March 12, 2012

Major Storm Hits

This storm has so many interesting and intense features I just wanted to update everyone on the action.  Here is the latest infrared satellite photo--simply impressive.  You can see the swirling clouds around the low center, which is now crossing northern Vancouver Island...exactly what the models have been saying for a few days.  Cold unstable air is circling around from the west (the pattern of cloud and clear skies that has a mottled appearance). 

It appears that last night's runs underpredicted the strength of the system a bit...the pressure at Solander Island, on the northern Vancouver Island coast dropped to 962 hPa.  This is a very intense low for our neck of the woods.  The more intense storms on record only get down to the low 950s.

And the wave heights did not disappoint.  Some of the buoys have shown significant wave heights of over 30 ft!  Here are a few examples at buoy 41 off the WA coast and buoy 50 off the Oregon coast:

As I noted in previous blogs, the NWS Wavewatch III model indicated the potential for a big wave was correct.

By the way, if you ever want to check out coastal conditions a really great site is SurfWA.

And the Langley Hill radar on the WA coast provided its value again, indicating the approach of the front from offshore.  Look at radar image from around 6 AM this morning...the front is seen offshore...the line of convection that has a series of intense elements (cores) and weaker areas (gaps).  Classic ocean frontal signature.   And by tracking it we knew exactly when this key feature was going to make landfall hours ahead (more on this in a future blog).

 And winds?  On the coast, winds of up to 50-70 mph were commonplace, such as the 60 kts at buoy 41 off the central WA coast:

More impressively, we are experiencing one of the strongest wind events of the past few years over NW Washington and SE Vancouver Island.  Winds at Trial Island, just off of Victoria have gusted to at least 60 knots (69 mph).  Buoy 88, over the eastern side of the Strait to 50 kts (see below)

Winds are fairly strong (30-40 mph) over Puget Sound, but weaker over land.   Here are the 7 AM winds from the Kingston Ferry...winds (sustained) to 36 knots. Note how much weaker the winds are closer to the shore where they are coming off of land.  Water is aerodynamically fairly smooth and allow strong acceleration.

Anyway, an impressive storm and well predicted.   It is perhaps ironic that we have gotten so good at predicting major Pacific storms coming off the ocean, yet have so much trouble in getting minor snow events correct.  Twenty years ago we were unable to forecast major cyclones coming off the ocean...we not only can do that now, but have great skill in determining the resulting  local wind patterns.  Two decades have changed everything.  Don't forget that when you listen to a weatherman jokes or view a Subaru commercial ("you don't need a weatherman if you have a Subaru").


  1. Nice rainbows over Bellingham bay this morning. Wind and high tide had the water up in Boulevard park this morning.

  2. Cliff,
    Perhaps the LGX is now in the "sold" status and no further promotion is needed. Nonetheless, living in Olympia, I frequently consult both LGX and ATX imagery and am frequently stunned at what LGX shows which is completely blind to ATX. Today's LGX image shows very heavy precip centered over it, and an all red line of very intense precip right across hwy 101 at Hoquiam. Of course, ATX shows absolutely nothing at all in this location. The data are stunningly different. I think that during some period of ho-hum weather, a blog of perhaps five side by side image comparisons between the two radars would be quite stimulating. I have seen at least that many times in the limited period that LGX has been operational that VERY HEAVY weather on the coast is INVISIBLE in the ATX images, just like this morning.
    Thanks for all the effort that you clearly put into this blog. It is very educational.

  3. Hi Cliff,

    I really appreciate all of your views on weather, plus math and science in the schools as well! If you have a moment, I would be grateful if you would give us your opinion on the new math and science books the Shoreline School District is looking to roll out. Here is an excerpt from an email I just received:

    Middle school math and elementary science textbook options available for review
    The Shoreline School District Instruction Department would like to invite interested parents and community members to review the middle school math programs (grades 6-8) and the elementary school science programs (P-6) that we are considering for adoption. Materials will be available during the month of March, and will be located in the Instruction Department of the Shoreline Center (I Wing).

    The District has four math programs under review:
    Digits, published by Pearson
    Math Connects, published by Glencoe
    Connected Mathematics Project (CMP2), published by Pearson (CMP2 is our current program in grades 6th, 7th and 8th.)
    Our current K-5 program, enVisions, published by Pearson, is also an option for 6th grade.

    The District currently has the following three science programs under review:
    Science Companion, published by Chicago Science Group
    Science and Technology Concepts (STC), published by Carolina Biological Supply Company
    FOSS, for 6th grade Space unit only, published by Delta, 2012 (FOSS, 2000 is our current program)

    Interested reviewers should check in with Cathy Allred in the Instruction Department during regular business hours 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Reviewers will be expected to complete a survey for each program in math or science. If you have any questions, please contact Cathy Allred at 393-4211. We look forward to having community input on these very important decisions.

    Thank you so much for your time and consideration!
    Rona Sass

  4. Seattle City Light Wind map looks very impressive for Wednesday.
    Is that for real?

  5. Some photos from the winds hitting BC:

  6. Hey Cliff, the rain 'n snow don't bug me, but these cold temps sure do. How unusual is this? It seems to me that we're in the fifth cold and wet year in a row. Is this going to be another La Nina year, g--d---it?

  7. That *is* interesting, the increased forecasting accuracy with regard to this sort of storm, compared to the challenges presented by minor snow days.

    Weather in north Whatcom County has been pretty bland, though I know Bellingham, south of us, gets the better (*smile*) end of the deal during these south wind weather events. Up our way, the winds are strong, of course, but nothing like what we contend with when the northeaster hits. And temps are low 40s, nothing terribly cold. Certainly nothing to validate my skipped run today. ;-D

  8. Cliff,
    There appeared to be a cluster of 2 or 3 short lived surface lows beneath a upper lever low to the northwest of the 'bomb' Monday morning. Would be interesting to discuss how, if at all, these may have been related to the intensity of the low hitting Vancouver Island later. Also what role the Cascade,Olympic and mountains of Vancouver Island may play in the path of these lows.


  9. The high winds definately verified in Port Townsend this morning. Pretty darn slushy to outright snowy as well both in town and out near Oak Bay. Hypothermia weather!

  10. Hi Cliff,

    You are probably already aware, but Mt Baker is on course to have over 300" on the ground, by the end of the week (if the models are right). If memory serves, the biggest depth during the world record 98-99 season was 330", so we are starting to get close....

  11. Wow, Merry Island BC hit 187KM (116MPH)wind gusts today at 9 AM.. That is serious wind!

  12. Hi Cliff,

    I just drove home from a party at a friends house through 4 inches of heavy wet snow here in Newport on the Oregon Coast. The most snow I have seen in the 7 years I have lived here and it still coming down like mad.

    This part of the storm seems to not have been predicted and it looks like other places like Seattle aren't getting any snow at all.

    The winds were really strong all day until about 5 in the afternoon when it was like someone turned a switch and they just died off to nothing.


  13. The weather gods are still jesting with us. Major wind yesterday. This morning, an inch of snow and it just started snowing again. Coming down thickly with big, fluffy flakes. We still have a winter wonderland above 500 feet on Orcas!

  14. Snowing in downtown Seattle (Pioneer Square) this morning, and was snowing in West Seattle too when I left for work. What a crazy couple of days!

  15. Tuesday AM, much snow in the air, and slushy on the road in Chehalis area. Friend snowed in on Burnt Ridge at the 1000 foot level.

    Sunday I wanted to go up to a grand kiddy soccer game, weather seemed terrible, but the UW radar loop showed that Renton-SeaTac was largely missing most of it.I-5 near Federal Way was terrrible, snow actually sticking in the HOV lane, but the game was watchable. Love that loop.

  16. I've had it. We've been averaging 5-10 degrees below normal highs for a while now and the forecast calls for more of the same through the next week. Highs of 41 and 43 every day!! Please God. Please. Let us see some consistent 50's and a bit of sun!

  17. Cliff,

    I have to agree with the Windrope Family. Seems like we have been low on sun for a long time. I heard on NPR that La Nina is finally going away. Any hope for a spring of at least average warmth (and we're due for an above average spring... seems to me, just because we haven't had one in some years.) It sure would be nice.

  18. A homeowner's security cameras captured footage of a tornado as it tore through West Liberty, KY recently. Pretty scary. To see the 10m minute video use the URL below.

    Art Davidson

  19. Yeah, Cliff, modern weathermen have taken all the fun out of mountain climbing. Although Cascade weather has always been predictable ("Either it is raining, or it will be soon"), back in the day, when men were men, one always had to deal with uncertainty. Experienced mountaineers would listen to the NOAA radio (itself a newfangled indulgence), cast a wary eye at the sky, stroke their grizzled chins thoughtfully, and plan 3 weekend contingencies:
    Plan A (good weather): an ambitious peak west of the Cascade crest, maybe even the Olympics.
    Plan B (iffy weather): a fallback option east of the divide.
    Plan C (normal weather): clean the basement.
    Nowadays, unfortunately, the pampered youth of today can actually trust the forecasts, and miss the character-building fortitude that comes from venturing into the unknown, in the teeth of Nature, and getting skunked half the time. The element of chance is gone. One meets much less disappointment, discomfort, and frustration. {sigh} I fear for the moral fibre of the society.

  20. What a day. Gig Harbor had hail (twice), snow (twice), rain showers, dry overcast, dry sunshine (!), steady strong winds, gusty winds, and dead calm. Temperatures were bouncing around accordingly. Ah, but I always think, it could be worse...I could still be living in L.A. Much worse.

  21. SO much snow! Heading home to Bainbridge Island from San Francisco, spent the night in Crescent Beach, OR. last night. Really high winds. Then cut across to I5 by way of Grants Pass. Snow mixed with torrential rains all the way to Salem, then the most bizarre mix of brilliant sun, near blackout rain mixed with frozen ice/snow, then back to sun. Really exciting and fun!


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