On Thursday we had one of the most substantial forecast failures in years; one in which a major windstorm was predicted for the coast, with strong winds over the interior. The most stunning thing about this forecast failure is that even model forecasts only 12 hours old were in substantial error. Normally, forecasts are quite good that close in.
The analysis at 4 PM Thursday (of sea level pressure--solid lines, and lower atmosphere temps--colors) showed a modest trough over western WA. Blustery, but nothing major. Winds were stronger in NW Washington, but not exceptional
But there were reasons to be worried about this forecast, even if some of our best models were going for a major storm.
First, it was a very small scale storm that did much its development during the 12h before landfall. Furthermore, it was moving very fast. To illustrate, here is the initialization of the 12-h forecast valid 4 PM Thursday. Just a modest trough off of northern CA.
Six hours later (10 AM Thursday), the forecast had it deepening into the 986 hPa low center with very strong pressure gradients.
This is a very difficult forecast...small systems, fast movement, rapid development. Get any of that wrong and your forecast is toast. In contrast, some weather phenomena, such as atmospheric rivers and big storms, are very large in scale and generally far more skillfully forecast.
But then there were other hints. A major new tool for forecasting is ensembles, running forecast models many times. This allows exploration of the uncertainty of the forecasts. Let's look at the National Weather Ensemble System (SREF) for surface (10-m) winds along the Washington (Hoquiam) for the ensemble forecasts initialized (starting) at 7 PM Wednesday evening. Each line is another forecast, time is on the x axis (increasing to the right), and black line is the forecast mean (of all the forecasts). Remember 00Z Dec 4 is 4 PM Thursday.
Can you see there is a large variation in the forecasts? Some were strong, but many were not. There was a great deal of uncertainty in the wind forecasts.
To put it another way, many of the ensemble members were NOT producing a strong low center that moved across our region.
Another hint of trouble was that the European Center model did not produce a strong low over us at 4 PM Thursday (see below).
So my colleagues at the National Weather Service have a dilemma: some forecasts were going for a major wind event, but there was a lot of uncertainty. What should they tell the public? They decided to tell the public about the threat. But they perhaps should have given more information about the uncertainty of the forecasts.
But there was a major new tool that was very helpful during this forecast bust: the High Resolution Rapid Refresh System (HRRR). Rather than being rerun every 6 or 12 hours, like the models shown above, HRRR is run EVERY HOUR with new observations (but only 15h ahead). HRRR caught on to the lack of development during Thursday morning and by mid-day clearly indicated that the windstorm was not going to happen.
Using HRRR and examining observations is why I sent out a blog after noon, saying that the windstorm was not going to happen. And it didn't.
And while you are thinking about the winds, don't forget to express your
feelings about the proposed termination of KPLU, in the ill-advised
sale to UW. More information here and here.
This sale is marked by secrecy and incorrect information by PLU and UW
administrators. KPLU can be saved if listeners tell the UW Board of
Regents and the PLU administration to back off.
If any of you are interested in attending a strategy meeting for
saving KPLU on Sunday, Dec. 6th at 2 PM, please let me know (you can
email me for more information--search on "cliff mass email" to my email