Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stunning Pic and Snow


Last night didn't get quite as cold as expected because of the development of low clouds during the evening...but still cold enough to turn everything to ice and keep it that way. There is a stunning picture this morning, which I have attached. This is a high-resolution visible image from the NWS geostationary weather satellite at 35,000 km above the surface. According to aircraft reports this cloud has a base around 5000 ft and a top at 7000 ft. You can see the major mountains sticking throught it...like Rainier, Adams, and Baker....and this are clear shadows from the mountains on the cloud below. Would be wonderful to fly out and see this....assuming the plane was able to take off!
Other than roadway ice...not much happening today. The computer models are consistent on the approach of a Pacific system (see satellite picture)...which should bring snow to our region after midnight. There should be an inch or two by the end of the Wed. morning commute.
At this point it looks like temperatures will warm up enough by midday that that the snow might turn very wet or even to rain at the lowest elevations...but we are right on the edge. And then later in the day another system moves in--a stronger one associated with a Pacific occluded front. Now this storm will have lots of precipitation and if it were snow...then we would have a very major event. Right now, the models are suggesting the most of the precipitation from it will be rain at low elevations (below 500 ft)...but just barely. If the models are off or some of the model physics is error (like its tendency to mix out cold air too quickly) then we could have a major event. So right now...best estimate at lower elevations is snow starting midnight to 4 AM and continuing until midmorning...leaving a few inches. Then warming a bit and a let up in the precip, with the change to wet snow or rain miday. Then later in the afternoon the precip will pick up and probably turn to rain at low elevations and wet snow above roughly 500ft. But there is uncertainty in this. And knowing about uncertainty is in itself valuable information. Meteorologists like myself sometimes are very sure about the forecast, and other times we know there is substantial uncertainty...or a wide range of possible outcomes. A major challenge is learning how to quantify this uncertainty and then communicate to users like yourself....we have a major project to do this at the UW...including meteorologists, statisticians, psychologists, and others. The grant challenge in weather for the next ten years or so.
Getting back to the forecast.... on Thursday...another system... a tight, low pressure center moves southeastward....but the latest runs are suggesting that it will go far enough south to spare the Puget Sound region. Portand will not be so lucky. Will have to watch it. And on the weekend a warmer, wetter system is on tap.

49 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

any idea how much snow we are looking at, if traveling over the pass and back on wednesday?

Anonymous said...

Now that Cliff is a famous blogger, let the gossip begin. My only tidbit is that some friends of mine bought his old Honda in a shady sounding deal that went down in an undisclosed underground location. The car is currently dealing with the Boston area snow.

Just wait until his high school ex-girlfriends "catch wind" (pun intended) of his new found fame. Maybe a book of the tell-all variety is being cooked up.

Rob Jellinghaus said...

Really good to hear about the weather uncertainty project. That's an excellent insight, that forecast uncertainty is knowledge, and powerful knowledge. Where can we follow the project's publications, etc.? Any URLs, please?

Anonymous said...

We have light snow on teh west hill of Auburn right now, but it's just hovering at freezing and some snow is melting on the trees. The hummingbird freeder didn't freeze overnight, either. . .

Anonymous said...

Gently snowing in Northgate...

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say how pleased I am to discover you're writing a blog. I've been a big fan for years and have your book on my Christmas list. For the past week your blog has been a must-read for me, along with the NWS forecast discussion. I hope the trolls don't discourage you too much -- this is a great service you're providing.

Anne said...

Cliff, I am a new fan of your blog. I love weather and reading your blog is so much more informative than the other resources I am using. For some reason the snow following from the sky right now is making me so frustrated. Don't get me wrong, I love the snow, but why did everyone say today was going to be partly cloudy to sunny and now we have snow! Seriously this is so far from sun. I understand snow is difficult to predict, but shouldn't the doppler or satellites or whatever pick
this up? Please teach me wise Cliff.

upsetter5001 said...

Trolls and their anonymous backlash. So typical and boring.
Amazing blog Cliff. My wife and I are fans.
Can't wait to get ahold of your book.

Magi Lightdancer said...

what are driving conditions likely to be on Friday and Saturday morning? We are in Juanita--lots of snow, can't get out of our road to the nearest 'artery' NE 116th St to see about getting to a store--luckily wee were able to get out Friday late afternoon to stock up, however, no 'holidayesque foods'

Scott K said...

