January 05, 2009

Snow, Global Warming and Flooding

Over the past few days I had several people ask me whether the cold, snowy weather of the past several weeks indicates that global warming is either a fallacy or being stopped by lack of sunspots or some other cause. The answer is our cold spell has absolutely nothing to do with global warming. The "Global" in global warming is the key. The earth is going to warm up due to increasing greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane (and indirectly from increases in water vapor). But not every location will warm up the same amount or at the same rate--with the polar regions warming up the most, the continents more than the oceans, and the eastern oceans less than than the western oceans. We are downstream of the Pacific (an eastern ocean), which controls our weather. So the Pacific Northwest may well be a location where global warming is delayed. Our computer models suggest we will get very significant warming..but not until the second half of the century.
It is also important to note the atmosphere has quite a bit of local and short-period natural variability, which can produce short periods of cooling in a region, even if global warming is occurring.

My second point is about the upcoming heavy rains in the mountain and major warming. The high resolution WRF atmospheric model we run in the department (which I show you quite frequently) indicates the potential for 10-20 inches of rain over the next two days on the windward mountain slopes. We also couple the high resolution weather prediction models and hydrological models of stream flow. The results of the latest simulations are scary, with major flooding on several rivers. In addition to the rains there could be substantial melting of the low-elevation snow pack. More on this tomorrow.


  1. Hi Cliff,
    Will this week's flooding be worse that the flooding we experienced last fall in Duvall (Snoqualmie Valley)?

  2. Hello. Finally a very well thought out page and presentation about weather that is local to me here in Seabeck Wa. We have 178 Acres here on Hood Canal. Elevations between 0 and 620 Ft. I had though we have experienced it all here in the last few years, Last years December storms being the worst, 3 major landslides after having 14 inches of snow on the ground and then more than 15 inches of Rain and a massive warm up. That was a scary time here, and cause an extreme amount of Damage including the Land Slides. And now based on what I can see The System set to come in on Tuesday looks very alarming. Our central Valley drains a great deal of uplands and goes to a main damn system and then to the canal. We currently have approx 10 inches of snow on the ground and it looks like it will go through fast melt and ground Sat as this system comes in, and since we are south of the Olympics, we are going to get the brunt again. I look forward to following your Blog. Off for now and on Flood patrol.

    Seabeck, WA

  3. "Global warming" is terminology that creates confusion. I like "global climate change" better.

  4. This just in: Sea ice increased back to 1979 levels, and 6 years of global cooling.


  5. At some point when you get time, I'd love a tutorial on the level of accuracy in those 50+ year forecast computer models.

  6. To the last post. I wouldn't think there would be a ton of accuracy with these 50 year projections :).

    I mean, for crying out loud. Half the time we have accuracy with 50 "hour" forecasts.

    It's safe to say that we can only forecast "tendencies" in the weather. To accurately "forecast" past the near future will require advances in the tools we are presently using.

    That being said, it is most difficult in our area. We don't have anybody living 500 miles out into the ocean. I believe Cliff has mentioned this anamoly in the past.

  7. As Cliff has noted many times, forecasting long term climatological trends are a totally different game than predicting local weather events. I think we can have quite a bit more certainty about the fact that the earth is undergoing a warming trend than we can about precisely how much it will rain tomorrow.

  8. Just a comment...climate prediction is a different animal than weather prediction...In climate prediction we forecast average conditions over an extended period...in weather prediction we forecast the exact configuration of the atmosphere at one moment in time. Will talk more about this difference in another blog.

    Also..the fact the earth has not warmed up for the past few years says little about global warming...which is revealed over many decades to a century. Consider...we know it will be warmer next summer, but there could easily be a cold spell in late February..which is simply a short-term break from the longer term seasonal trend.

  9. Global climate change has very little to do with us "evil" humans and our "evil" industrial revolution.
    Any scientist with half a brain and an ounce of respectability knows that the earth has undergone many, many cooling and warming periods...some were rapid, some were slow. And no one is really 100% sure what causes it because our global climate is so darn complex.
    I do know what has caused all this hysteria...follow the money...lots of people are making big bucks off the fear. $$$$$ for study after study after study....
    I always ask my "global climate change" alarmist friends: So, if we puny humans are really able to change the global climate, then what happens when we quit driving our SUVs, reduce our so-called "carbon footprint" and we reach equilibrium....THEN the needle swings the other way...we begin to COOL??? Global cooling will kill us much faster than warming, so how do we stop THAT??? Start driving SUVs again? Increase our carbon footprint? Burn more tires? Belch more?
    My enviro friends usually shut up after that...with a clueless look on their faces.
    We need to stop playing God.

  10. I hope the flooding in the Snoqualmie Valley is not worse than last year. It hit so many of the farmers who are prepared for the every-year floods but not the "100-year" variety very hard. I have deep respect for Erick and Wendy who own and run Jubilee Farm (a CSA in Carnation) -- Cliff, you would like them too -- they are as thoughful and scientific (and passionate) about organic farming as you are about our weather. :-) Seems like we keep getting "historic record" "250-year" flooding in that valley every year or two, to the point where those flood levels need to be redefined.

    Anyway, I'm glad to know that it will be warmer, even if I wish it would be a bit drier. And I think I am going to set up my professional weather station's temperature, humidity, and rain gauges tomorrow even though I don't have what I need to get on the roof and install the wind gauge and anemometer. Some data is better than none!

  11. retirednwsguy- lay off the Rush limp ball show - anyway 10 -20 inches of precip this week? That is firehose. Time to sweep up that sand and stuff them into bags I guess.

  12. retired NWS guy-

    I love how you jumped from driving SUV's, to global warming, to stopping activity , to global cooling.

    Heat kills, it kills an engine, it kills life in streams.

    You think that flooding the atmosphere with CO2 is good for the planet?

    If we help back our activities the earth would go on doing exactly what it was doing for the last million years. It wouldnt go into a global cooling stage because we stop polluting the atmosphere.

    Im sorry you have stupid friends.

  13. Changing RetiredNWSGuy's stance on human-induced climate change is about as likely as his changing someone's political affiliation to match his own. Its not going to happen. People will read and absorb whatever headlines support their cause and disregard those that don't, no matter how logically and clearly that information may be. It's how humans work. We're wired to get endorphins from both berating opposition as well as supporting our own position. Why do you think we get so worked up over politics and the like? Simple: IT FEELS GOOD.

  14. Looking at the Satillite this morning, looks like this next system can be called a "Pineapple Express" straight from Hawaii.

  15. "Flooding the atmosphere with CO2"...hmmm...I guess that's why we have more forestation now than ever in our planet's written history...plants love and soak up CO2.
    Fact is, the carbon cycle lives...no matter what we do, the planet will adjust...we do need to squash the "global warming" hoax once and for all...it is bankrupting us!
    Good on ya NWS guy...good to see not all the people in your field are duped...or on the take!

  16. I thought you didn't want this blog to be about the politics of global warming...Cliff, why'd you reintroduce that topic?

  17. hmmm, Cliff, thank you for making me realize why your blog shouldn't be about macro trends

  18. Please! If a person listens to any scientist with half a brain, you should expect him to show ignorance on that topic.

    Thank you for the blog--it's interesting.

  19. If you all hadn't noticed this is written right above that little box where you write your commnents.

    "Leave your comment"

    "Please no global warming and political comments...that is not what this site is about."

  20. The "no ....political comments" was tossed out when Cliff started talking about the politics of snow removal. I think a minor amount of politics is fine but as RetiredNWSGuy shows there is a danger in allowing anyone with a keyboard (and in his case too much time on his hands) to state their views.

  21. And on a side note- this is only a political topic to those who feel threatened by the topic.
    This is about fact and what is going on with our planet.
    Fact is that the earth will correct itself eventually, but if we damamge her enough in the meantime, we wont be around to see the correction.
    This has nothing to do with politics.
    Whats happens when you leave a car running in a garage with a filter designed to clear the air of one car? Everything is fine, and dandy. Now add two cars, suddenly things arent clearing out so much.
    Humans are adding to the problem, what we are studying is to see just how much and what effects it will have.
    But then again maybe we should listen to gas wasting humans who have no idea about the composition of the atmosphere about what effects millions of cars/factories will have on it.

    NWS showed his complete and utter ignorance by saying that if we stopped driving SUV's that we would go into global cooling. But then again maybe he thinks the earth is 6,000 years old also...

  22. Cliff's blog is where HE can post his opinions. "Weather" we agree with his political views or not.

    I appreciate his forecasts for the local weather, although I may not agree with his views of other things he may post.

    May I suggest we stick to asking questions or making comments about the local weather trends only?

  23. All...my point is that global warming should not be considered...at least in this blog...a political topic, just science. The question about the recent cold spell saying something about global warming is a question that many of you have asked and I wanted to respond to it. I have taken off message above...cliff

  24. Cliff,
    Thanks for the comments about climatic warming. Explaining this phenomena to the public, with all of the pros and cons of different theories and ramifications, is a critical service coming from someone in your position.
    Keep up the great work, much appreciated.

  25. And thank Cliff for stating that its not about politics. Its about studying what effects we have on global climate change.

  26. As long as the near-unanimous scientific consensus is that global climate change IS real AND man-made, I'll go with it.

    The denialists are more than welcome to publish their rebuttals to the good, peer-reviewed science journals where that consensus is demonstrated.

    But they won't. Because they are not able to provide any rebuttals that make it past even the most basic criteria.

    There is a reason we use peer review and consensus in science. Anything else just becomes political bloviating by amateurs like FormerNWSGuy, incapable of articulating any refutation of the existing evidence.

  27. The nearly 'unanimous scientific consensus' has nothing to do with the casual opinion of bloggers. It is too much to expect the blogging/chat community to be 'articulate' --on either side of an argument. This isn't a forum for experts.

  28. "This isn't a forum for experts."

    Agreed. Other than Cliff, of course.

    And this is an issue on which the experts have almost all weighed in on already.

  29. Heh, yes!

    And I'm a huge fan of the the UW mesoscale models too.

    I'm not a huge fan when it comes to the public debate about climate change. But I do think a discussion of what changes the weather pattern across the Pacific (on a timescale of weeks!) would be very interesting.

  30. *Sigh*

    Humans, they always want the simple and straightforward answers. Unfortunately we live on a tricksy planet.

    Sunday's weather in Union Mills was a great example of that; it actually got a lot colder between 9am and noon, when it was down to 24F, and then started warming up until it started to snow at 2:30pm- although it didn't get above freezing until well after the rain started at 7:30pm or so.

    It was 44.6F at 9am today, with an overnight low of 40.6 and a 24 hour high of 44.8. There's been a nice, normal, constant drizzle all morning. And I still have snow on top of the hill.

  31. Wink ;-)

    Blog post.

    Am going through withdrawls! Help,Cliff!

  32. I see now why Cliff doesn't encourage comments re global warming. Let one guy post that he doesn't believe the Global Warming Gospel and then we see comments like:

    "lay off the Rush limp ball show"
    "Im sorry you have stupid friends."
    "Changing RetiredNWSGuy's stance on human-induced climate change is about as likely as his changing someone's political affiliation to match his own. Its not going to happen."
    "Please! If a person listens to any scientist with half a brain, you should expect him to show ignorance on that topic. "
    "...as RetiredNWSGuy shows there is a danger in allowing anyone with a keyboard (and in his case too much time on his hands) to state their views."
    ...et cetera.Re the comment I italicized above...the commenter speaks for himself.

    - Pete

  33. Pete-

    When people say stupid things, they pay the price.

  34. Cliff, your consistent monologue (heard again today on the radio) along with this post, is directly contradicted by others in the UW science community. I would like your comments on the following link and report.


    It clearly points out that this flood behavior is *exactly* what we should be expecting as the globe warms, the snow level rises (which apparently it has been doing for decades) with the outcome of less snow in the mountains, and more flooding.

    Why should I not think you are out of touch with the situation, or looking only at the microclimate rather than the macro climate?

    I ask this because a friend of mine's husband is a PHD meterologist, and has been a derider of man made global warming for three decades. He claims there is never enough data to prove it. I claim there never will be.


  35. Reducing pollution is not playing god. it is common sense! The arguments here are mainly pretty decent examples of faulty logic.
    I imagine any real Global Warming study would consider the hot air emitted by 'know it all posters and political experts on the environment.

    The Money simply cannot see a problem, what a surprise!
    Ah, but not really.


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

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