February 11, 2009

The Drought

This morning there was considerable black ice as the wet roadways froze after the skies cleared.

Most of the Puget Sound lowlands and the Cascades have been in a virtual drought the past month, as most of you are are. The precipitation trace at Sea-Tac shows the story (see image). The precipitation of the last day didn't change the story much...except for locations like Shelton near the SE side of the Olympics. The snowpack is rapidly declining to well below normal...and this is a La Nina year when snowpacks are typically above normal! But what is really disturbing for weather lovers is the latest long range weather model forecasts that show the dry conditions continuing for the next week. The West Coast is stuck in a major large-scale trough, with the jet stream and most of the weather going into Oregon and California (image). We are generally left high and dry. But this is all very good news for a drought-stricken California.

Very little new snow in the Washington Cascades for the next week. The snowpack, which generally peaks around March 15, has time to recover, assuming the pattern changes, but winter in the lowlands has only about another week or so to run. Typically, the chance of major storms and floods declines rapidly after the third week of the month.

The good side...lots of sun today.


  1. Great point about the mountain snowpack. With all of the low land snow and such, most folks aren't aware of how far behind we are getting with our water year. The mountain situation is getting worse. The NRCS page at: ftp://ftp.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/data/water/wcs/gis/maps/wa_swepctnormal_update.pdf shows how we're doing up to this point.

  2. The low snowpack is a pretty big deal for some hydrologic basins, not such a big deal for others. Where they really need some snow is over on the east side of the North Cascades and in the Okanogan. Loup Loup ski area has been closed, waiting for more snow. Here on the west side, I'm not sure it matters so much. There is a respectable snowpack west of the crest. In 1976 there was literally no snow, and then it turned out to be a wet cool spring. It looks like we are heading toward a wetter pattern a week from now.

    But I'd like to see some big upslope snows for Winthrop and Twisp, bad luck winter over there. Good to see California getting the storms though. It does have a way of evening out, just as the California drought started making headlines, they started getting a parade of systems and a cold upper trough.

  3. I had heard that this year was neither a El Nino or La Nina year but was in fact a neutral year.

    When did the year change from a neutral year to a La Nina year?

  4. The Climate Prediction Center just declared it a weak La Nina last week. By their definition, the SSTs in the Nino 3.4 region have to be at least 0.5C colder than normal for an average of 3 months (to avoid a warm or cold spike skewing the results).

    In the fall we were in fact neutral. But the SSTs sank below the -0.5C anomaly at the start of December and reached about a -1.2C anomaly in early January. They're still -1.0C at the present time. They currently expect this La Nina to last through the spring and then go back to neutral for the summer.

  5. Bad news for the drought in Argentina (Commodity Price Dive Hits Latin Economies
    Wall Street Journal - 16 hours ago
    On top of that, the worst drought to hit Argentina in 70 years is scorching the fields during the growing season. "All of our worst nightmares are happening ...)

  6. 18zGFS this afternoon still shows a few showers for tomorrow and Fri morning as a passing low pressure system slides down the West coast from the GOA, but any showers will probably be more likely over the coast and perhaps Olympics and Cascades with maybe a spotty shower over the lowlands. Then Fri afternoon through about Sun looks mainly dry as we have S-SELY winds aloft during this time. Though later Sun could see some increasing clouds with just a few showers around as a weak trough/ weak piece of energy swings on to the coast and into our region for sun into Monday.


    Long term:

    Long range GFS shows our troughy/ splitty pattern continuing right into months end with systems mainly diving into southern Oregon and California where the California folks are in need of much needed rain. However for us, it appears we will be mainly dry though, but with coolish troughs here/there in the extended period. And taking for what it`s worth, we ''might'' see some colder air dropping down from the north as shown at 384hrs. But over all, not much of a stormy pattern being seen here in the next couple weeks.


  7. So Andy, it is still possible to get more cold air and snowfall this winter?

  8. In the 1970's (can't remember the exact year 77?)we had a year when there was almost no snow pack and the ski areas were closed most of the season. It seems inevitable that this could happen again and with the increase in population around Puget Sound the ramifications would not be good. I wonder if any provisions have been made for this scenario?

  9. It is possible to get more cold air and snow this winter, but were getting later into winter season, and thus, probably not as good as a chance to get snow here in the lowlands. However, March-April are the usual and active transition period from winter to spring.... so we can still get snow, just that the possibility is`nt so great.

  10. winter of 76-77, I believe was the no snow year.

  11. So there's a possibility of a arctic intrusion in the next 2 weeks or so?

  12. Andy,

    You know March will have way more snow than February. Always works out that way.