Lightly snowing this morning in lake stevens, temps around 30.

Anonymous said...

Cliff,

Thanks for all the wonderful info throughout the year.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Cliffmas and a Happy New Year!

Mark

Anonymous said...

That first post is bizarre. Is the sanctimonious poster actually saying that no one should ever purchase anything because it might keep some businesses viable, and thus prevent more people from losing their jobs?

Cliff didn't say that economic growth is the "ultimate good", he's probably just concerned, especially since the economy is already in the crapper.

And to suggest with a blanket statement that the UW produces mainly evil corporate lawyers and biologists with ties to "Industry" is just silly.

So much jealousy in show business.

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

A few flurries are moving through according to the radar...will be brief and will not accumulate...

Anonymous said...

Cliff, I haven't heard anything about El Nino/La Nina so far this 'snow' season. I'm looking for blame here! Is El Nino a good candidate?

Thanks, emma

SeaRod said...

I could certainly be wrong (in fact, it's almost a foregone conclusion), but I think El Nino generally brings us warmer, dryer winters.

snowlover said...

I am more concerned with Thursday night. I live up on the plateau (500+ feet) and have a ton of family with crappy vehicles coming for dinner. Not sure if we should reschedule at one of their houses, etc. I don't need 13 people getting stuck coming up, or trying to get back home.

Andy said...

Great photo, Cliff!

ToddSc said...

It's lightly (very small flakes, probably spaced apart by 4 feet or so) snowing in Snohomish this morning.

Oh, and I think most of your blog followers would be comfortable if you deleted that first post. It's mostly a political comment, which isn't what this site is about. :)

Jim said...

Fellow weather hounds,
How are the streets in the area between Madison Park and Downtown via Madison St.? I need to pick up a wheelchair rider and take her from the 4 Seasons Hotel on Union St. to Madison Park tomorrow afternoon. Has Seattle made any headway in their clearing? I'm coming in from Gig Harbor tomorrow noon.

Kenna Wickman said...

I have a question: what do they use as de-icer on the streets and highways in western Washington?

This blog is great! Its great to read Cliff's thoughts every day, rather than just get the old once-a-week dose of him on Weekday on KUOW.

People were discussing wunderground.com earlier. Certainly for our area this blog is hardly useful, especially compared with UW Atmospheric Science's site. It is fascinating, however, to read during hurricane season - especially Jeff Masters' blog. Dr. Masters sounded the alarm over Katrina long before anyone else.

roubaix said...

We are scheduled to drive Seattle to Bellingham for the day on Thursday. Looks dicey. Thoughts?

Thomas said...

Madison Westbound between Broadway and I-5 is a parking lot filled with bumpy glacial-style solid ice and vehicles not suited for the road. Eastbound is slightly better, but not much. Things move a little each light cycle, but if you have chains or AWD, use the side streets - Pike up the hill is a much better choice (and less steep). The melting is adding just enough water to make a surface layer very, very slick on the hard packed snow and ice.

Anonymous said...

Just started snowing in Anacortes.

Script Maven said...

Thank you for this entry, Cliff -- I love that picture! I've always regretted not saving a similar pic of the cyclone that went over Seattle causing the Inauguration Day windstorm 16 years ago.

I made some comments today about population density, just wanted to clarify:

By population density, I was referring to tax base. As you've pointed out, we have a lot of geographical challenges that make our snow problems very difficult. But another challenge is that we have a much higher ratio of challenging geography in proportion to the population that can be taxed to deal with it. In this state that is historically extremely resistant to income tax, there aren't as many options for funding things that need to be paid for. Besides that, the Seattle Metro area in particular has had rapid growth over the past decade, and has been stressed trying to add infrastructure like sewage treatment and utilities to deal with that influx, while at the same time dealing with the various anti-tax initiatives that have restricted avenues for funding. We are getting overtaxed on property, B&O [gross income, not net] and sales taxes, and undertaxed on income. And yes, I am a progressive liberal and I still think it's unfair.

I do agree that the city does a very poor job at coping with weather emergencies. I think our political structure is awful, besides being highly unrepresentative. It should be possible to be a conservative republican in Seattle or a liberal Green Party member in Wenatchee and still have a voice in the process. I just wanted to point out that there is not a lot of money to throw at the problem, given all the other things the city has to deal with. The political problem means that even if you throw money at the problem, the people using the money are not wise enough to use it effectively.

Anonymous said...

Seattle to Bellingham? We were supposed to go to Mt. Vernon (from Seattle) tomorrow night, but saw pics from my sister's in Marysville -- they have about 1 1/2 feet on the ground, so we've cancelled.

Plus isn't Everett northward supposed to have a better chance of getting snow tomorrow?

As for Madison Street -- I'm not sure. I live on Capitol Hill and we have about a foot of snow in places (at least when measured yesterday mid-day). Broadway, Denny, etc., haven't been plowed, although Olive Way has been sanded off and on.

I would GUESS that Madison would be in better shape since they're so close to the hospitals. Best bet would be to call the 4 Seasons Hotel.

Here's hoping for a lot of warm rain over the weekend! :)

cornbread said...

^^^^^I drove Maple valley to bellingham today, the freewaays are bare and dry. Very easy travel.

Here in Bellingham you need 4wd or chains for most side streets, there is a foot of loose crap on them.

profgizmo said...

Can we expect this weather pattern to continue? And, are our future winters going to be like this one? If not, why not?

Anonymous said...

Cliff, I have very much enjoyed your blog after coming upon it this weekend...most helpful. Keep up the good work!

Scott K said...

Just FYI, NWS has issued a Winter Storm Warning as of 3pm.

Link: http://www.weather.com/weather/alerts/localalerts/USWA0219?phenomena=WS&significance=W&areaid=WAZ505&office=KSEW&etn=0009

Anonymous said...

Main streets in Bellingham are clear and bare at this point but many secondary residential streets are not drivable without 4WD and some not even then. There's more than foot of snow around and much higher mounds where it's been plowed.

I-5 is fine though so depending on where you're heading in B'ham you might be ok.

Of course as I type this there are a few little flakes starting to fall...

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for offering weather information and data to back it up! I am a librarian and am therefore fond of citations.

I actually discovered your blog and book via the Seattle Public Library blog:

http://shelftalk.spl.org/

AJ said...

Cliff, great blog, great info, thank you.

The icy road thing is getting old....fast. The sooner you can get us back to 40 degrees and rain, the better!

KipWylie said...

"Kenna Wickman said...

I have a question: what do they use as de-icer on the streets and highways in western Washington?"

I'm not sure what Seattle DOT uses but here at WSDOT we use a mixture of salt/sand when there is compact on the roads. This both breaks it up, and provides traction. When the conditions are just black ice, we use salt brine liquids, mixed with cheese whey (not a joke)

Anonymous said...

Hi Cliff,

I've been thinking about this issue of Seattle/King county and their lack of snow removal equipment and staff. In an earlier comment I remarked that as a recent transplant from Colorado, I'm familiar with what decent snow removal policies and practices look like, but am aware that there is far more reason for Colorado local governments to invest in snow removal than here in Seattle.

But I do have a question that you could comment on and maybe do our local government officials a favor. I have read in articles by other climatologists that one of the results of the warming of the average annual temperatures across the planet is an increase in the number and severity of extreme weather events.

First I wonder if you agree with this prediction, and secondly what might this mean for us here in the Puget Sound region. Is it likely that we may experience more snow and wind storms? If so is here any way to help our local governments plan effectively by giving some indication of how much of an increase we are likely to see?

Policy planners need data to model the cost-benefit analysis of something like investment in more snow-plows, staff and supplies. I imagine the economic loss due to lowered productivity and slowdown in retail activity is pretty large, and this would be key data for our local governments, especially as the state survives on sales tax!

Anyway, just some thoughts from a social scientist who works with data almost as unpredictable as the weather -- human behavior!

camco said...

I don't undertand why the cloud you describe is so interesting. Can you please explain again for those of us non-scientific types.

Anonymous said...

camco obviously you did not look at the picture close enough. You can actually see the shadow of mt rainier on the cloud tops from space. That is pretty cool!

Having lived in Minnesota, I can say with all honesty that when it snows in Seattle it is much tougher to get around here. First off the hills here are impossible to navigate!! Plus I notice the snow here is alot wetter. Make it alot harder to drive in. So I don't want to hear anyone complain about Seattle drivers.

I'm not Cliff, but their have been much worst snow events in Seattle history. I believe it was in 1880 that seattle had nearly 70 inches in 8 days. You think this is bad now!!!

