March 13, 2011

Latest Pacific Trajectories From the Japanese Reactor and Amazing Rainshadow

A few people emailed me asking for update trajectories from the vicinity of the Japanese reactors. These trajectories use the NOAA Hysplit model, driven by output from the U.S. GFS global forecasting model. I have launched trajectories from 50, 4500 and 9000 meters above the surface. Keep in mind that there are considerable uncertainties in such trajectories. So here they are:Strangely, the trajectory starting at 50 meters ends right over Seattle...after nine days!! Even if this was true and the initial concentrations were large, trubulent and diffusive motions in the atmosphere would reduce concentrations over us to minimal, if not infinitesimal, levels.

This time of the year there is often good transport across the Pacific. It is not unusual for smoke and dust from Asia to reach us in measurable quantities...but these are extensive sources spread out over a huge area (see graphic below for an example)

Professor Dan Jaffe of UW Bothell is an expert on such cross-Pacific transport and has documented the movement of particles and chemical species across the Ocean.

On another topic... there is an extraordinary rain shadow today. Take a look at a typical radar image this morning:The San Juans have essentially been completely dry. Only .01 inches in Friday Harbor! A trace at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. But .31 inches here at the UW. The rain shadow extends all the way to Bellingham where only a trace has fallen. Just shows you that even on wet days, you can escape it by heading for the current location of the rainshadow.


  1. And an amazing cold front arriving. Squall line hitting the Oregon Coast with a terrific lightning. Great dynamics to create that convection over such cold water. Check out that radar!!!

  2. I noticed that amazing rainshadow when I looked at the NWS site. It has, indeed, been dry here on the west side of San Juan Island since yesterday. It is quite windy, though.

  3. OTO, Cliff. The usual rainshadow on the NE tip of the Olympic Peninsual is non-existant. We are getting royally dumped on in the Port Townsend area. The drainage ditches along hwy 116 (Flagler Rd.) on Marrowstone Island were overflowing this morning, with many areas of water over the roadway just from run-off.


  4. Pretty much count on a dry day here in Bellingham when there is a SW Flow. Even when the the NWS calls for rain most of the time.

  5. The NWS doesn't make much effort to forecast the rainshadow. I saw this pattern developing last week and figured it would be pretty dry in the islands, but every day they forecast rain or showers for us. Hardly a drop today and only a very light brief shower yesterday. Lots of wind of course.

  6. Cliff, you're right. Here on the south end of San Juan Island we've had very little rain today. But the wind is just howling! Blowing the dogs to the end of their chains. Blowing the oysters off the rocks. Blowing the foam off the top of my latte!

  7. Very Cool!!!!!! You are my new hero!!! Thanks a bunch for the analysis!!. I think we will soon learn that matters, for Japanese, are a lot worse than officials are currently reporting. So it is good to hear to facts from a respected scientist.

  8. I wonder if you could say a bit more about the science behind the diffusion you mention. I'm wondering to what extent it is pure diffusion (it concentration spreading out) and to what extent it is an example of the sensitive dependence on initial conditions of the weather model (ie particles introduced at similar points ending up in dissimilar locations due to chaotic effects).

    I also feel that the April 19th -April 25th graphic you provide is a bit unclear... it appears that the area of the yellow area remains somewhat constants suggesting little diffusion occurred?

  9. Not to panic too much, but plant #3 just blew up.

    Now they tell us that that one has plutonium and uranium (weapons grade?) It was part of the "atoms-to-killowatts" project which converts atomic weapons to nuclear fuel. As we know from the whole Iran keruffule, uranium for use in weapons is far more enriched than that used in nuclear plants. Plutonium is a whole different ball game altogether and it is hard to think about the consequences of a plutonium release.

    This explains why they put such immediate effort onto #3, which let #1 get away.

    News reports say that a large plume of smoke was seen coming out of #3 (how high?) and that helicopters 60 miles away detected radiation.

    This is an even bigger deal than we thought at first. Keep those weather charts coming, please!

  10. CNN is somewhat downplaying it; small plume of white smoke.

    A video is worth 1000 words:

    How high is that smoke plume? (How can they possibly say that they have the situation under control?)

  11. hmm... interesting. so it's staying concentrated enough a least a bit off the Japanese shore:

    "William Broad reports in the New York Times that crew members on the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, sailing in the Pacific, "passed through a radioactive cloud from stricken nuclear reactors in Japan." Crew members got a month's worth of radiation in about an hour. US helicopters flying missions about 60 miles away from the stricken nuclear reactors "became coated with particulate radiation that had to be washed off." Officials say the radioactive plume currently poses no risk to the US."

