal!  But they normally get very little in summer, so such low numbers are really meaningless.  You've got to be careful with statistics.

With a normal snowpack from last winter and normal temperature/precipitation over the summer, this has been one of the most benign wildfire seasons in years.   Consider this.

By Aug. 30, 2014, Department of Natural Resources firefighters had responded to 687 fires covering 191,000 acres. Last year by Aug. 30, they had responded to 996 fires covering 328,000 acres. This year on Aug. 30, they had responded to 637 fires, but only covering 15,000 acres.    We simply did not have the large fires this year.  And air quality east of the Cascade crest was radically better as a result.

The latest 6-10 day forecast from NOAA (and we really don't have much skill beyond that) shows cooler than normal and wetter than normal conditions.

_______________________________

For those interested in the inside (and depressing) story of why some "climate justice" groups are opposing a carbon tax in Washington State, this blog is must reading.   Some supposed environment groups have political agendas that result in them opposing effective, bipartisan environmental measures.  
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My talk on Northwest Climate Surprises on September 28.

During the evening of September 28, I will be giving a talk in Seattle at the Mountaineers in NE Seattle on Climate Surprises: Unexpected Impacts of Global Warming on the Pacific Northwest.
The latest climate model simulations provide a far more nuanced prediction of what will happen here, with some of the predictions being quite surprising. I will discuss them in a talk sponsored by CarbonWa and the Audubon Society. To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Today is the Fall Equinox, But is the Day and Night REALLY Equal?

Today, September 22nd is the fall or autumnal equinox.  Many references talk about day and night being equal in length during the equinox, as suggested by the name (equi--or equal, nox--night).


But if you check the sunrise/sunrise tables you will find out that this is not true. That they are not equal, with the day being longer.   So what is going on?

On the equinox, the sun is directly over the equator and earth has no tilt with respect to the sun (both hemispheres are the same distance from the sun).  As a result, the terminator, the line separating night from day is directed north-south, which is illustrated by a visible satellite image taken a few hours ago (see below).


But it turns out that day and night are not equal during the fall equinox, something evident in the sunrise/sunset table for Seattle below.  Today, the day was about 8 minutes longer than the night!.  Day and night won't be equal for several days (Sept 25).  But how can this true if the sun is directly over the equator?


The reasons are two fold.   First, sunset does not occur when the center of the sun crosses the horizon, but when the upper portion slips below the horizon.  Sunrise occurs when the upper  portion of the sun shows itself.    As a result of the finite size of the sun, day is lengthened.


The other reason is the atmosphere refracts or bends the sun's rays upwards, resulting in the sun being visible even when it is physically below the horizon!


So enjoy the extra sunshine...you will appreciate it in a few months.
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My talk on Northwest Climate Surprises on September 28. 


During the evening of September 28, I will be giving a talk in Seattle at the Mountaineers in NE Seattle on Climate Surprises: Unexpected Impacts of Global Warming on the Pacific Northwest. 

You think global warming will simply bring warmer temperatures, drought, less snow, and more storms? 


Think again. The latest climate model simulations provide a far more nuanced prediction of what will happen here, with some of the predictions being quite surprising. This talk is sponsored by CarbonWa and the Audubon Society. To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Will the Naive Left and the Self-Interested Kill the Most Significant Environmental Advance in Years?

The Sierra Club should be embarrassed.
The Washington Environmental Council should be embarrassed.
Seattle's Climate Solutions should be embarrassed
Global warming warrior Bill McKibben should be embarrassed
The Alliance For Jobs and Clean Energy should be embarrassed
Fuse Washington  and Puget Sound Sage should be embarrassed
The Association of Washington Businesses should be embarrassed
Nucor Steel, Kaiser Aluminum, Northwest Pulp and Paper, and the Avista Corporation should be embarrassed.
The Washington State Labor Council should be embarrassed.

These groups are putting their political agendas and perceived financial interests ahead of the general good.


For self-interested reasons they are ready to kill one of the most important environmental advances in years.

For self-interested reasons they want to destroy the chance to greatly improve the most regressive state tax system in nation.

Specifically, they are working against I-732, the Washington State carbon tax swap that will be on the ballot this November.   And they have nothing to offer to replace it.

I-732 is one of those wise, revolutionary ideas that come along all too rarely.  It starts with the most effective approach to reducing the use of carbon and one that uses the power of the free market:  a carbon tax.


But it doesn't use the money to grow the size of government.  Rather it gives the money back to the people and industry through reducing the sales tax by 1%, removing the B&O tax on manufacturers, and providing a tax credit to working low income people.  A carbon tax swap.   And it makes Washington State tax system less regressive.  Let me shown you.