Anonymous said...

Cliff, if I may make a correction to your earlier comment about lost productivity at the UW:

If the UW suspends operations, employees are expected to take the day off as a personal holiday or as vacation time. I believe that some UW employees are telecommuting as well.

So, there is no lost productivity at UW when it suspends operations, as those employees would have taken vacation time regardless.

I believe that the UW is doing the right thing in closing because of the extremely hazardous driving conditions. Personal safety for their employees must come first.

Thanks for your blog.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that only non-union UW employees have to take vacation days or leave without pay on snow days. That means a good share of the classified staff don't have to take their leave time.

In addition, one option the UW employees have is to make up the time. When non-exempt employees make up the time, they do so at time and a half.

So yes, UW does lose productive hours due to snow closures.

Julia said...

Union Mills, todays high 33.3F, currently 30F. Front porch covered with zero-friction wet ice no matter how often it's cleaned..

Ventured out by bus this afternoon and observed one big problem is that private businesses are not clearing sidewalks, parking lots, and especially parking lot entries. This may be mostly a suburban problem, but the only contribution governmental units are making to that part of the mess is not enforcing existing laws.

I was living in Seattle during the winter of 78-79, when there was another heavy snow fall; there was a substantial enforcement of sidewalk shovelling laws, and that made getting around a whole lot easier, for both pedestrians and drivers.

About road chemicals: I wonder what deicer WS-DOT uses on the Vancouver stretches of I-5 and 205? Whatever it is, we need more of it. We were in a Columbia Gorge ice storm some time before Christmas, 1996, and even then the difference between that stretch of highway and the parts before and after was striking.

srexecmark said...

Cliff,

I really enjoy reading your blog. For us folks up here in the upper Cascades where the weather can make a huge difference in what we do each day, it would be cool if you could throw in some mentions about what is expected for those of us on the up slope. I am reading your book and enjoying it very much.

Mark

Doug Carter said...

I hope none of you have to go anywhere soon. Apparently Seattle puts the environment ahead of the people:

http://www.kirotv.com/news/18346903/detail.html?rss=sea&psp=news

azure said...

My daughter works as a student asst in one of the libraries. She was scheduled to work these last two days and probably lost all those hours. I wonder if she can make up the hours at time and a half....

Cliff, that's enough snow

Eric said...
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Eric said...

That story is in no way biased. What an effective piece of journalism. (sarcasm)

Personally I don't mind too much, but I can understand people's frustration. However, there are a couple of differences between us and other cities that receive snow. The first is that we live in a more delicate ecosystem than many midwestern cities that are accustomed to snow do. Also, this snow event is extreme in terms of duration and is not typical, I'd say the rain we're accustomed to works as well as salt any day.

Jamie on BI said...

Am hoping we get an evening update from Prof. Mass on projected distribution of snow v. rain.

We had something that looked like fog this afternoon on Bainbridge, out in open rolling terrain with trees surrounding. Weird looking when there's 10" of snow on the ground!

Anna said...

I want to comment a little on the UW issue.

I think the UW has done the responsible thing in being closed for two days. The UW Seattle campus should have been closed on Friday as well, as Metro was having a tough time transporting people, and many UW students, faculty and staff commute by bus.

I've TAed for classes at the UW, and I'm glad that classes haven't been in session during the snow days. When we have had snow days in the past, I've had students who have been unable to get to school for a week. Many students live in the suburbs. Catching up a week's worth of classes is difficult, both for TAs and for students.

I agree that UW closures lead to lost productivity, but it would be nice to also acknowledge the difficulty UW students and TAs face when school remains open but getting there via any means of transportation is all but impossible. An easy solution would be to use the class list to email lecture notes to students -- but only for snow days. This would keep the UW open, and also keep many students off the roads as well.

-- Anna

T said...

Hi Cliff.

Some scientists are saying the Pacific Decadal Oscillation has shifted from its warm mode to cool mode, suggesting global cooling for the next three decades.

In the past, I've heard you say the PDO is complex and understudied. What is your current opinion on the subject? Thank you, sir!

Anonymous said...

Port Townsend to Seattle
I rode with a Jefferson Transit bus to Bainbridge Island at 6:04AM. While the trip was quick, they used the snow route, by-passing much of Port Ludlow. I recommend calling them for the latest information.

Brent Butler, Position No. 7, PT City Council