  12. Why does your dispersal model differ significantly from Weather Underground's Jeff Masters model

    and the March 13th press release from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: "Given the thousands of miles between the two countries, Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S. West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity,"

  13. Nine days (for that particular model run, anyway) is kind of interesting for another reason: the half-life of I-131 (the iodine radioisotope that worries people the most) is 8 days. So in addition to dilution into the larger air mass and precipitation into the ocean, the radioactivity will be cut in half as well. Of course there are plenty of other nasty elements in any cloud that would be produced by a meltdown and breach of the Japanese reactor, but I-131 is one of the most worrisome (because the body takes it up so avidly).

    In more prosaic weather talk -- what was with the squall that blew through before 7am Monday morning? I have west-facing windows on the west side of Cap Hill, and they were getting pelted so hard with rain that it woke me up. Usually it's the south side that takes the brunt of that kind of weather, so getting it from due west was surprising and interesting.

  14. How can they say they have the situation under control?

    It all depends what you're comparing it too. Compared to Chernobyl, things are going great!

  15. Let me note that the radiation reported by the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan was... 100 miles from the reactor and now supposedly a US Air Force WC-135 has reported radiation in the mid-north pacific, wherever that may be and whatever that means...
    But as i understand on here, in the event there is radiation heading towards the Pacific North West and possibly right over Seattle :) :(, the dissipation would be strong enough to eliminate high risk levels of radiation, right?

  16. I think many of you are misreading this post. The "fallout" of the radiation release won't affect Americans due to the distance between the landmasses and the atmospheric effects over the ocean. Radioactive particles will be diffused, for one, and also drawn into the sea by precipitation.

    What I'm seeing is that you guys are reading into the post what you want to believe. The truth is that the situation with the power plants is NOT nearly as serious as is being reported. So far, no harmful amounts of radiation have been released and there is no reason to expect this to happen. The pollution from China that we get everyday here in Seattle is more harmful to our health than any amount of radiation that we might receive from the situation in Japan.

  17. Just read the post. And yes, we've been enjoying the rain shadow up here in Anacortes! I've lived here for 17 yrs now. It seems to me that the shadow is more prolific in the spring and early fall months. Purely observational. Does the data show that too?

  18. Here in western Skagit County, between Mt. Vernon and Anacortes we have been in the real rainshadow. From almost 8 inches in January to less than 3 inches in February to barely 1 inch so far this month, we have been getting less and less rain each month. It is like the rainshadow was nonexistent in January and it has been becoming more and more powerful since.

  19. I think there is a tendency for for people to let their competitive instincts overwhelm their common sense. In the wider discussion of the nuclear incident in Japan I see a tendency for anybody who expresses concern about three reactors getting into a situation that we have been told for years was impossible to be labled as some kind of environmental extremists.

    I am certainly not pro- or anti-nuclear power. I'm just a guy whose family lives on an island that is fairly difficult to get off of. If the authorities declare that "in the interests of extreme caution" west coast residents should move inland, I'm pretty well stuck if I do not get a large head start.

    We are in a situation that experts have told us is so unlikely as to be impossible. Yesterday we were told that the event was nowhere near as bad as Three Mile Island, now we are told that it is maybe a little worse than TMI but not as bad as Chernoybl.

    I think it does a disservice to the scientific and technological community in the long run to minimize the problems when people can see with their own eyes what is going on. It is the inverse of the boy who cried 'wolf.' The crew of nuclear aircraft carriers are not nuclear-phobic, yet they moved the silly thing because it encountered a cloud of radioactivity 100 miles off of the coast.

    Spent fuel rods are incredibly nasty things, if it were not so then nuclear power would be non-controversial. We need to be honest and acknowledge that. The old rods are apparently stored on top of the reactors that we see blowing up violently (see the video that I attached.)

  20. Breaking from MSNBC - Another explosion has breached the containment shell at one of the reactors and damaged the suppression pool. This is about the worst case scenario. The plant has been evacuated.

    I don't think the evidence supports the idea that the situation at the plants is "not as severe as reported."

  21. After nine days?

    What would the projections be out to the half-life of plutonium? (Try not to inhale.)

  22. Why would we be making projections regarding plutonium? These plants use uranium oxide as fuel; there isn't a significant amount of plutonium in them. The radioactive elements we should be worried about are the ones that are actually there and long-lived enough to pose a potential danger, such as cesium, iodine, strontium, and argon.

    Anyway, plutonium is a very heavy metal and precipitates quickly; unlike the current situation, we actually have pretty good data on that thanks to the cloud produced over Nagasaki in 1945. Fortunately, these reactors aren't atomic bombs and wouldn't produce the same kind of fall-out, but even if they did we can take comfort in the fact that the Hanford-produced Plutonium didn't make it across the Pacific (and back to Washington) then, either.

  23. I thought people might be interested in in some photos and the solar radiation graph for the last 7 days out in the rain shadow.

    This has been an exceptional period in terms of contrasts between heavy precipitation in the mountains and sunshine in the rain shadow.


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