Saturday, January 19, 2019

Will you be able to see the Super Blood Wolf Total Lunar Eclipse on Sunday Evening?

There will be a total lunar eclipse on Sunday night that potentially could be quite a sight. 

The shadow of the earth will start covering the full moon around 6:36 PM (actually the penumbra, where the light from the sun begins to be reduced).   The total lunar eclipse will begin at 8:41 PM and end at 9:43 PM.   The eclipse will be over at 11:48 PM.


Total lunar eclipses are not as rare as solar eclipses (typically one can see total lunar eclipses every other year on average), but they can be impressive.

For me the best part is the reddish cast of the eclipsed moon, the result of light be scattered by the earth's atmosphere.  As you all know, the sun typically has a reddish cast at sunset, the result of short-wavelength light (like blue and green) being scattered effectively by the atmosphere, while long wavelengths (like red) are scattered less and thus can get through the atmosphere better.  Thus, red light can propagate more effectively towards the moon, giving it a reddish hue.


Because of the reddish color,  some people call it a blood moon.  The first full moon of the season is called a wolf moon, for reason's you will have to talk to a wolf about.   And since the moon will be very close during this eclipse, and thus large, it is also called a super moon.    Wow...a super, blood wolf total lunar eclipse. 

Certainly sounds impressive.

But will you be able to see it?  

That is not so clear....but I have some advice for those of you desperate to view it.

The latest UW WRF model forecasts show a weather system going south of us tomorrow night, with rain over Oregon (see 3-h rainfall ending 7 PM Sunday below).  If you are in western Oregon, your chances to see the eclipse are very poor.


But to get more insight, let me show you the cloud forecasts by our computer forecat model--actually the total cloud water content in a vertical column.  Whiter indicates thicker clouds. 

At 7 PM Sunday, there will be a thin veil of clouds (mainly middle to upper level) over the southern two-thirds of WA state.  There might be some clear spots over NW Washington and southern BC.


During the next three hours, this thin upper cloud deck moves northward.  It may be thin enough in places to see the moon is being eclipsed.


Another approach is to show you a simulation of an infrared weather satellite image based on our computer simulations.  Below is one for 7 PM Sunday.  Oregon is generally not good for viewing--except for perhaps a break along the coast, but there will be breaks in the clouds over portions of Puget Sound and NW Washington.  You have a chance if you are living there.



As in any forecast, we should look at ensembles of many forecast to estimate probabilities, so here is an ensemble of simulated satellite cloud images for 7 PM Sunday (click to enlarge).  Most of the simulations show broken clouds over western WA, but some do have have big breaks. 

There is a chance those of us near Seattle might see at least part of the eclipse. Traveling to NW Washington will increase your chances of viewing the action.  But there will be an element of luck in being in a place where one of the cloud gaps occur. 

To paraphrase Clint Eastwood:  do you fell lucky?  

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Modest Winds Tonight, Stronger Winds Tomorrow Night

After a period of warm, benign weather, storms are now moving towards our region.  Tonight a modest, elongated low center is moving northward up our coast, as illustrated by the sea level pressure map at 7 PM tonight (see below).

The winds surged this evening, as illustrated by the maximum gusts at Seattle's West Point, where wind revved up to around 35 knots (about 40 mph).



24 hour from now (7 PM Friday), a  much stronger low-pressure center will be due west of Vancouver Island.  The pressure analysis shows an intense pressure gradient (change of pressure with distance) over the offshore waters, which will bring big winds over the water.


The wind gust forecast for the same time are impressive, with 60 knot gusts south of the low (wind gusts at 10 PM Friday are shown).  Note winds are NOT strong in the center of the low.

Looking closer, as the storm approaches later Friday, winds will increase along the coast and over NW WA (see 6 PM gust forecast below)--as high as 50-60 mph in places.

Winds will increase later over central Puget Sound, strongest after midnight.

By 4 AM Saturday, the low has moved NW of Vancouver island, with a very large pressure change along the Vancouver Is. coast.


Wind gust are even stronger at that time, but shifted NW with the low.


Some big waves will be forced by the low, up to 9-10 meters high (see plot)
The winds here in Puget Sound will pick up again late tomorrow night as the second low moves by, but there is a lot of uncertainty, depending on exactly the path of the low.  Here is a plot of the UW many-forecast (ensemble) system.  Winds rev up after 10 PM Friday, but forecasts are all over the place.....will have to wait to have more certainty about the forecast.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Is the U.S. Government Shutdown Hurting Weather Model Accuracy?

My phone has been ringing from media asking whether the partial government shutdown is degrading the skill of the National Weather Service model, the GFS. 

