December 31, 2008

New Year's Forecast

Today is a typical post-frontal day, with unstable air producing showers and good orographic precipitation in the mountains. There is also a Puget Sound convergence zone enhancing precipitation north of Seattle and rain shadowing immediately east of the Olympics (see radar to see the precip and the surface chart to see the winds wrapping around the Olympics and converging over Puget Sound).
As I noted in my previous blog, it does not look like we will get a big fact, not much of windstorm at all. There will be a complex dual low system, with the first coming in tomorrow morning over or just to the north of us. If it does go north, we might get breezy, but no serious winds. The system is also weaker than the earlier model simulations. This system will bring steady rain to us tomorrow and lots of snow in the mountains. Take a look at the computer snow forecasts...we are talking FEET over the next 48 hrs (these images show 24-h snowfall ending tomorrow and Friday at 4 AM).

Now I don't want to get the TV stations too excited (although I do enjoy Jim Foreman's antics on KING TV)...but some of the models are suggesting the potential for snow after the second system moves through early Friday morning. 2-6 inches from central Puget Sound southward. This snow will depend critically on the trajectory and precipitation with the second system. Anyway, time to go to your local hardware store for some salt....just in case. And if the snow occurs it will be an interesting test to see of the City of Seattle and other municipalities has learned something from the past experiences.

MAJOR ANNOUCEMENT: The City of Seattle has decided to use salt for major storms!

Thanks to all of you that have expressed your opinions about this...I know that several City of Seattle staff members have been following this blog... Now they have to deal with lack of plows, the crazy pack it down rather than remove policy, and to get Metro to deal with snow events in a rational way. And hopefully they will fix their web site to deal with snow events...right now it is a disaster.


  1. The mayor has decided to use salt! Seattle Times


  2. Snowing in Carnation right now.

  3. Snow flurries out in East Woodinville, on Ring Hill.

  4. 34F 12:40pm Duvall
    Snowing and sticking to what little bare pavement, grass, and roof shingles we had peeking through. How much are we in for?

  5. With a storm track through central Puget sound, I would have thought the snow potential would be highest in the north interior. Is lack of moisture the reason snow chances are greater further south, or is it another factor?

  6. Hi Cliff - Scott Sistek's page has the Friday snow possibility as Everett north and you call for it Central PS and south. Does someone have a typo or are you all looking at two different forecasts?

    Nice work on the salt issue - we need sensible policies, not one-size-fits-all edicts.

  7. Cliff, keep us updated on any possibility of flooding to the south.

  8. Joseph, the WSDOT is already using salt on the freeways, so we had that "problem" to deal with anyway....I say "problem" because it isn't much of one, given that we rarely get snow compared to the East coast, and we get a great deal more rain, which washes our cars' undersides very well.

  9. Here in Carnation we have had some wild weather today. About 11:45 am we had a very heavy hail storm that lasted about an hour and left the lawn covered with white. Then we got a mixture of rain and snow then a period of heavy wet snow that fell for about 40 minutes. The temperature has dropped 6 degrees in the last two hours and is currently 33.7 degrees. Come on, I want another snow storm!

  10. Beter a little bit of rust repair then to total your car when you slam into a tree or power pole because the roads are too icy.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Yeah, we want our cars to look like those in Michigan. Seattle freaks out over 1 event in 20 years. Go figure.

  13. Great that they have agreed to use salt during the next snow. Even though groups like People for Puget Sound were trying to explain why it is bad for the environment.
    Thanks to Cliff and others on this blog for mentioning that the commerce and productivity lost to snow days is far more important than those environmental concerns.

  14. There are many, many cars in the East and Midwest - that use salt all the time! - that last just as long or longer than cars here. I don't know how people can think it's worth it to risk people losing lives just because they can't afford to lose a little paint finishing on their cars.

  15. the problem with plowing is that it takes the little road divider turtles along with the snow. seems to wear down the painted stripes as well. once the snow is gone, there is only a vague idea where the lanes are and at night it's a little scary.

  16. Only in Seattle would the announcement of using salt make urgent news. For as often as we get it, and all the moaning, I remain amazed by the rancor raised.

    All the salt in the world does not change the topography, and the fact that we get so little snow, to try to wage war the way the midwest wills remain beyond our ability, salt or not.

    Snow in Seattle has always meant take the day off, and/or work from home. We have bridges and viaducts that need investment first. I for one do NOT want to see $$$ spent for equipment that rusts basicly unused except for 10 days a year.

    We chose to live here because of the hills and streams and environment. We have 211 miles of streams within the city limits alone, and salmon fry and ecosystems are frail at this time of year. For the rare use, Salt is no worse on them then the sand and deicers we already use... but if you want to avoid the ice rink:

    I would much rather see us use metal plows, and actually scrape roadbed to keep key arterials open... rubber edge plows than never did touch the pavement set up the compact snow and ice that caused most of the problems with busses and traffic.

    I remember in 92 when the city invested in more plows fronts for vehicles after similar issues.

    I was amazed to watch the plows go by and leave so much on the road. To my thinking, that is where the problems began.

  17. salt used wisely (ie near intersections and on very steep hills) on rare occasions will not damage the environment. First, plow, then salt/sand the trouble spots.

    Widespread use of salt by untrained workers during a storm will not be a wise move, financially or environmentally.

  18. "There are many, many cars in the East and Midwest - that use salt all the time! - that last just as long or longer than cars here."

    Not true. Every time I go home to Michigan, I'm always surprised by the lack of older cars. They don't exist. All the cars are new because everyone has to keep replacing their cars due to rust corrosion. It's intense, and really eats away at the under bodies of the cars.

    That's not to say that the use of salt here will necessarily create the same problem if it's only once in a blue moon. But it really is preposterous to assert that cars last a long time in a place like Michigan -- they simply don't unless they're garaged throughout the winter.

  19. I think it is probably good to ignore the concerns of environmentalists regarding the use of salt. If environmentalists are wrong about the environment as often as meteorologists are about the weather why would anyone pay any attention to them?

  20. Um, when exactly have environmentalists been wrong about the environment? Was it DDT? Or maybe it's PCBs you're thinking of? Yep, there was no need to worry about any of that stuff!

  21. To the 3:33pm Anonymous - I grew up in Ohio and have lived in upstate New York, Illinois and South Dakota - and I have seen quite a bit of older cars in my many years in all those places that are in fine shape.

  22. My wife is from Toronto, and she says that is is very common for cars to have rust protection because of the salt issue.

  23. The mayor just said on tv that salt will be used around hospitals and main arterial leading to them and on hills. He is also planning on buying 27 plows. I think the plows make better sense in heavy snow. I think there are enough Seattle(ites) concerned about how salt may be used who favor plows over salt from what was shown on tv today. Cooler heads have prevailed.

  24. Tom Sez;

    Current mfg. technology dips (i.e. fully submerges) all car frames into an anti corrosive material tank.

    Current paint technology is also anti corrosive.

    The issue of rust from salt is weak at best.

    Dumping salt into a saltwater system is not an issue at this level. Even the Nickel had to admit that.

    Happy New Year!

    Sorry for the paragraph breaks and eating so much bandwidth...

  25. I have worked as a technician in new car dealerships since 1975. Older vehicles (pre 90's) had rust issues no matter where you lived. Moisture alone will cause metal to rust but add salt to the mix and that problem escalates greatly.

    The body rust protection on later model vehicles is significantly better and most factory warranties include 80 - 100K coverage for rust.

    But all the other items under the vehicle such as suspension parts still rust. I can put a two year old car on the hoist and tell you if it lived in Canada or on the east coast in a moment. Everything is rusty and even the aluminum is corroded. Bolts break off easy, parts wear out earlier, and everything looks nasty. But take a 15 year old NW native vehicle and nothing looks rusty or corroded at all - even with all our moisture.

    The difference is amazing and believe me I've seen a lot of it. Our used car department will buy Canadian or East coast auction cars and they are a mess. The brake rotors will be corroded and rusted up so bad only half the brake pad makes contact. We always fix the safety type of problems but everything else is still rusty.

    If you are buying a used car and it looks pristine - run a Carfax first to see where it came from. Or have it put on a hoist so you can see what the underside looks like. The salt will tell the story!

  26. Thanks for the great blog. I have been really enjoying it. I received your book for Christmas and it is being a really good read as well (four copies where distributed around the family). Highly recommend it, things have changed a lot since I took Atmos101 at the UW in the early 80's.

    As for for snow in Seattle. I prepare my family and cars for the snow. It isn't an issue. $400 for a set of real snow tires on the front wheel drive and all seasons on the Subie and all is good. The Subaru went through 20" piles in the middle of many streets without an issue. Waiting for the government to bail you out is pointless, self-preparedness rocks!

    Remember that half or more of the storm water in Seattle goes into fresh water lakes, streams and rivers. Kiss the salmon streams all goodbye with the addition of salt, but then I guess that is what we like to call progress.

  27. Glad to hear Seattle pulled their heads out of the plow. Keeping the streets safe by using salt a few times per year, or decade, is not going to harm the environment.

    Metro should be able to provide broader system service too, if Seattle follows through on their commitment to safe streets during snow events. No one should be blaming Metro for cutting service. It would have been negligent to allow bus operations on streets that were so neglected by the City.

  28. So I guess we can no longer use the phrase, "Saltless in Seattle."
    Isn't it amazing that when elections are pending, politicians get smarter and more responsive?

  29. This is a great blog - I've learned a lot from it.

    When I lived back east I would get the car detailed, including the undercarriage, from time to time during the winter. It seemed to help with the salt issue.

    Many of Seattle's medical workers spent one or more nights sleeping on cots, sofas, massage tables, and so on at a number of medical facilities around town because of the difficulty getting to and fro. And I've heard of at least one patient who was unable to get to the doctor during the storm and ended up in the hospital afterwards, dehydrated. There will always be tradeoffs, but I'm in favor of making it easier to get to and from the hospitals, even if it means salt on the roads.

  30. "Dumping salt into a saltwater system is not an issue at this level. Even the Nickel had to admit that."

    He didn't admit to anything about the storm drains and where they lead. He is trying to save his job.

  31. Cliff -- Thanks for steadily backing off the hype of the Next Big Windstorm widely cited for tomorrow night. Even today corporate media continues to hype it. Since you're not selling products with your forecasting you take a much more honest approach in your pronouncements, and that is a good thing.

    On antoher note, now that everyone is so happy that Seattle will throw down salt, you watch: just as soon as the four-incher hits, salt is tossed, Seattle-ites will compalin -- about the environmental consueqeunces, about the smell, the corrosion, the undercarriges, etc etc.

    Just like one of your regulars above was complaining that her streets weren't plowed, and then when they finally plowed them, the reader then complained that they blocked her driveway!! (Gwet the shovel out, dear!).

    Thanks for your good work Cliff!

  32. There is still great fishing in the north east and mid west. They've used salt for quite some time. I believe in conservation, but honestly I find environmentalism ends up creating bigger problems than what existed in the first place.

    Humans do effect the environment. But, I honestly think we give ourselves too much credit. There is so much we have yet to explore and understand. I'm fascinated by how our climate works, but we still can't predict the weather with perfect accuracy. (A west coast radar would be nice!!) To think we created what may be a problem and then develop solutions to fix it that we don't know their full impact seem arrogant.

    The one thing I see with the weather is how finite we are. We've come a long way, but the key to learning is realizing there is so much we don't know or understand.

  33. The fireworks & rain are still going in S. Lk Union but what's really on my mind is SALT.

    I HAD to drive during the snowy days. I take care of peoples pets and homes during the times they travel. And having grown up driving in E. Washington, snow is not my worst enemy - - it's the road conditions and other drivers.

    Having battled it out with drivers getting stuck on the ave under the monorail (you know, where there is absolutely NO hill to speak of), I am glad if the city trys something, anything other than what they did last time. I was WALKING on Thomas street mere hours before those 2 buses barreled down Cap. Hill towards I5. The letter I've drafted in my head to Nickels, while driving our ice packed streets....makes this look like a love letter.
    When I took the streets by Pill Hill, thinking they would have at least plowed there and realized they HADN'T, I about had a coronary.

    Deep Breath - I appreciate this info on your blog so much and I'll try to curtail the "politics".

  34. People who have issues with the salt aren't grasping the fact that Seattle is the EXCEPTION to the salt rule. The WSDOT is already using salt on the interstates and highways going through the area, e.g. I5, 520 and I90! And the suburbian cities use salt (e.g. Sammamish). We East siders have salt in our undercarriage all winter because we get goodly amounts of snow in many winters...

    ....but yet, mechanics can still tell a Northwest car from an East Coast car.

    Shouldn't that tell you that although we use salt, we aren't using enough to cause the kind of damage the East Coast experiences?

  35. Say, that 24-hour image kinda sucked. We have at least 4 fresh inches of snow on the Tahuya Peninsula at 0800.

    As for the salt, well, now you know why politicians pander. It won't help that much, but at least Nickels won't have to listen to the endless whining about it not being used. What the heck, most of the people who moved here don't even know what a salmon is, anyway. Of course, on the odd-numbered days these same people will complain about the costs of government, which they consider to be totally unrelated to their desire to get what they want as soon as they want it.

  36. The aspect of this blog that I really like is that it is not just a forecast, but the thinking behind that forecast - an indication of the certainty or uncertainty associated with the event. Government and TV meteorologists usually have to pick one forecast and go with it - this blog tells us what is possible.

    Keep up the good work.

  37. Olalla: Found half-melted snow on the car when I looked out about 7 am. At 7:30, temp. is about 35-36, light rain, and I can hear water dripping off the trees everywhere. The snow must have come not long before I woke up for any of it to be left.

    On salt, as a long-time car nut I really hate it. For most snow events that we have in this area it wouldn't be needed. But I still think it should have been used in the latest sequence of events.

    It's true that you used to be able to tell where a car came from by the rust on the outer body. I was horrified when I went to college in 1957 in Iowa and met people from places like Detroit and Chicago whose one- or two-year-old cars had rust perforations in the bodies. Nowadays rust protection of body parts is better but not so much for the undercarriages. At least part of the problem comes from layers of snow/slush mixed with salt clinging to the underparts of cars for days on end of sub-freezing temperatures. Thank heavens we don't have weather like that here most of the time, and there is plenty of rain to help wash it away. That helps us to keep our cars in good shape, and helps to dilute the salt and minimize any effect it might have on our environment.

    - Pete

  38. "Salt" is suddently the big talk of the blog. More important than road Salt is that the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty between the US and Russia is up for negotiations again soon, and we should be paying a LOT more attention to that Salt!

    We won't have another major snow event in this town for probably 15 years!

  39. A comment about salt use in Seattle: can anyone give perspective on the effect of the rapid melting that occurs here (due to rain and temp rise generally following snow) as a factor in the decision to use salt or not?

    I grew up in the Rockies and went to college in New England, where temperatures rarely hover at freezing--they are usually below freezing following a storm.

    It seems to me that salt in the environment here would be *in solution*, rather than solid form, due to our conditions, and therefore enter the fresh water system more rapidly and more often as a result.

    Also, my experience with salt is that it doesn't work when it's covered with a fresh layer of snow and it works best when temps are below freezing.

    Thanks! bowmac


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