December 29, 2008

A Poorly Predicted Wind Event

My profession did not do an adequate job today, when we had a significant, and poorly forecast, wind event. Both on the coast and here in the lowlands, wind gusts reached 50-60 mph near water and exposed locations, with the remainder of the area experiencing 30-40 mph gusts. The Evergreen Bridge had 40 mph sustained winds for two hours around noon. Lots of branches were downed and several thousand people lost power.
So what went wrong. Remember the low center I mentioned this morning? Well that low center was deeper (lower pressure) than analyzed and the predicted lower was stronger and went further north than our computer models suggested (the low was nearly going over us...that does not produce strong winds). This was a small scale low--which are essentially hard to forecast-- and clearly there was insufficient information to define its structure offshore. Computer models require a good description of the initial state (call the initialization) to simulate the future and this was clearly lacking this morning and before. This is one reason why I am pushing for a coastal give us a good description of what is happening in the near coastal waters. The radar would not have help yesterday's forecast...but we would have had a real chance to get it right last night or this morning...6-12 hrs ahead. So what grade would I give this forecast? Not a B I am afraid.. perhaps a D.

PS: the windstorm is still in the model forecasts...check this out for Friday morning--a 962 mb low to our north and and an intense pressure gradient over us...


  1. Very interesting insights. Thanks Cliff

  2. More frequent paragraph breaks would make your postings easier to read.

    Thank you.

  3. I am fine with the paragraph breaks; don't need the comments from blog visitors about grammar, spelling, etc. which have nothing to do with weather.....

  4. I wondered what was going on. Up here on the north end of Lake Union it was snorting around noon. Some nicely developed chop and sheets of spray being picked up off the lake... not exactly what i was expecting.

    Thanks immensely for your blog. I find it highly informative and with a nice human touch. Over the last few weeks i was in Oaxaca, Mexico and the only clear information i could get about the cold weather event was this Blog. TV web pages were useless and NOAA lacked the plane talk and human touch you give it.

    Please ignore the conic complainers and clueless knuckle draggers comments.. they wouldn't know a good thing if it hit them in the head. This blog Excellent! and is truly appreciated. You might have given todays forecast a D, but your blog gets an A.

  5. I also appreciated the analysis of the forecasts. Winds started picking up here in B'ham last night, gusted pretty strongly today and I wondered why there was no mention at NWS. thanks again for explaining the forecasts and non-forecasts!

  6. Tom Sez,

    Thanks Cliff!

    As the wind blew into my home on the Edmonds ridge high above the bowl, I thought we might be a little beyond what was supposed to be happening. Wet ground and big trees have me a little nervous about the possible upcoming event.

    I'm enjoying your blog and hope you never use another paragraph break or spell check anything. Nice to see a real scientist without the ....

  7. You should share your self grading scheme w/ the mayor (sorry, had to throw that dig after our salt free week plus..)

  8. Speculative question: will today's event be comparable with the impending "New Year's Day Storm" or will that storm be bigger?

    32F tonight in Kingston/north Kitsap and frost was forming as early as 6PM. Watch out for black ice everyone!

    Casey Burns

  9. Thank you for the explanation regarding today's wind and frontal passage. I had a "weather migraine" this morning and those usually occur with a high gradient at HQM-SEA and a sudden spike in pressure. Neither of those indicators were apparent at the onset of the episode but, sure enough, they were there later in the morning just as things were getting interesting - both indoors and outdoors.

    I never thought that being a weather geek would assist in aiding with an odd and obscure health problem but it has. I'm grateful for your work in many ways.

    Barometer Boy

  10. I walked out on our second floor balcony at work, which is downtown facing Elliot Bay, about two blocks from the water. The wind was blowing the flag on top of the Federal building into a solid rectangle. Some low clouds were streaming quickly overhead and in between the buildings. Very dramatic for about an hour!

  11. Check out the depth of this low and the pressure gradient for the weekend.

  12. I have no idea what you look like, and I've only just started following... just in time for the major snows.

    But for some reason I see you on a horse, quasi Paul Revere.

    But more mythical than real, kinda windy, with whiter tones in the costume. Lots of hair. Long coat. Nice hat.

    More power to you.

  13. I have to go back to work--outdoors--this friday. I really hope the models are wrong--or early--about the forecast storm.

  14. ..frost is back on the ghost pumpkin here on the ranch in the hills of Kingston tonight with a little wind...
    deliver us some more pinaplle express temps please..
    no punctuation needed

  15. "...a 962 mb low to our south"

    You meant NORTH...right?