What is driving this interest?    First, a number of media outlets, including the well-known Washington Post Capital Weather Gang, have made the claim of worsening U.S. forecasts (see examples below).



These stories describe a situation in which important observations, the input data streams for numerical weather prediction, are not being used or are degraded because of changes in coding of data formats.  As a result, the initialization (starting point) of U.S. global forecasts are degraded, lessening the skill of the predictions.

Then there is the U.S. model forecast skill itself, which appears to have worsened (compared to the European Center or the UK MET office model) just after the shutdown (on December 22nd).

The graph below from the National Weather Service illustrates this. Skill is plotted against time for the 5-day, upper level forecast for day 5 over the northern hemisphere (1 is a perfect forecast).  The black line shows the skill of the U.S. GFS model and the red dotted line presents the skill of the world-leading ECMWF model.  U.S. skill seems decline, both in absolute sense and relative to ECMWF right after December 22nd.

So are these claims of shutdown forecast problems well founded?   Is U.S. forecast skill drifting because of a lack of skilled NWS personnel minding the shop?

I think these claims are baseless.  

One of the first things I did was to check with some very well connected colleagues in NOAA and they confirmed these stories are nonsense.  Yes, many NOAA/NWS employees are not working, but since the models are considering essential for national security some staff are working--monitoring the global forecast system doing whatever it takes to keep it working smoothly.  Those NOAA/NWS staff are a dedicated lot!

But being a fact-driven type of guy, I decided to see if I could PROVE that the degradation claims are false with real data.

There are other explanations for the forecasts getting worse that have nothing to do with poor initial data.  For example, certain weather regimes may be more difficult for the U.S. model and perhaps that is all that we are seeing.

If the initial data was bad the short term forecasts would be less skillful.  So let's look at the skill of the 1-day forecast in the middle troposphere (500 hPa) for the U.S. GFS model (black line) and several others (the European Center is red).   No hint of any shutdown changes.


What about quality of the wind initialization at 500 hPa when compared to radiosondes (balloon-launched weather instruments)?  Little evidence of a shut-down effect (see below).

I have looked at many other fields and the answer is the same:  there is NO EVIDENCE that the initialization of the U.S. global model has been degraded as a result of the partial government shutdown.

In contrast, the predictions of the University of Washington regional prediction systems HAVE been hurt, because one of the important data streams we get from NOAA--the NOAA/NWS RAP model grids--has been cut  off during the government closure.  The shutdown is a disaster for weather prediction and weather research, but degradation of the U.S. global forecasts is really not an issue.






Monday, January 14, 2019

An Important New Book Describes How the WA Shellfish Industry is Poisoning our Shoreline Environment

In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote a book, Silent Spring, that documented the profound harm of the pesticide DDT on the natural world.  This book led to the of banning of DDT and energized the U.S. environment movement.

During the past week, an important new book has been published, one that may well join the ranks of Silent Spring.  The book, Toxic Pearl,  describes the poisoning of Washington State's shorelines by some politically connected and highly irresponsible members of the shellfish industry.  Toxic Pearl documents the spraying of herbicides and pesticides over State shorelines from Puget Sound to Willapa Bay, the careless spread of plastic pollution, and the physical destruction of shorelines areas by some members of the shellfish industry more concerned with profit than the environment.


The book also describes the shameless cooperation of state officials from the Department of Ecology and Natural Resources to the Governor's office with the shellfish industry, and even the participation of the State's educational institutions like WSU and the UW.

Toxic Pearl reviews the tragic history of the spraying of pesticides and herbicides over Washington State shorelines during the past half century by a shellfish industry that has moved industrial-scale "farming" of non-native shellfish species to our coastal and Puget Sound waters.

For decades, this industry, sprayed the pesticide Carbaryl, a powerful neurotoxin (also known as Sevin) around Willapa Bay and other local shore areas to kill a Washington State native animal, the burrowing shrimp.  Burrowing shrimp are an important food source for many native species including fish, birds, and crabs.  Why does the shellfish industry want to kill the native shrimp?  Because they aerate and mix the mudflats, making it more difficult for the shellfish industry to cheaply plant their non-native shellfish seed  (clams and oysters) into the mud.


Some members of the shellfish industry are also spraying herbicides such as imazamox  over the coastal zone to kill eel grasse to make it easier for the industrial clam and oyster operations.  Such grasses are important source of food for wildlife and provide habitat for a wide variety of species.  More recently, some in the shellfish industry is pushing to spray ANOTHER neurotoxin (Imidacloprid) over our coastal waters.   And, chasing the high-value Chinese market for geoducks, the industry is putting in miles of cut-off plastic tubes with plastic netting over mudflats around the region, resulting in the dispersal of plastic pollution throughout our coastal environment (see picture below).

