February 27, 2012

Lowland Snow?, Thank You, and The Seattle Times Does it Again

We are now thoroughly stuck in a La Nina pattern, cold and occasionally wet.  The mountains are going to get several more feet this week...pretty much guaranteed...but there is also a possibility of some lowland areas....particularly southeast of the Olympics picking up some of the white stuff.  A front is approaching the coast right now and an associated low center will be off the Olympic Peninsula around dinnertime tomorrow (see graphic of sea level pressure and lower-atmospheric temperatures below).  Temperatures will be a bit too warm for snow in most of the lowlands, where rain showers will be observed, except for where the precipitation is heavy enough to push the snow level to the surface. This kind of pattern produces strong southeasterly flow approaching the Olympics, resulting in upslope flow strong enough to enhance precipitation rates and more upslope cooling...the result:  snow.

 Here is the 24 h snow totals ending 4 PM tomorrow (Tuesday) and 4 PM Wednesday from the UW high-res model.  LOTS of snow over the Olympics and its SE side, particularly the second day.  Big snow dumps over the Cascades.   Even the lowlands could see a few snow bursts during heavier precipitation bands....but it probably won't be much.  Eastern slopes of the Cascades will also get substantial amounts due to easterly upslope on that side of the mountains.

The problem with this situation is that we have very marginal air for snow (not really cold enough near sea level) on the western side, with good onshore flow.  No real push of cold air from southern BC.

And now the thank you.   I am extraordinarily thankful to a number of you have contributed to my research fund (link upper right in this blog).  I have used some of the contributions to maintain and develop the high resolution weather prediction that I show so often in this blog (including the new ultra-high 4/3 km resolution). A portion of the gifts are also being used as an undergraduate research scholarship, to aid some of our most promising undergraduates in  paying for tuition.  As undergraduate adviser I have sensitive to the increasing debt loan and multiple jobs many of the undergraduates are burdened with--particularly as tuition goes up 20% a year.    I have decided to award the first scholarship of $2000 to Steven Brey, shown below, a very promising junior in our program. Congratulations Stephen!  This scholarship could not have happened with the support of the readers of this blog.  Hopefully, I will be able to do this again.


 Finally, the depressing part of the blog.  The Seattle Times opinion and editorial staff have consistently provided misinformation to the public regarding public education issues and today was no different.  The main opinion headline in the Seattle Times was:

In this story they claimed that a 6-month old program to improve attendance (like offering prizes and pizza parties!) was working, causing public-school absentee rates to be nearly halved.  And they provide as proof a figure showing monthly absentee rates for this and  previous years:

This is entirely wacky!  The program started in Sept 2011.   You will notice that the absentee rates for this Sept through January are virtually the same as the last TWO years. For some reason, 2008-2009 was a bit higher--but that is not an issue here.  So other than this February there is ABSOLUTELY no evidence that the new program is doing anything.  Where in the world did they get that the rate was cut in half?    But it is worse than that.  Strangely, they show the absentee rate for February...a month that is not over yet...and that is their best month yet.  Is there a reason other than pizza parties and home checks that might explain this?  YOU BET!  As news headlines have attested, this is one of the quietest flu seasons on record.  A lot less kids are getting sick.  To illustrate this, here are the flu stats from King County:

Note that this year (2011-2012, red line) is by far the most benign flu year of all, and the difference with the other years is increasing.  I suspect that is the major contributor to less absenteeism.  Quite possibly, the next ST editorial will talk about how pizza and ice cream parties reduce flu outbreaks in the region.   

This would all be funny if it wasn't so embarrassing for our main local paper.  And this is not isolated incident.  Recently, the ST opinion page pushed charter schools, saying that 17% of them showed improved performance compared to regular schools.   What they didn't tell you was that 37% had WORSE performance than regular schools and the rest were no better.  Talking about deceiving with statistics. And of course there was their bogus front page headline and editorial about the UW rejecting great straight-A students to get a lot of out of state cash.  That was the one that got me kicked off of KUOW for daring to mention the true situation on-air. 

One wonders when the Blethen family, which controls the Seattle Times, will intervene to stop a disgraceful situation at this previously proud newspaper.

PS:  Last call if anyone wants to go to the NW Weather Workshop...see information on the right.