  13. I would`nt bet on anything of more than 7 days out or even an arctic intrusion. What may look like cold and snowy weather may not actually turn out that way as each model run is usually different in the long range. Just take it for what it`s worth.

  14. Cliff,
    Was wondering if anybody has thought of using a SETI@home mesh array to increase the forecast model prediction even global climate prediction? By tapping thousands or millions of PC's you could substantially increase computer instructions. Some sort of RAID. Red White and Blue are big but the sum of many could be something.

  15. Josh..the problem is that the problem requires lots of interprocessor communication..something that doesn't work with using thousands of home computers.

  16. Lakewood/Steilacoom/just outside N Ft. Lewis
    Caught this on KUOW this am. They are planning a SETI@home calculation attempt.

    Climate Change Report
    02/11/2009 at 9:00 a.m.

    The Climate Impacts Group of Washington releases its scientific study on climate change Thursday. What did the researchers find? Is the sea level rising? Is rainfall decreasing? Is it getting hotter? How will all this affect agriculture, salmon, forests and our economy? The head of the Department of Ecology says we'll need to take a serious look at emissions and cap–and–trade. Jay Manning and two of the report's authors join us to tackle climate change and what it means for the region.

    Tomorrow on Weekday: The 6 principles of Government
    Philip Mote is a research scientist with the Climate Impacts Group. He'll be moving to Oregon next month to direct the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute.

    Marketa McGuire Elsner is a research scientist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington.

    Jay Manning is director of Washington state's Department of the Ecology.

    Janice Adair is Jay Manning's special assistant for green jobs and climate change issues. She chairs the Western Climate Initiative of seven states and four Canadian provinces.

  17. Your post doesn't make sense.
    Bad news: drought.
    Good news: sun.

    Huh? That makes no sense!

  18. So with the weather modification experiences that have been done in the past... is it possible to modify the weather so Seattle doesn't see so much sun all the time, including during the winter?

  19. Uhh - webmaster, please check the sitemeter. Possible that my name has been co-opted by an orb-in-the-sky-hater.

    Re: drought; looks like Wenatchee area has the lowest snowpack thus far, according to king5 article today. Cliff, didn't you theorize that the NW would be a bit less affected by droughts - - at least for a while? Seem to recall you talking about that last year on KUOW.

  20. Regarding the snowpack deficit: There`s still plenty of time to get it up to near normal levels.All it takes is an cold upper level low to park off the coast for a few weeks and feed a moist westerly flow into the Cascades.Here`s an example from a previous winter:Back on March 29th in 1981, the snow depth was a paltry 6" at Stampede Pass and 81" at Paradise.Then the above mentioned trough came to the rescue. In only two weeks, the snowpack jumped to 60" at SMP, and 152" at Paradise.We still have up to two months to go to increase the snowpack.It ain`t over `till it`s over!

    Interesting to see that the NWS tonight put out a statement that mentioned this years January 10 to February 11th period was the driest in 119 years of record.Like I commented previously, this probably is a 100 to 200 year occurrence.

  21. My daughter started taking horseback riding lessons at the beginning of September. Since then, it's been dry every Wednesday afternoon but two; one was a Pineapple Express and it rained like hell all day except during her lesson, when it slacked off to drizzle, and another day when we had light rain during her lesson.

    To be fair, we did miss two weeks when we were all snowed in and couldn't drive there.

    I figure the chances of this happening, two rain events at 1:30 on Wednesday afternoons from September to early February, are on the order of 5% or less... if my guess and memories are correct, it would be more normal to have at least drizzle for about 75% of her riding lessons.

    It stinks for the snowpack, but I have to admit, it's been great for a 9 year old to have all this dry weather for learning to ride a horse! And her instructor loves it... she says she wakes up on Wednesday morning, looks outside for the sunshine, and says to herself, "Joanne is coming today!" LOL

  22. Cool Hope they get it off the ground!!

  23. Hey Tim(up in North Bend)...if your reading this, do you know whats up with the WesternusaWx.com site this morning?

  24. Ten Driest January 8-February 11 Periods on Record at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport:

    1. 0.81" - 2009
    2. 1.47" - 1962
    3. 1.55" - 1994
    4. 2.03" - 1949
    5. 2.05" - 2007
    6. 2.20" - 1977
    7. 2.41" - 1989
    8. 2.67" - 1948
    9. 2.72" - 1985
    10. 2.73" - 2001

  25. Jessica, sorry-did I give your name a bad image because I have an opinion that we get too much sun here? Ironically, there are other Jessicas in the world, and we're each entitiled to our own opinion.