This graph shows you the percentage of income spent on taxes for a married family with two children for various income groups.   Without I-732 (blue), Washington State has a highly regressive tax system with low-income folks (below $21K) spending nearly 17% of their income on taxes.  For those earning $21,000-$ 40,000 about 12%.   But if I-732 becomes law, we move to the yellow bars--much better and far less regressive.  I-732 would be the biggest boon to low income Washington State families in decades.


The most important and far reaching environmental advances in the U.S. have always been bipartisan.  Laws like the the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, to name only a few.  In a country where no party is dominant for long, only bipartisan efforts have the staying power required to deal with environmental pollution and the protection of our State and planet.   I-732 has extraordinary bipartisan support with groups ranging from the Audubon Society and Democrats from many of our States' districts to Republican State legislators (such as Senators Steve Litzow, Joe Fein, among others), major business leaders such as Howard Behar of Starbucks, and hundreds of other organizations and groups (a partial list is here).

It quite probable that the vote is going to be close and the opponents noted above could make a critical difference.  So why are they opposing I-732?

First, there are those I call the naive-left.  These are folks that support the carbon tax, but don't like revenue neutrality--they want government to get the money and use it for climate justice and governmental energy programs.  They claim that I-732 is financially regressive and will still steal money from the state general fund.   They also claim that poor folks will be hit harder than rich folks form global warming and thus deserve special support.

Perhaps these folks mean well, but they are clearly mistaken on every count:

1.   A revenue positive carbon tax would lose support by moderates and many Republicans.   It would kill any chance of passage.
2.  I-732 will REDUCE the regressivity of the WA State tax structure.  In a revenue-positive plan, money will be taken away from poor folks (via a carbon tax) and not returned to them.  Thus, their plan would make the tax situation more regressive.
3.   I-732 is very, very close to being revenue neutral and estimates that found otherwise are in error.  The respected Sightline Institute set the record straight on this, as does the I-732 website.
4.  Government has proven itself inferior to the market in making energy decisions.  The 500 million Solyndra disaster is a good example of this.


5.  As shown in one of my previous blogs, the idea that poor people in our state will be hit harder by global warming is an easily disproven urban myth.

The Sierra Club, supposedly an organization that has environmental concerns front and center is not supporting I-732 because:

Communities of color and low-income people are almost always the ones most impacted by pollution and climate change, and as a result they need to be at the front and center of discussions for how to address the problem and mitigate the impacts of both climate change and environmental policy. That wasn't the approach taken by I-732

In truth, the Sierra Club's position is not only based on incorrect assumptions, but its actions directly harm the folks it claims to be most concerned about. I-732 will dramatically reduce taxes on low-income people and contribute to reducing carbon pollution. Several Sierra Club members have emailed me expressing their disgust with their organization's position...they plan to support I-732.  Perhaps they should support a different organization.

Bill McKibben and his 350.0rg group were strong supporters of I-732.  But then they changed their mind?  Why?  Here is what they said.

Our reason, above all, is that we want to support our allies in people-of-color-led climate justice groups that represent those on the frontlines of climate change. 


And "environmental organizations" like Climate Solutions might change their name to Climate Inaction.  "Climate Justice" has taken over some of the region's environmental action groups and they are willing to destroy any potential for progress for ideology, an ideology that has the most tenuous relationship with truth.  Perhaps the most destructive aspect of these groups is that they make dealing with climate change  a "we" versus "they" affair, with "we" being more seriously affected and deserving of public funds.  In truth, EVERYONE will be affected by climate change and EVERYONE must work on solutions.   They don't seem to understand this.


And then there are the self-interested.  Groups like the Association of Washington Businesses and major energy users (like Nucor Steel) are opposing I-732 because it will raise the price of carbon.   I-732 does displace some of the cost (by eliminating the B& O tax on manufactures and reducing sales tax).  The idea is that an increased cost of carbon will encourage these companies to reduce their carbon footprint by increasing efficiency, taking advantage of renewable energy, or other means.

But these companies don't want the hassle or to change the way they do business.  They want cheap energy.  And they clearly are not very concerned about the impacts of carbon pollution.  Some are even denying the global warming is a concern.

So in short, there is alliance between left-leaning, climate justice folks who want big government and funds directed to specific groups, and right-leaning energy-intensive industrialists who don't want to deal with global warming.  An unholy alliance if there every was one.  They even have a joint website.


