November 19, 2009

Why is Northwest Washington getting hit so hard? +Defending Randy Dorn

Its back..... No, not some ghostly apparition...the winds. Here in Seattle the trees are moving again and once in a while I can hear the roar of an approaching gust. (aside...gusts are associated with the downward movement of high speed air from aloft associated with turbulence in the lower atmosphere).

But what is happening here in Seattle is NOTHING compared to the strong winds hitting NW Washington, from Whidbey Island to Bellingham to the San Juans. The power was taken out over large portions of the San Juan's in last nights blow and another wind event is back tonight. Jim Forman from KING-5 TV appears to be camping out in Mt. Vernon, providing dramatic descriptions of the perils of the winds. Be scared, be very scared. Winds gusted to around 70 mph in exposed locations of the San Juan's last night and the rest of the area was close behind.

The wind observations from Smith Island...right off of Whidbey Is....tells the story. Winds gusting to 50 kts day after day! And the winds are coming back up now as we speak! (although it probably won't be quite as bad as last night). Look at a recent wind plot:Strong southeasterlies hitting the San Juans and N Whidbey, but nearly calm in Sequim and Port Angeles. Why this pattern night after night? Can't it give Jim Foreman a break?

The reason for all this is that we have had a sequence of lows or troughs moving across Northern Vancouver Island. This has done two things--created a strong pressure change along the axis of the Strait of Georgia AND sent strong southerlies against the Olympics. When strong southerlies approach that mountain barrier we get enhance high pressure on the windward (southern) side and a lee trough (low pressure) on the northern side near Sequim and Port Angeles. Between the two is an enhanced pressure difference. The superposition of both influences creates a large pressure difference that really accelerates the air moving in NW Washington.
You can see this effect in the forecast pressure and wind pattern for last night (see graphic)Comments on Randy Dorn's Statement

Today Randy Dorn made a courageous, but absolutely correct, announcement. The state will delay the math graduation requirements and will have a two tiered system--students who don't pass the end of course exams at "proficient" level will be able to graduate at a "basic" level if they take more coursework. The Seattle Times has gone after him...accusing him of "blinking" under pressure. But they are quite wrong.

No one wants a more rapid transition to better math instruction and student skills than I and others at the UW. We see firsthand the impact of poor math skills and preparation. But it is absolutely unfair to threaten and deny graduation to our high school seniors when we have provided them with an inferior math education.

The math standards have just recently been changed..they are improved but really not good enough. Many of our districts are using terrible textbooks--long on talk and short on real math. Seattle has extraordinarily poor "discovery" math books at all three levels, and major districts like Issaquah are determined to use books found to be unsound by state mathematicians. Many teachers, and particularly elementary school teachers, don't have sufficient math backgrounds. Fixing these problems and changing the attitudes in our problematic Ed schools will take time.

But some well-meaning, but confused, individuals, such as the editorial writer of the Seattle Times and some business types, believe that pushing a high-stakes exam will somehow fix all the problems. That is complete nonsense. We have lots of exams at the state universities and colleges...entrance exams that test real math needed for real world problems. And you know something? Many of our entering students..the creme of the crop..are failing (more than 50% in community colleges). We had the WASL for years and math capabilities sunk to amazing lows. Randy Dorn believes we need time to fix a failed system left to him by Terry Bergeson and others and he is right. Are we ready to deny graduation to 20, 30 or 40% of our seniors? I really doubt it. And it is not a good idea.


  1. I have to defend him too. I have a daughter who is a sophmore here at WF West and is in pre-cal and chemistry.We have to create a system that envelopes all levels of ability. Its not fair to a student who struggles in math and science to be held to the same standard as someone like my daughter who I believe should be made to meet a standard equal to her level of ability.

  2. It has long struck me that high school graduation has a major social content to it. Did the student attend classes, pay attention, turn in assignments on time, act respectful to teachers and class mates? Poorer and less gifted students who meet these requirements and minimal academic success deserve to graduate. Grade transcripts need to be more forthright of course, and colleges and employers ought not to be shy about asking for them from schools.

  3. 12:17 in Hoquiam, the winds have pretty much died down. Good thing,I was getting tired of them.

  4. I had understood why the low pressure areas over Vancouver Island brought high winds to the San Juans, but your explanation of the role the Olympics play is the first I had heard of this enhancement, and it helps the understanding enormously (though I still hate those winds).

    You're right, last night wasn't as bad as the night before. Last night only a peak sustained of 41 out front of our house as compared to three hours over 50 the night before.

    And it died down really fast. Midnight 31 mph. One o'clock 23. Two o'clock, 3. Is that because the low weakened as it hit land, or for some other reason>

  5. On This Day, November 20, In 1935, Cold Air In The Interior Columbia Basin Pushed Westward, Causing Fierce Winds In The Gorge. Crown Point, Oregon Reported Winds Of More Than 50 Mph And Gusts Up To 120 Mph.

    In 1996, Heavy Snowfall Continued In Eastern Washington With 14 Inches Of Snow Falling In Yakima, Knocking Out Power To 15,000 Homes And Cancelling All Bus Service For The First Time In 20 Years. Ellensburg Received Between 18 And 22 Inches Of Snow, Which Resulted In 27 Trucks Jack-knifing On The 30 Mile Stretch Of I-82 Between Ellensburg And Yakima.