Toxic Pearl tells the story of this extraordinary undermining of our coastal environment by some members of the shellfish industry, documents sickness and illness following the spraying, and reviews the association of spraying with a large increase of miscarriages among the Shoalwater Bay Tribe.  It asks many important questions, such as the health effects of the herbicides/pesticides for those who eat our shellfish and those who live near the shellfish operations.



Toxic Pearl is also a political story that describes the influence of a rich, favored local industry that has strong connections with Washington State government and the Governor.  The WA State Departments of Ecology and Natural Resources have supported the use of pesticides to kill the native burrowing shrimp, and Governor Inslee has taken advantage of the shellfish industry's weak claims of ocean acidification as the cause of problems in their factory oyster seed farms (see my blogs on this here and here) to support his advocacy efforts.

 In 2015, Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times wrote an important article outlining the herbicide/pesticide spraying by the WA shellfish industry, but some of the clam/oyster folks are still spraying herbicides and pushing to spray Imidacloprid.
Toxic Pearl is a book that should be read by every Washingtonian who is interested in the environment and their own health.  And one, like Silent Spring, that hopefully will lead to real action and change.  Our coastal waters and Puget Sound are not private farmlands, but the shared inheritance of all.  Herbicides and pesticides should NEVER be used in these places.

Where can you get more information about the book and order it?

The author, M. Perle, has set up a website with orders and additional information: http://www.toxicpearl.com/

You can order the book online or in person from Orca Books in Olympia.

Or secure a kindle version from Amazon (only $5.99)
Books are also available from Powells Book in Portland, Eagle Harbor Books in Winslow (Bainbridge Island), BookTree in Kirkland, the BookShop in Edmonds, Kings Books in Tacoma, Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, and many more locations)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A Wonderful Mid-Winter Break: Sunny and Dry for Days

After a period of relentless rain and wind, much of the Northwest will experience a wonderful break, with several days of dry conditions, sunny skies, and light winds.   And to add to the experience, sunset is now perceptibly later.

This morning's sunrise says it all.

But if you really want to be optimistic, here is the forecast accumulated precipitation through 4 PM Tuesday from the UW WRF modeling system.  Washington and Oregon are dry, in contrast to a sodden California.


But can you trust this forecast?   Let's check the NWS/NOAA GEFS ensemble system (running the model many times to explore uncertainty) for Seattle accumulated precipitation (see below).  Yes....all the members of the ensemble are dry through 4 PM on Tuesday.  You can take this forecast to the bank.

What about sun?   Expect a lot of it.  Here is the cloud forecast for Sunday at 1 PM.  Cloud-free conditions are predicted.

Why will the northwest have such a nice break?  Because of major ridging (building of high pressure) over the western U.S. with the jet stream (and associated storms) heading into California.  Let me show you with a series of upper-level (500 hPa pressure, about 18,000 ft above sea level) charts to illustrate. 

7 AM today.  A ridge centered to the east of us, with a trough offshore that could bring a sprinkle to the coast, but not much more.

 4 PM Sunday.   Wow.. huge ridge builds over our region.

 Monday at 4 PM...still there.


And at 10 AM Tuesday, the ridge is starting to pull back, but still enough to keep us dry and sunny.


You might notice that a lot of action is going into California.  While we are dry, they are going to get pummeled with heavy rain and wind. 

Take a look at the 7 day forecast precipitation totals for southern CA from the European Center model.  Some amazing totals (as much as 10 inches in the mountains there).  There won't be much drought talk when this is over.

This situation is classic El Nino, with the jet stream heading into southern CA.   So if you were planning a trip to LA to dry out...cancel it.  Stay here for sun and dry conditions. 

A break like this in mid-winter is a godsend for those bothered by darkness and clouds.  And keep in mind that our meteorological spring is only 5 weeks away.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Death and Destruction on Snoqualmie Pass: Time for WSDOT to Make Better Use of Weather Information

Last Friday morning, icy road conditions caused a series of accidents on both the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-90 near Snoqualmie pass, resulted in the closure of a crucial east-water transportation corridor for hours and one death.



The fatal collision occurred when four tractor-trailers and a pick-up truck collided on eastbound I-90 around 5 AM near milepost 62, on the eastern side of the pass.  As a result, the eastbound lanes were closed for 13 hours! 

The westbound accidents involved three semis and three cars near milepost 61 and closed the pass for 6 hours.

The location of the accidents are shown in the map below (red marker at Milepost 62)   Note that the accident site is about 10 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass in a relatively low area of the Yakima river drainage.  Keep this in mind...it will be important.


Roadway icing conditions were reported in the area.  Let's explore why.

