Monday, June 25, 2018

Unusually Strong Cold Front (with Lightning) Hits the Northwest

Summer cold fronts are generally unimpressive around here, often bringing cooler marine air accompanied by a transition to increased onshore flow.   But last night we had a stronger than normal summer cold front that brought lightning and burst of heavy rain.

The radar image around 6 PM Sunday was impressive, with the yellow colors indicating heavy precipitation.

By midnight, the heavy precipitation reached Puget Sound and as many folks can attest, there was some serious lightning with the frontal band.

In fact, the regional lightning detection network observed hundreds of lightning strikes during this frontal passage (the figure below shows the strikes for the 24-h period ending 1 AM Monday).

If you want to get a real feel for the lightning, here is a video looking north from the northern Kitsap Peninsula from Greg Johnsons Skunk Bay Weather facility.  Pretty exciting at Skunk Bay.  No missile shots or UFOs!

The infrared satellite image at 8 PM Sunday was impressive for June, with a strong frontal band making landfall on the WA coast.

The precipitation totals from this band were modest...precipitation was heavy but it moved through quickly.  Particularly, heavy precipitation fell over the north Cascades (half inch), but lots of locations observed a tenth or two of rain.

On top of the atmospheric science building at the UW, the frontal passage was very obvious around
07-08 Z (GMT)--around midnight to 1 AM Monday.  About .15 inch of rain (bottom panel), an increase of wind (top panel), and an interesting, sudden jump down of pressure (fourth panel).

So why did we have so much action last night?   The front was fairly strong but a key was elevated instability (known as elevated CAPE, Convective Available Potential Energy, in the weather business).  The upward motion with the front released the instability, resulting in numerous thunderstorms.

Our high-resolution forecast models had a good idea about what would happen, as illustrated by the one-hour precipitation ending at 9 PM Sunday (04 UTC) and 1 AM Monday (below)

This week should be cool with plenty of low clouds in the morning and early afternoons.  Typical weather for this time of the year.  But don't worry....the latest model runs suggest a big improvement by early July.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

How Climate Change Exaggeration Can Hurt People and the Environment

As readers of this blog know, I believe that communicating hype, exaggeration, and false information about human-caused climate change is a bad idea, if not highly counterproductive. 

On one hand, there are those who don't believe in the potential for human-caused climate change, mistakenly believing that an increase of a few hundred parts per million of CO2 could not be important. They are wrong.  Increasing CO2 will substantially change the climate of our planet during this century.

And then there are those who propose that virtually every severe weather event is the result of anthropogenic climate.   Also problematic.

In recent months we have seen a great example of how hyping global warming impacts can have a very negative impact, with potentially severe consequences for those suffering from a real environmental disaster. 

 The wine country wildfires north of San Francisco during October 2017.

The effects of the fires were catastrophic:  44 people lost their lives, 9000 buildings destroyed, 21,000 damaged,  hundreds of thousands of acres burned over, and Beijing-like air pollution affecting the health of millions of people in the Bay area.

The fires began after a normal dry summer that followed a wet winter, one that produced a lush crop of flammable grasses.  But the key to the fire initiation and spread were powerful "Diablo" easterly winds, gusting to 50-90 mph.  Winds that not only started many fires, but then caused then to explode and rapidly move into populated regions. 

As noted in my previous blogs,  there is no reason to suspect that anthropogenic  (human caused) global warming contributed to this event.   The previous wet winter was important, strong winds were essential (and they might even decrease under global warming), and in a normal year the fuels are dry enough to burn, with or without warming.   Importantly, there have been huge increases in population in regions that have burned for millennia, and fire suppression and the invasion of flammable invasive species (e.g., Eucalyptus trees) have made the region a dangerous tinderbox.

Recently, official investigations by California's official investigative agency (CalFire) have found that many of fires were caused by trees and branches falling on power lines managed by the local utility (PG&E).  PG&E is responsible for clearing the area around the lines to prevent such fires--it appears that they did not do a very good job at it and according to CA law should be responsible for the fire damage.  In fact, CalFire has communicating their concerns about PG&E to local law enforcement personnel.

But what are some major politicians saying?   They blame the fires on human-caused climate change and the "new normal", thus potentially giving PG&E a way to escape liability.

For example, when CA Governor Brown was asked about the wine country fires he stated "“That’s the way it is with a warming climate, dry weather and reducing moisture.” He also noted that climate change has produced a new normal of wildfires in the region.

And climate "advocacy" groups are with the governor.   For example, a local Pacific Northwest advocacy group (Grist) has produced a number of articles (like this one) pointing to climate change as the origin of the wine-country fires.

And then there is the media, with several jumping on the climate change as cause bandwagon ( such as Scientific American below)

PG&E is being sued for billions of dollars by those who have lost their homes, businesses, or loved ones. 