  16. Cliff,
    Thanks for your analysis. I knew it was worse than predicted when we had almost 40 mph gusts here in East Bellevue in the trees!

    I would be glad if that was the "big blow" for the week, but it sounds like that might not be the case. My new generator may go for a test drive this winter after all... it's definitely too early to assume we were fools for buying it.

    Don't forget, folks, if you want to discuss our regional weather at greater length, over time, with people you'll get to know, we've started a Yahoo group for that purpose.

    We've picked up 19 new people so far and I bet it will get lively if the weather stays interesting this winter.. and beyond. :-)

    Oh, and Cliff... I'm an 18-years' experienced technical writer and editor... I agree with the others who say the hell with spelling, grammar, and formatting for the most part... it's your INFORMATION I come to the blog for, not a pretty way of saying it... though I appreciate the intelligence that you bring to the blog very much. I've been around the block enough times to know that perfect spelling and grammar can be a sign of an imbecile, and some of the brightest people can struggle getting words onto the computer... you've got a great balance and your spelling and grammar are better than that of many professional writers!

  17. We must have had very high winds here on Sunset Beach/Whidbey Island. I was surprised when we came home this evening to find leaking on both our upper and lower levels of our house...which only happens when the waves go over the top of the house due to high wind/high tide.

  18. Thanks for the update on what went wrong with the winds. We have a sailboat and pay special attention to the forecasted winds. Your "post mortem" (what we call such after- the-fact analysis in the software biz) about why the forecast missed winds by such orders of magnitude is a real treat. The info is teaching me lots. Thanks!

  19. Last week when the topic of this upcoming large wind event first came to fruition, you also mentioned snow would follow the event. Is this still part of the forecast, or does this just look like a mountain snow event?

    And, yes, feel free to ignore the unbelieveably annoying grammar police that somehow find their way into every blog on the universe. Seriously, have they nothing better to do??? You have created a brilliant, informative, well-written resource, but some people just feel compelled to point out every missing comma, misspelling, or quotation mark because they have WAYYYYYY too much tim eon their hands. Ignore them.

  20. This morning's WRF model makes me think tonight's (Tuesday) system will be stronger than Thursday's system, though at least it will be far enough north to prevent the Puget Sound region from getting the 'maximum' effects. The positions of the upper jet streams (from 500mb to 250mb) show much more support for strengthening of the surface system than the projections for Thursday. Between 06z and 12z Wednesday, well defined left front quadrants of jet stream maximums at these levels provide the classic punch to the negatively tilted trough, allowing the surface low to rapidly deepen into the 970's. The Thursday system does not show nearly this type of classic upper support, so I tend to believe the WRF's downplaying of that system and the rather measely 99x surface low associated with it.

  21. Cliff -- Don't kick yourself for not getting the wind forecast correctly yesterday.

    With respect, what would the average person had done with that information anyway? We still had to go to (or look for) work.

    Also, and again, with respect, can we really afford a new costal radar installation in this current economic crisis? Is that the best use of spending right now? How would a costal radar affect the average person in Seattle?

  22. Unless it receives a lot of private funding, I don't see a coastal radar with the current financial crisis anytime soon, if at all.

  23. Cliff, what about the radar from KCPQ? I think that one is in Neah Bay.

  24. Question here about amateur equipment: I need an anemometer, and since I'm in a very wind-protected pocket, I need a degree of remote capability. Most importantly, I need something the crows won't steal. Any suggestions, for both the device itself and crow-proof mounting?

    Foggy at Union Mills, currently 30.7, overnight low 29.3, twenty-four hour high 39.4. The oak trees are full of red-winged blackbirds, and it may be time to take the feeders in until they go away. I've never tried to find out how much black sunflower seed a flock of blackbirds can eat in one day; sounds like an expirement in need of funding.

  25. If we wanted to help lobby for the coastal radar project, to whom should we write and what should we say? If you have guidance on the most effective approach, I'll pitch in.

  26. A technical writer and editor who is flippant about spelling and grammar??? Did you graduate from Evergreen College?

  27. Oh...that last comment was for Jewelyaz BTW....

  28. Re: Coastal radar
    Whoops, found it, sorry!

    Cliff makes recommendations for taking action at the bottom of his Coastal Radar page here:

    I'll write some letters to senators, the NWS, and NOAA.

  29. My joints and my head predicted the storm that the meteorologists did not predict. Migraineurs are very sensitive to a drastic change in the weather. Today, I'm a little headachy, but no joint pain that occurs when the weather is really about to change.

    I'll report next time I get the joint achiness. Might help with the weather predictions.

    (citation of an article to help prove that weather induced migraine isn't "all in my head": Prince, PB etal. The effect of weather on headache. Headache. 2004 Jun;44(6):596-602.)

  30. Cliff, I love you! I've only been reading your blog for a few weeks, since a friend sent me the link, but this post has locked me in as a regular reader FOREVER.

    One of my frustrations with traditional media weather reports is that no one ever says "Hey, we were wrong, and here's why."

    I live just east of Deception Pass, and weather reports are very relevant for me. If a high wind warning had been forecast, I wouldn't have gone out to run errands.* On my way home last night I nearly hit a downed tree across the road, and had to dodge several big fallen branches.

    I truly appreciate your explanation, and your honesty. YOU ARE THE BEST!!!

    * Or maybe I would have. Yesterday was the first time in 17 days that the road was clear enough for me to drive. Stir. Crazy.

  31. In response to Julia:

    "I need an anemometer, and since I'm in a very wind-protected pocket, I need a degree of remote capability. Most importantly, I need something the crows won't steal."

    ...Julia - You will do well with a Davis Vantage PRO 2. I've had my unit for about four years and it's done very well. It's easy to install with the tripod mounting system or a do-it-yourself type install. I've got mine on the top of my home in Kirkland on the ridge and it does a great job. A bit sheltered from the east wind, but that's not much of an issue. Davis Instruments is a great company. Thanks for the explanation Cliff...well done & appreciated. We do need a coastal radar!!

  32. According to the National Priorities Project (a 501(c)3), Seattle will spend $467.1 million on the Iraq war in FY 2009. Cliff says the coastal radar would cost about $5 million. I think we could spare 4 days of Seattle's Iraq war funding to buy, install, and operate the coastal radar, don't you? Instead of killing people in a war, we can potentially save people's lives with much more accurate weather predictions.

    If you want to look at the benefits of the coastal radar to all of Washington State, you need to spend only 10 hours of Washington's $4.9 BILLION contribution to the 2009 Iraq war effort to get the radar system up and running, and operational for two years.

    My point is, in the grand scheme of federal spending, the coastal radar costs nickels and dimes, but it will deliver great benefit to many residents. I see it as a high bang-for-the-buck investment.

    If Obama considers $3 million for a new planetarium projector in Chicago a worthy cultural and educational investment (as do I), I can't imagine he wouldn't consider $5 million a worthy scientific and public safety investment for Western Washington.

  33. Roger,
    No, I am not a graduate of Evergreen College. I DO care about grammar and spelling, but in a blog where the point is WEATHER INFORMATION, they are not of as much importance as the information itself. I was just trying to encourage Cliff to keep posting the great info while not sweating "the small stuff" as much as some people seem to think he should. :-)

  34. Agreed. If people start going after grammar and formatting, maybe the real reason we're here (good information) will go away.

    If you're the grammar or formatting police, go enforce somewhere else!

  35. Harrison, thanks for the recommendation. a four foot tripod on a roof mount gets anything above close in terrain. I still have a substantial bit of relief a quarter-mile SW, but the perfect is enemy of the good and all that jazz.

    I'm going to editorialize here on the slam against Evergreen; I got my first degree there (in 1974), and my elder child is currently a student. I have the advantage of being able to compare the writing requirements of that school against upper-division work at both UW and WSU, and I must say that the latter two are considerably less demanding. Anyone who thinks that "grammar and spelling" is ignored at TESC is speaking out of misinformation, to put it kindly.

  36. I agree that the model guidance for this wind event was lacking. It is not clear to me that a coastal radar would have changed that reality. The profiler at the NWS Campus showed the event pretty well yet none of that data is ingested into the models. Today is Tuesday, what regionally generated data would you use to help the models clarify the solution for the Thursday/Friday event?

  37. You are most welcome Julia. Like I mentioned, the Davis Vantage Pro 2 is a great unit that will last forever. Not only that, it is precisely accurate, and can be used for official spotter reports. In addition, Davis Instruments has a remarkable customer service team that will augment your new weather station. I remember I laid out about $400 for mine 4 years ago, but it was definately worth it!

    Weather outside Kirkland @ 0048
    Wind: SE8 G13
    Rain: Light Rain .03
    Dew Point: 36F
    Air Temp: 37.5F

    It's cold...take care!!

  38. To see the winds associate with the current system check out the profiler operated by Puget Sound Clean Air on the NOAA Campus in Seattle . These vertical measurements are taken every 30 minutes. Gusts are not reflected.

    Heights are in meters.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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