The meteorology of the situation is no mystery.    Cool, near freezing and subfreezing air over eastern Washington pushed up the Yakima Valley/ I-90 corridor to near Snoqualmie pass, while warmer air was aloft.

A plot of the surface air temperatures (typically 2-meters above the surface) at the time of the accidents (around 5 AM), shows 31F in the area of the accident.   And temperatures at the surface could have been a few degrees cooler than that.  And near freezing temperatures were found down the valley towards Cle Elum.


Temperatures were actually warmer above the valley, since cold air was trapped at lower elevations.

What about precipitation?  To get some insight into this, let's check out the nearby (but higher) Stampede Pass weather station, located at roughly 4000 ft (I-90 near the accident site was at about 2400 ft).  It was dry at Stampede Pass until 10:48 PM (0634 UTC), followed by a wintry mix of rain, snow and ice pellets.  Precipitation was over by 2:49 AM.  Note that the air temperatures were a few degrees warmer at Stampede Pass than at I-90.


Local weather radar is consistent with the Stampede Pass record and showed a band of precipitation moving through late the previous evening and during the early morning hours (see radar imagery below for 9:01 PM and 11:43 PM the night before).



Importantly, this band of precipitation was forecast skillfully the day before,  as indicated by the UW WRF model (the 21h forecast for the 3-h precipitation amount ending 1 AM Friday)


So we had freezing temperatures at the surface and precipitation falling into it, with an icy mixture of cold rain, snow, and ice pellets falling into the cool air near the surface.  An obvious threat.

Now, I would not be surprised that the drivers involved in these accidents were driving too fast for the conditions.    But there is SO MUCH WSDOT (Washington Department of Transportation) could do that could help prevent such accidents, but to do so WSDOT needs to use weather data in a much more proactive way.

For example, with temperatures below freezing on that roadway section and precipitation moving in, WSDOT could reduce the speed limit on that section (perhaps 35-40 mph).  That can easily be done with the electronic signage installed along the freeway.  Push people to slow down.



Time and time again there are similar incidents with extensive accidents, loss of life, and extended periods of closing the pass when sudden inclement weather comes in.  Weather conditions THAT ARE ENTIRELY FORESEEABLE with modern weather observations and modeling.

Another example is the situation on the western side of the Snoqualmie pass April 2nd of this year in which the pass was not only closed, but a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed.  This heavy snow event was caused by a predictable convergence zone and its evolution was clearly evident on weather radar.  The speed limit could have been greatly reduced BEFORE the accident occurred, hopefully preventing it.

And such predictable highway weather disasters are found all over the State, like the freezing rain that caused a Husky Band bus to overturn on the way to the Apple Cup.


Pre-emptive actions to slow traffic and prevent accidents is critical, because once accidents start to occur, plowing becomes nearly impossible and the pass or roadway has to be closed for hours to clear up the mess, before the plows can go to work.

WSDOT Needs to Build the Capacity to Use Weather Data Better

In 1970, there were only a few dozen real-time weather observation locations in our state.  Today, there are thousands.  In 1970, weather forecast models had no ability to predict local weather.  Today, we have extremely skillful high-resolution forecasts, some updated every hour.  Today we  have excellent weather satellite coverage, where there was nearly nothing available in 1970.  Same with radar coverage.  In 1970 it was difficult to communicate to folks on the road.  Today, with electronic signage and smartphone apps, information can be transmitted in real time.


Weather information and forecasts are now so skillful that WSDOT needs to change the way it does business:  not reacting to weather situations but acting proactively.    With a modest investment, WSDOT could build the capacity to access state-of-the-art weather information and forecasts to build warning systems that would save lives and radically reduce the number of pass closures. Speed limits could be reduced as a matter of course when inclement weather is imminent.   And keep in mind that such a proactive system would not only save lives, but have major economic benefits, since pass/freeway closures are extraordinarily costly for our state, with losses of many millions of dollars per day when Snoqualmie pass is shuttered.

Unfortunately, WSDOT management is not only NOT investing in such systems, it has been going in the wrong direction.   When offered such capabilities, they expressed little interest in using weather data in this new way, and recently dropped funding for the state-of-science weather communication tools they were supporting, like the I-90 and Ferry Weather pages shown below.





Building a modern weather warning system for Washington State roadways would pay for itself in one event. 

Perhaps if Washington citizens let their elected officials and WSDOT management know that the current situation is not acceptable, better use of weather information on our roadway will occur.
____________

Contact Info: 

Roger Millar, millarr@wsdot.wa.gov, Secretary of Transportation

John Nisbet, nisbetj@wsdot.wa.gov, Director & State Traffic Engineer, Traffic Operations

Pasco Bakotich, bakotip@wsdot.wa.gov, Director & State Design Engineer