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. "My name? My name... Smeagol"

    Need to separate yourselves.

    Jessica grey or Jessica sunshine or something

  28. The snowpack is rapidly declining to well below normal...and this is a La Nina year when snowpacks are typically above normal!

    Just goes to prove that even near-term weather is hard to forecast...let alone whether or not the planet is warming. Or if it is, who's to say it's not gonna shift to cooling today, tomorrow, or next week!
    No one really can predict climate change, can they? But there sure a lot of folks whose paychecks depend on fostering the State of Fear!

  29. Wow. The comments aabove are incredible. All this hand-wringing and nashing of teeth over the drought. Y'all need to read Mike Davis' Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Fear (Henry Holt, 1998) where he discusses the politics of weather discussion. Remember: no year is 'the average.' Every seemingly unusual year is really a normal year.

  30. Nope, you didn't give my name a bad name. I wanted to alert Cliff that there is more than one of us. (on the subject of names, everytime I see your name, Mike of MLT, I think "mutton, lettuce & tomato". Brownie points if you know what movie that's from.) Sorry Cliff, I digress.

    I enjoyed those stats on lowest snowpack periods- but the suggested book might be interesting to check out too. Maybe it's not fear but rather a primitive-man remnant in our brains that looks for recognizable patterns to find comfort and a sense of *control* over our environment?

  31. Billy Chrystal in the Princess Bride. A classic.

  32. In years to come, "Global Warming" aka "Man-made Climate Change" will be looked at as one of the great hoaxes of our time.

  33. Guess the weather is so calm there is`nt much to talk about tonight. Thought maybe there would be a new blog posted, but not yet I see.


    Anyway, the latest 00zGFS continues with our splitty like pattern for perhaps the next couple weeks with systems mainly heading south of our region. However, this is not to say that we wont be brushed with high clouds and maybe a few showers at times as they will be brushing close enough to our coast to give a few isolated showers or just high cloud cover at times. Though should still remain cool during this time.

    In long term, a strong push of cold air from the north is once again showing up over region for near months end with cold air near the surface and snow for us. Then perhaps another blast, but this time going into the inland NW and into ID/MT.

    So just take the long range for what it`s worth and what it shows.


  34. January 8th thru February 11th
    may have been the driest on
    record, but let us see how
    January 1st through February 28th
    ranks. Singling out the precise
    period of record that corresponds
    with the dry spell this year skews
    the result, obviously. What is best
    is to sort for the water year so
    far--October 1st through today.

    Mutton lettuce and tomato, I hadn't
    even thought of the Princess Bride.
    So that nobody else can be Mike of
    MLT, I have registered at blogger.
    Heh, that is great. --MM

  35. Andy, will the system that comes in between days 16-17 be cold enough to support snow?

  36. Mike, since you were wondering... lowest October 1 - February 12 precipitation amounts on record (this year is #15):

    1. 7.12" - 1977
    2. 10.81" - 1994
    3. 12.68" - 2001
    4. 13.93" - 1979
    5. 14.19" - 1988
    6. 15.73" - 2005
    7. 16.24" - 1993
    8. 16.86" - 1962
    9. 17.13" - 1949
    10. 17.46" - 1989
    11. 17.55" - 1970
    12. 17.68" - 1973
    13. 17.89" - 1957
    14. 17.93" - 1985
    15. 18.55" - 2009

  37. Sorry Mike, in that last post, the year listed is the second of the two years (i.e. 2009 means Oct 1 2008-Feb 12 2009). I realized that wasn't clear right after I submitted it.

  38. Thanks! I have access to those at work, not from home--at least not easily. Of course one of the issues we have here in Western Washington is an excess of water at times, and not enough storage for the driest summers.

    Where I grew up in Lake Stevens, my family had a well. No summer drought ever had an effect on us, underground storage seems to recharge. You would probably have to string several dry years together to run out most places. They were running dry out at Neah Bay one summer, I thought that very odd. Obviously we have plenty of water, and only the driest years and shallowest wells present a problem and only for a few locations. Snow water storage is another thing--factor in warm versus cold springtime--you don't want your snow water equivalent to runoff too early. An area like the dry Methow valley--fairly arid in a normal year, and extra dry this year, well they could use a wet late winter/early spring, and cooler than normal would be a big plus. I wouldn't be surprised to see them make up some ground. Hope so anyway.

  39. Perhaps we oughta rethink removing dams (like the Elwha) with droughts forecast to be more frequent. Might need to store water!


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