The big question is whether the rational middle will be large enough to pass I-732.  Folks who want our state to deal with increasing greenhouse gases.  Folks that understand global warming is a threat that must be dealt with.  Folks who understand the importance of making our tax structure less regressive.  Folks who look beyond their own self interest and pocket book. And folks that understand that a bipartisan carbon tax swap could be an example that could stir the rest of the nation.

Want to help?  Check out the Yes on the I-732 website.  Help makes calls or doorbell. Contribute.  Or come to my talk on Sept 28th, a fundraiser for I-732 (see below).

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My talk on Northwest Climate Surprises on September 28. 

During the evening of September 28, I will be giving a talk in Seattle at the Mountaineers in NE Seattle on Climate Surprises: Unexpected Impacts of Global Warming on the Pacific Northwest. 

You think global warming will simply bring warmer temperatures, drought, less snow, and more storms? 


Think again. The latest climate model simulations provide a far more nuanced prediction of what will happen here, with some of the predictions being quite surprising. This talk is sponsored by CarbonWa and the Audubon Society. To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here.



Monday, September 19, 2016

The Giant Seattle Ice Cube Meets a Suspicious Demise

Today, September 19th marks the demise of the giant Seattle ice cube.   Placed in Seattle's Occidental Park on Friday, September 9th by the well-known local architecture firm Olson Kundig (OK), the 80 inch, 10 ton cube of ice is gone. It took roughly ten days.

Unfortunately, it appears that some human intervention may have quickened its demise.  I will present the evidence and you be the judge.

So let's review the history of the OK ice cube through a series of pictures. And for reference, here are the temperatures of the last two weeks at Boeing Field.
September 9th:  the day it was installed. Gorgeous.


September 10th.  A little melt but still a nice cube.


September 11th:  Still looking good.


September 14th.  After a period of rapid warming and sunshine, the OK ice cube had a lot of melt, but is still standing tall.


Sept 16.  Not as wide, but still imposing.


Sept 17th:  A dramatic presence.


 Sept 18th.  A few ice blocks on the floor.  I went to see it myself that day.


 Sept 19th.   Its gone.

Folks...I am deeply suspicious that there was some serious ice hanky-panky between the 17th and the 18th.  Saturday night.

Someone got to the ice cube.  It should have lasted until Thursday or Friday. Perhaps the Seattle Times could put one of its investigative reporters on it...Danny Westneat covers this kind of thing all the time.  Who would have it in for a giant icecube?  Seattle police have some suspicions based on evidence found near the scene of the crime:



And now to see who won the contest.   In fact, two people picked this date:

Andy Stahl and Thomas and ae.  Congratulations to them, although their victories are somewhat reduced by the nighttime ice skullduggery.  And they can all get custom forecasts if they ask me.
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My talk on Northwest Climate Surprises on September 28. 

During the evening of September 28, I will be giving a talk in Seattle at the Mountaineers in NE Seattle on Climate Surprises: Unexpected Impacts of Global Warming on the Pacific Northwest. 

You think global warming will simply bring warmer temperatures, drought, less snow, and more storms? 


Think again. The latest climate model simulations provide a far more nuanced prediction of what will happen here, with some of the predictions being quite surprising. This talk is sponsored by CarbonWa and the Audubon Society. To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here.


And if you already secured tickets please not that the location has been shifted to the Mountaineers location in NE Seattle (in Magnuson Park).  Parking will be easier and free.  Right near Sand Point Way (lots of buses) and the Burke Gilman trail.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pacific Moisture and the Jet Stream are Back

They're back...

The jet stream and Pacific moisture that is...and today is going to be a soggy day around the Northwest.  No hiking for me today.

Let's start with a recent infrared satellite image (remember infrared imagery tells us the temperature and thus height of clouds, white being higher).  You see a stream of clouds extending west-cast over vast distances over the Pacific, with particularly high (and precipitating) clouds over our region?


But infrared satellite imagery don't actually show water vapor, just clouds and the surface.  You want to see water vapor?  No problem.   Our satellites look down in multiple wavelengths, including the water vapor channel, which is sensitive to the emission of radiation by water vapor. (image below)  Now you REALLY see the situation...a plume of high moisture values in the upper troposphere (indicated by lighter colors)


The current of moisture is associated with the midlatitude jet stream, a current of strong winds in the upper troposphere that is generally strongest between 25,000 and 35,000 ft.   Here is a map of forecast winds at a pressure of 300 hPa (around 30,000 ft).  The yellows show winds of roughly 60 meters per second (roughly 135 mph)--twice as fast as freeway speed.   Jet stream winds can get considerably strong than this in midwinter (200-250 mph).