  1. I laugh at the Times' inability to understand correlation and causation…

    Having spent some time around schools, I have observed that of the three modes of transport used — walking/biking, bus, driven by parent — one of them is far more likely to get kids late to school. Guess which it is? Hint: it's not the kids who are late.

    And the initial announcement of this program said that if a student misses 10 days in a school year, they were doomed to a lifetime of failure and penury. Think about that: it's a day a month. Does that make sense? Of course not.

    The actual figure is 10% which on a 180 day school calendar is almost twice as many days. But of course a raw number of days tells us nothing: far more useful would be is they are one at a time or grouped, if they extend the weekend or any number of other details that the number "10%" don't include.

    So if someone took their child on a trip to see some cultural event or on a tour off some kind for a week or two, they may well be considered "at-risk." What kind of critical thinking can we expect kids to learn in a system that does things like this?

  2. Correlation vs causation, once again!

  3. Maybe a quibble? Another sign of editorial genius is the grammatical error in the Times headline itself: "Efforts to boost...is paying off." Might give an idea of how much scrutiny the editorial received internally...

  4. Random bit of information for December 2008.

    Here in Portland, that was the month of two weeks of cold and snow that stayed on the ground for two weeks. Classes were cancelled at most schools the week before winter break. Ahhh...to be a kid again.

    I don't remember what happened in Seattle that month, but the weather probably was part of the absentee rates.

  5. Congrats to Mr Brey. I hope he will be a role model in the future by embracing the education of the public like you do , Dr Mass.

    The Olympic east slope was stunning Monday morning at sunrise, a new layer of snow will make them glorious.

  6. Cliff,

    Great job. Please keep the pressure on the Seattle Times. I absolutely love it. The ONLY reason I still subscribe to the Times is because my 94 year old mother retired from there.

  7. So cool that Stephen got the scholarship! Great work :)

    See you at the Weather Workshop!

  8. Cliff, thanks for once again calling out the Times's slanted coverage. If you're interested in attempts to mislead the reader in politics rather than education, here's an excerpt from a letter I recently sent to the Times editor:

    "It’s been interesting, but disappointing, to watch the Rove money machine shrewdly manipulate the Seattle Times to make Rob McKenna the next governor of Washington. The Rove machine has openly targeted the Washington governor’s race to ensure a switch from Democrat to Republican, and its initial efforts are apparent in a spate of McKenna pictures and positive McKenna features in the Times. In the last two months I’ve counted eight Times articles that include McKenna’s photo, usually placed on the front page of Section 1 or 2. His photo shows up even when these articles have little or nothing to do with him. When the articles are about him, they’re positive toward him and dismissive of Inslee and his election prospects. Articles about Inslee are few and far between, and when they do appear (in both local and national reporting by Times staff), they belabor any obstacles he faces and emphasize McKenna’s positive prospects. The February 26 and 27 papers had two more negative Inslee/positive McKenna articles, and sure enough, McKenna’s picture appears in both. Does the Rove machine actually supply these stories, or is it that skillful in supplying favorable/unfavorable information for your reporters and editors to write from? I’d love to see even one positive news story or feature about Inslee sometime (without a McKenna picture)."

    Note that Section B in this morning's paper had yet another front-page feature with McKenna's beaming face.

    Seattle is lucky to have you keeping watch over media accuracy and honesty.


  9. A Progressive Crank, and you know what the really funny (in a sad way) sequel is? Of the four days in February that Seattle Schools were closed for snow, they made up one, and they've asked for a waiver on the number of instruction days so they don't have to make up the other three! So, missing school days due to sickness or family vacation puts kids At Risk to a Lifetime of Failure. But when it would cause the District to have to rearrange their summer plans, they don't hesitate to put kids at risk! And they're doing it to every kid under their care.

  10. Maybe the Seattle Times needs some remedial math education

  11. The politics and governance of low expectations. Thanks Progressives.


  12. Cliff, thanks for your editorial comments on the Seattle Times. I appreciate the discussion!

    People, have you all learned by now that just because you read it in the newspaper or hear it on the TV news, it may or may not be true or biased!!! This goes for both anti-Democrat "news" and anti-Republican "news."

    Remember the old saying - In using data to prove a point, "there are lies, d*mn lies and statistics."


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

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