And what do you think they are doing?   They are attempting to use the climate excuse provide by the Governor, some climate advocates, and the sloppy media to get out of their responsibilities---blaming the fires on climate change and not their lack of maintenance of the power lines.

Blaming climate change is also an excuse for politicians not to do their jobs in protecting the environment and the population.   An excuse not to make hard decisions.   Like restricting people from living in fire-prone hills,  requiring homes to be fire resistant, or that power lines be buried.

Environmental stewardship goes well beyond dealing with  increasing CO2, but unfortunately many politicians and activist groups have become fixated on one issue, increasing greenhouse gases, and neglect important environmental threats and challenges.

Want a local, Puget Sound example?  That is easy... the quality of Puget Sound and our coastal waters.

Local environmental activists, regional politicians (like our Governor), and some local media (like the Seattle Times) have been fixated on the impacts of increasing CO2 on oyster production.    They have claimed that  increasing CO2 has caused the failure of oyster larvae to flourish in factory nurseries.

A detailed analysis reveals that none of this is true and that the factory nurseries made mistake in their intake of upwelled water at the wrong time of the day.  An error that has been remedied (thanks to the advice of the University of Washington!), with oyster production flourishing today.

But this fixation on the wrong problem (CO2 increases) has given the shellfish industry a pass on some very bad practices, such as spraying herbicides and pesticides over our State's waters, polluting our coastal zone with lot of plastic, and churning up our tide beds.    Politicians, wishing to show their environmental credibility, have been loud about CO2, but have neglected the issues of sewage run-off and the quality of our sewage treatment facilities. 

Remember the overflow of the massive overflow of the West Point treatment plant after a minor rainstorm,with huge amounts of sewage hitting Puget Sound?  It was due to some amazingly poor maintenance, lack of redundancy, and poor training.  Not as sexy as increasing greenhouse gases, but very important.

Another Washington State example?  

 So many politicians in our state blame climate change for the wildfires of late, rather than the real culprit:  the mismanagement of our state forests...forests that are overgrown and radically different than their natural state.   Or the fact they have allowed folks to live in regions that have traditionally burned.

Simplistic environmental activism can be highly destructive to the environment and we see this played out time and time again.

One final example:  the carbon tax saga.  Washington State had the opportunity to pass I-732, a revenue-neutral carbon tax that would encourage reduced emission of CO2 by our state, but not taking any money out of the pockets of state residents.  It even would have made our state tax system less regressive and would have been the first carbon tax in the nation and a bi-partisan beacon of what was possible if we worked together.

But many "environmental activists" worked against it, because of a false and divisive political narrative that climate change efforts must address "climate justice" by funding various interest groups (e.g., labor, tribes, minority groups),  without any evidence to support their contention that climate change preferentially hurts such groups IN WASHINGTON STATE.

The result:  the failure of I-732 and the pushing of a poorly designed carbon fee this year (I-1631) that will surely fail.

In summary, climate hype and misinformation hurts the environment and our citizens, no matter which side is doing it.  Facts matter and environmental issues go far beyond the concentration of one gas in the atmosphere.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Marine Air is Surging In

After a period of substantially above normal temperatures, the Northwest's air conditioning is now set to high, as cool, marine air pushes into western Washington tonight.

Meteorologists carefully study the pressure difference between the coast (e.g. at Hoquiam) and Seattle to appraise the situation.  When that difference gets to about 3 hPa, a good push is pretty much guaranteed.  Here are the latest numbers:

Hoquiam minus Seattle is now 3.6 hPa.... a guaranteed marine push.

The latest (10 PM) surface observations show that cool air has pushed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and has already moved inland south of the Olympics.   Only central Puget Sound is in the 70s....and that will change quickly during the next few hours.

The visible satellite image at 7 PM clearly showed low clouds moving inland from the coast, while thunderstorms were evident over the Cascades (see below).

The cause of this marine push?   The movement of the high pressure ridge inland and the approach of an upper level trough (see upper level-- 500 hPa- map at 5 PM today).

Low clouds should be over most of western Washington on Thursday morning, with high temperatures only reaching the mid-70s.   Perfection.    And Friday will be even cooler, with highs only getting to the upper 60s, followed by a modest warming over the weekend.

The cooler air will be little dog has not liked the warm weather, preferring to sleep on the floor rather than in her normal chair.

Thursday morning addition

An interesting aspect of this marine push is how shallow it is.  Here is the time height cross section of temperatures (red lines) and winds above Sea Tac Airport (time is on x-axis and height (in pressure) on the y).  The cooling started around 06 UTC (11 AM PDT) and was pretty much limited to below 850 hPa (about 5000 ft).   So big cooling near sea level, but you would not notice it at higher elevations.

 The visible satellite imagery this morning shows nearly all of western WA covered in low clouds:

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: