During the summer, it looked like this winter would be characterized by a moderate El Nino, but increasingly it appears we will be in a neutral or La Nada year. (El Nino years are associated with tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures above normal, La Nada years--near normal ocean temps). El Nino years are usually associated with less snow than normal, neutral years bring average amounts. And the rare big snowstorms are usually in neutral years.
|Many of the latest forecasts, including this one from the NOAA Climate Forecast System is going for a weakening El Nino to Neutral Conditions|
And we should not forget that Seattle is far more vulnerable to snow than its modest median snowfall (around 7-8 inches) would suggest. The hills make even a light dusting dangerous. The large number of elevated bridges and roadways freeze up quickly. Because of our mild climate, snow often melts during the day and then freezes into ice at night. And yes, our drivers are not as experienced and skilled in dealing with the white stuff as folks back east. Add to these issues, the difficulty of accurately forecasting snow around here, and you have major problem.
Let me admit that I have strong feelings about this topic. I still get a visceral shudder when I think back to December 2008 when snow and ice crippled Seattle for two weeks. My car was trapped at my house since it couldn't get up the hills. Buses were either non-existent or late. Major roads were rutted and impassable. I arrived at Sea Tac from a meeting and couldn't get home. The UW was closed for days and many Seattle residents and commuters could not get to work. Hundreds and hundreds of accidents. And of course the singular picture of the bus hanging over the freeway. The cost of the poor preparation and street maintenance had to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. A reflection of a city without the equipment, interest, or know-how to deal with only modest amounts of snow. It ended the mayoral career of Mayor Nickels.
|This could have been a major tragedy|
I am really hopefully that METRO will be ready for snow this winter. First, that they use the GPS-enabled buses to upgrade their bustracker applications so they are effective during snow periods...WHEN THEY ARE MOST NEEDED. Second, that they don't turn off their bustracker applications at the first sign of snow. And finally, that they have a plan to put MORE BUSES on major roads given priority clearing by SDOT, using the buses from cancelled routes. Some folks may have to walk a bit to their apartments or homes, but there is no reason that Metro buses can't keep the city alive even during a major snow event.
|No rubber blades here!|
These new road sensor data will be available for all of you to view on the web site my group has built with City support: SnowWatch (for whom the main developer is UW Meteorologist Jeff Baars).
Here is a view of SNOWWATCH Thursday AM. The road surface temperatures will be shown surrounded by a box. SnowWatch is a sophisticated application that brings in all relevant information regarding Seattle snow, and includes warming capabilities for SDOT personnel. Next we need a smartphone app for it!
If only my profession could learn to forecast snow better....
Just a reminder..I will be talking about regional climate change tonight at the Mountaineers in Seattle (7 PM)...more information on the upper right of this blog.