June 22, 2012

Wet Day and Hard Forecast

It was quite wet today over much of western Washington as a SE-NW band of precipitation set up residence across the region for hours.   Major contrasts too: from over 1.5 inches to a few hundredths.

Take a look at the precipitation map for the 24h ending 9 PM.  The dark green indicate more than an inch, while the whites are less than .1.  Amazing gradients...a few tenths in eastern WA.  Huge variation across the Sound ranging from 1-1.5 over the eastside to a few tenths over Kitsap...not the normal situation!  Even less on the coast.  The highest I spotted was 1.73 inches at Woods Creek NE of Monroe.

Here is a radar image for mid-afternoon....this was the story for four to six hours this afternoon

The yellows are moderate to heavy rain.

The origin of the precipitation was a very strong low off our coast that caused persistent southerly and southeasterly flow over our region--with bands of clouds and precipitation rotating around it...here is the upper level flow late this afternoon...the low is very strong for this time of the year.  This feature is not moving anywhere fast.
This is a VERY unusual situation.  Here is the 500 hPa forecast for tomorrow (solid lines) and what is known as the standardized anomaly....in standard deviations.  You see we are at least out four standard deviations...this pattern occurs only once  in 15,787 times...very, very rare.

  Here is a satellite picture showing you the moisture rotation around the low.  You can see the bands caught up in the flow..mainly on the eastern side of the low where there is upward motion.

These are very hard situations to forecast well...yes, we knew it was going to rain, but correctly defining and timing these bands is extremely difficult more than 6 hours ahead of time.   One day.

Looks like a another band will swing through later tonight....well, at least you don't have to water your garden this weekend.

Coal Train Help:   As I mentioned in a previous blog, a group of us would like to take observations around a few coal trains.   Does anyone know how frequently they pass through Seattle (I believe they are only full northbound)?  Are there more on certain days of the week?  Is there any way to know when one is coming a hour or so ahead of time?   Perhaps one of you living near a rail line might have some insights into this.


  1. I'm surprised Seattle didn't set a record for lowest maximum temperature today. Bet it came close!

  2. I have seen the coal trains pass by the Seattle Costco in the evening around 10:30 PM. They are always going Northbound. I wonder if there is a street or highway camera that would also show the rail road tracks?

  3. Carkeek Park is a good place to 'keep watch' for coal trains. Because they pass below the meadow/playground area, it's easy to verify that coal is indeed in the cars.

    Maybe you could set up an account (gmail, twitter, etc.) and ask people to send in the date and time they see a coal train pass by there. Sharp eyes could even count the number of full coal cars.

    And maybe you could even sweeten the deal by offering a copy of your book to the person who sends in the most reports of distinct trains!

  4. A fair number of coal trains come north and unload at the Centralia coal generation plant. It is IIRC scheduled to close in 2025. There are coal export ports currently in the Vancouver and Prince Rupert area, most likely fed by trains going through Canada.

  5. I live on Woods Creek and can confirm that we got a ton of rain yesterday. Not a good year to be a farmer.

  6. We just passed the coal cars parked just south of Auburn on some holding tracks. I couldn't count them but there were dozens at least. If someone is in the auburn area they can go down there and count them right now.

  7. "Does anyone know how frequently they pass through Seattle (I believe they are only full northbound)?"

    There are usually two per day that go through seattle. Yes, they are only full northbound.

    "Are there more on certain days of the week?"

    Well occasionally you might get three but it is random, seemingly, when this might happen

    "Is there any way to know when one is coming a hour or so ahead of time? "

    There are two common time frames for them to come through seattle. The trains are staged in auburn and there is a late morning run and an afternoon/evening run. I would put the auburn departure usually happening at 9:00-13:00, and 19:00-23:00, i.e. after the commuter trains run. If there is a third, it could come whenever.

    The way to know when one is coming an hour or so ahead of time would be to know when it is departing auburn yard.

    Depending on where in seattle you are, knowing departure from auburn could give you 25-60+ minutes lead time. “seattle terminal” is a long and at times congested section of track, so the best you can do is just know it is on its way from auburn. If there are no traffic hiccups it could cruise through. I imagine it usually does this. But it is not uncommon for trains to get caught up at signals and delayed en route.

    The way to know it is departing auburn is to either have someone witness it and contact you, or to listen to an internet stream of radio communications that includes radio chatter from Auburn Yard.

    I can help you more with this if you give me a way to get in touch with you. Sounds like interesting measurements you intend to take. Thanks, love your website.

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  9. Sue over at Ship's Log has been
    tracking them for sometime and i think she has some good stats

  10. to wit, there was one coal train at seattle amtrak station saturday night at 8:00pm. another left auburn to head north at 9:40pm. this morning, another left auburn 10:50am.

  11. I just saw an uncovered coal train go by at Blue Ridge at 12:20 pm Sunday, not sure if this is a regular schedule. I thought these trains were supposed to be covered??

  12. I live in Downtown Seattle, across from the Port of Seattle, and the Olympic Sculpture Garden ... and just watched the coal train go by (9:05PM ... I know the Sculpture Garden has some sort of sensors set up for the living tree thing next door, maybe a good place to set up some sensors. As for the dust ... well, all the trains put a pretty good layer of dust in my apartment ... I have stopped dusting, because I know I will never win!!

  13. just saw a coal train at Blue Ridge, uncovered, at 9:30 pm Wednesday.


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