Such a strong jet causes major alterations in the paths of commercial jet liners.
For example, the typical path from Tokyo to Atlanta would follow the great circle route that would pass over Alaska. (see below)


But because of the strong jet, today's flight (Delta 296, which is practically over Seattle now!) headed nearly due west to take advantage of the strong tailwinds from the jet stream.  A longer route can be faster with a powerful jet sream behind you.


With westerly flow aloft, there is significant rain shadowing to the lee (east) of the Olympics and Cascades.  The radar imagery around 9:22 AM this (Saturday) morning illustrates this.   There is a hole of little precipitation downstream of the Olympics and little rain on the eastern slopes of the Cascades.  The back edge of the main rain band is crossing the coast.


The latest WRF forecast of 24h precipitation ending 5 AM Sunday shows bountiful precipitation over the Cascades (as much as several inches) and a cut-off over central Oregon.

 Tomorrow will be far drier, with the 24h totals ending 5 AM Monday being relatively light over most of Washington, with a few residual showers over the western slopes of the Cascades.  Oregon gets more tomorrow.


A good day to catch up on chores in your home or apartment.  Or go see the melting ice cube in Pioneer Square.  8 days and counting!


My talk on Northwest Climate Surprises on September 28. 

During the evening of September 28, I will be giving a talk in Seattle at the Mountaineers in NE Seattle on Climate Surprises: Unexpected Impacts of Global Warming on the Pacific Northwest. 

You think global warming will simply bring warmer temperatures, drought, less snow, and more storms? 


Think again. The latest climate model simulations provide a far more nuanced prediction of what will happen here, with some of the predictions being quite surprising. This talk is sponsored by CarbonWa and the Audubon Society. To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here.


And if you already secured tickets please not that the location has been shifted to the Mountaineers location in NE Seattle (in Magnuson Park).  Parking will be easier and free.  Right near Sand Point Way (lots of buses) and the Burke Gilman trail.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

99 F Surface Temperature Change in Eight Hours!

Early fall can bring very large daily temperature variations in our area, particularly when it is clear or nearly so.   Nights are getting longer and with clear skies, there is good radiational cooling to space, which allows temperatures to plummet near the surface.  The result is often a strong inversion (temperature increasing with height) in the lower atmosphere, as illustrated by the vertical sounding yesterday (Wed) morning at Spokane, WA.  (see below, in C)


The sun is still fairly strong and clear skies allow maximum warming at the surface.  Furthermore, the atmosphere above the surface is still relatively warm and that warmth mixes down during the day.  As a result, there is often a large diurnal (daily) temperature range during this time of the year.

We can can a feeling for the diurnal variations by looking at Wednesday's high  and low temps.  First the highs.  East of the Cascades and south of Olympia, 80sF were not rare and temperature variations were not huge.


In contrast, the minimum temps, were not only much colder (mainly 40s), but the range was huge, getting down into the 20s in much of eastern Oregon and around Spokane.  It is cold over the high plateau of eastern Oregon, particularly in the valleys



There is an amazing example yesterday (Wednesday) of extreme behavior at a very reliable observation site to the southeast of Spokane (Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge).  Here is a plot of the temperature variations at this site for Tuesday and Wednesday.   Huge daily range, particularly yesterday, when the temperatures rose from the low 20s to the mid 70sF.  Below freezing to shorts weather in only a few hours!  A diurnal range of a bit more than 50F.

Perhaps you are not impressed with this.  No problem.  Now let's consider the change in temperature of the surface soil layer, as shown in the table below (TRNW1 is the identifier for Turnbull and TSFC stands for surface temperature).

 WOW!  The temperature of the surface ranged from 18F at 6 AM (1300 UTC) to 117F at 2 PM (2100 UTC).  99F change!    Just stunning.  From well below freezing to warm enough to cook some food.


Between 8 AM and 10 AM, the temperature rose from 34 to 81F!  You would notice that.  Don't like big temperature variations?  Don't worry...clouds and rain are in store for this weekend and they suppress diurnal temperature changes.
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Talk on Northwest Climate Surprises on September 28. 


During the evening of September 28, I will be giving a talk in Seattle at at the Mountaineers in NE Seattle on Climate Surprises: Unexpected Impacts of Global Warming on the Pacific Northwest.

You think global warming will simply bring warmer temperatures, drought, less snow, and more storms? 

Think again. The latest climate model simulations provide a far more nuanced prediction of what will happen here, with some of the results quite surprising. This talk is sponsored by CarbonWa and the Audubon Society. To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here.

And if you already secured tickets please not that the location has been shifted to the Mountaineers location in NE Seattle (in Magnuson Park).  Parking will be easier and free.  Right near Sand Point Way (lots of buses) and the Burke Gilman trail.