  6. Cliff,

    i have been listening to you on KUOW for as long as i can remember, and reading your blog from day one. the comparison to carl sagan was introduced to me in the sw article, it had never occurred to me before. it is entirely appropriate. thanks for all of your work, i relay the legend of Cliff Mass to all of my weather conscious friends. thanks again, and keep kickin' ass!

  7. It also seems like the cascades concentrate the pressure gradient when there's an easterly or westerly component. It's interesting the way our topography affects weather systems, not that I fully understand it.

  8. Thanks for the continuing math updates. I think that this is an important issue and I appreciate being kept up to speed. My son is in 3rd grade in the Bellevue school district and so far I hate the way they do their math, but I don't know if it's him or the curriculum. We are thinking about a move to an area that would put him in the Issaquah School District, so that's somewhat disturbing to hear the state of their math curriculum.

  9. In Randy Dorn, a teacher's union apparatchik, you defend nonfeasance, being as generous as was the Seattle Times today saying he merely "blinked." However, giving you your due, it's a good thing unionized public school teachers have had nothing to do over the years with WASL scores, or math proficiency because we can therefore confidently predict nothing will ever change. As the trend line is negative, this forecast is a bit easier than a 10 meter increase in sea level even if one forecast is more politically correct than the other.

  10. Good for Randy Dorn!
    My eldest homeschooled, taught himself Algebra through Calculus with Saxon,majored in Math, and even learned to write.
    His much younger brother is learning to spell math terms and write paragraphs about math topics in 7th grade. We call it "Math for English Majors." Not a bad thing altogether, but getting pretty frustrating--my kids struggle with writing.
    So, next term we plan to have him do math at home, stay in school for other subjects. It has been a few years--I am wondering if there are better self-teaching programs than Saxon?
    Our former foster son, on the other hand, would have been much more successful in high school if he had been allowed to take a course ABOUT math, rather than doing a lot of math.
    Why should everyone have to be the same? We aren't--and need to both learn some skills in our weaker areas AND be encouraged to excel in our strengths.

  11. One could say I have somewhat recently graduated. But looking back on it, I don't think there was ever so much expected from us but yet given so little material and help. And if you didn't particularly have a passion for math, like the majority of students, you were especially screwed.

    True story, my high school didn't even offer calculus. I was done with math my sophmore year. There were enough brains in my senior class to start up calculus. The head teacher had to take summer college courses to learn the curriculum. The class ended up being taught by our brightest student, and I dropped out.

    Thought I could test right into calculus at UDUB. Nope, tested into Math120 only to fail my first quarter. 4.0 my re-take class. I'm holding myself responsible, but the state did nothing to prepare oneself.

  12. And mainstreeter, that event happened on november 18th. Even though I was a little boy, I know because it started snowing on my birthday night. Snowed 27 inches at our house. It was a once in a lifetime event, and you had to say wow, I didn't think that was even physically possible.

  13. There is, right now (Friday, 4:49) a very impressive, for Washington, thunderstorm going on over Vancouver island and north of San Juan Island. Multiple lightning flashes, thunder rolling almost constantly for about fifteen minutes. Not up to the standards of the Pennsylvania thunderstorms I grew up with, but for here, much stronger and more active than the occasional two-flashes-and-done storms we normally see. This one is for real.

  14. Central Coast 6:30pm. Winds increasing dramatically. Steady 25-30mph with gusts to 45mph from the west. Bar 29.63 and rising

  15. What we need is for our society to decide education is the MOST critical thing we can offer ourselves, then make the sacrifices that will be required to move all education up about 10 rungs on the 'need to have' ladder. Only when we as a society decide this is the ONLY thing that will save us from ourselves will there be change, a change that fully funds all math, english, communications and world history. Funds to reduce class sizes and funds to put into place the opportunities for every child to succeed.
    Maybe if we all have to sacrifice to make this happen, each of us will have a vested interest is seeing it through and be willing to reach out to every student to make sure they have a mentor and the parents have the needed tools to make sure their children succeed.

  16. C.P.O., from my experiences with both Issaquah and Bellevue school districts with a now-fourth grader, all I can say is, if math is your concern, DO NOT go to Issaquah. I couldn't believe the SHITE that passed for math education there. At least what she brings home from Bellevue can be expanded upon in a simple way to make sure she's getting all the basics and then some. Issaquah's curriculum was unintelligible and did not teach MATH. On the whole, our experiences with Bellevue schools and teachers has been far superior; this has also been true at the middle and high school levels with an older child. HTH

    And Cliff, thanks for having a sane take on what Randy Dorn is putting forward. I very much agree with his approach and I am grateful that it's meeting some support. We don't need analysis paralysis, we need a clear plan for moving forward.

  17. bummer, I was hoping the La Crosse weather station would be finalized for any more wind events, but the solar powered anemometer is not syncing with the station.

  18. I am guessing you have already done this - Make sure you have your solar powered anemometer close to a bright light bulb and then use the pin to resync your anemometer to your console. If your unit is already mounted in a hard to reach place this becomes a little trickier.

  19. Yep, took about 20 mins but it finally synced. Not a bad unit,not mine but If it was, I would of gone Davis quality. I downloaded the pc data management which works with a wireless usb card and looking at sending the data to the Net.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. Are we really getting "hit so hard," or is this just November??


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

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