September 30, 2013

Brief Post Mortem

There were branches and even some trees down on the Burke Gilman bike trail this I knew something had happened.   Here is a summary of the strongest winds over the past 24 hr.  Big winds (70-90 mph) at some exposed mountain locations (they call it Hurricane Ridge for a reason!). Lots of 30-45 mph gusts in the lowlands and 50-70 mph along the coast.

The 48-h total precipitation ending 11:48 PM last night from Seattle Rainwatch shows the big differences over the lowlands (this is not valid over the mountains or south of Olympia).  Some locations got to 5 inches or more.  And there was a well-defined rainshadow NE of the Olympics.

The forecast worked out quite well, both for precipitation and wind.  The air was quite unstable after the system went by and there are reports of a tornado at the Frederickson Boeing plant in Puyallup, Washington. (see pic)

September 29, 2013

And now the winds...

Just a brief note...

The better models (GFS and European Center) were right...the intense low center is making landfall on central Vancouver Island, sparing the Puget Sound region a major windstorm.

Here are some marvelous satellite images a few minutes an infrared image and the other a water vapor image.  Extraordinary.

The latest surface plots clearly show the circulation on Vancouver Island.  Looks like a roughly 970 hPa low.

 The coastal radar has been very helpful, showing that the circulation was not approaching the WA coast.

As the low moves inland and north of us, the north/south pressure differences will increase, as will our surface winds.  Already, the winds right about the surface are 25-35 mph and some of that is mixing down.

Winds at exposed mountain locations will get to 80 mph, plus.  Northwest Washington will see gusts to 40-60 mph.  And it will be quite winds here in Puget Sound (gusts to around 40-45 mph.  So get ready...the winds are about to increase.

September Storm: Nowcast Sunday 10AM

As advertised and fairly well predicted by the models, yesterday brought lots of rain, particularly in the mountains, and some notable winds.  Looking at the 24 rainfall totals ending 10 PM Saturday (image), you will see some great contrasts.  A few hundredths in southeast Washington to 4-5 inches in some of the terrain.

A closer view over western Washington reveals only a few hundredths of an inch in Sequim while more than 5 inches fell a few dozen miles away over the Olympics.  2-5 inches over the western slopes of the Cascades.

There were quite a few power outages yesterday (10-20 thousand out at the peak), mainly due to the strong winds associated with a powerful front that came through around 4-5 PM.   The radar was impressive...a classic narrow cold frontal rain band (see line of red in the radar image indicates downpour intensity).

The weather observations on the roof of the UW Atmospheric Sciences building shows the front well.  The top panel presents the winds (sustained and gusts)..see the spike of high winds?  Also nice wind shift and drop in temperature.  Some locations had gusts to 35-45 mph.

The first storm can really knock down branches and trees.  Lots of untested growth over the summer.  If the ground is wet, trees fall more easily.   And leaves on the trees allow the wind to be more effective.

So what about today?   Showers are over western Washington and Oregon now (see radar at 9:45 AM) except for some rain shadowing in the lee of the Olympics

According to the latest run (that is why I waited until now for this blog!), rainfall will increase this afternoon, with healthy totals today as well (see 24 hr rainfall total predicted for the period ending 5 AM Monday).  A number of mountain locations will get another 2-5 inches, with the heaviest amounts in central and southern Oregon.

But the most interesting story will be the winds.   Right now the winds over the region are gusting to 15-25 mph, with some higher gusts in exposed location.  But the big issue is the rapid development of an intense low pressure system offshore. Most of the models indicate the rapid development of an intense, small scale low pressure center offshore that will make landfall on central Vancouver Island (see graphic).  The center deepens to aboout  970 mb (hPa)....quite strong for anytime of the year.  Huge pressure gradient over the offshore waters and along the coast.

 The latest (10 AM) water vapor channel satellite image (tells us about the amount of water vapor in the upper troposphere), shows the developing system well, with dramatic darkening (drying) behind the system.  The meteorologists in the crowd know what this implies:  rapid deepening of the low.

 Off of Vancouver Island there will probably be winds sustained at 40-55 mph with hurricane-force gusts.  The UW WRF surface wind forecast at 5 PM (see below) shows sustained winds of 35-45 mph  on our coast and a bit weaker winds over the Strait and NW Washington.

As the low moves past us to the north, winds will increase over Puget Sound and NW Washington.  For example, at 11 PM tonight (Sunday) there will be a large north-south pressure difference over western Washington, aided by troughing (lowering of pressure) to the lee of the Olympics.   A blustery night, particularly over NW Washington.  There will be more power be prepared.

PS:  A few of you have noted that NWS NAM model is far more threatening.  However, the GFS and European Center Models are both going for the less threatening solution with landfall on central Vancouver Isl.  That position, plus the small scale of this system, is the basis for my forecast.

September 27, 2013

Weekend's Big Weather Event

I will have an update nowcast at 10 AM Sunday....

I spent my early evening getting my home ready for the onslaught....and by day break the rain will have overspread the region.

The new 4-km WRF model run is the same story as before :  heavy rain from two major pulses on Saturday and Sunday.  Here is the 72 hr precipitation totals over the Northwest.  Much of the terrain will get 5-10 inches, some of the higher peaks more.

Let's zoom in over western Washington.  What a contrast!  More then 10 inches over the higher Olympics, while about a half inch over Sequim.  A factor of 20...amazing.  In Sequim on Saturday there will only some light rain.  Over Puget Sound there will be a strong north-south gradient in precipitation...a lot more in Tacoma than Everett.

Now, there is a another threat that must be mentioned.  A small but intense low center will form on Sunday over the Pacific and will move northeastward, crossing somewhere between the Olympics and central Vancouver Island.  Here are two solutions for Sunday at 8 PM.  The UW NAM-MM5 has the low over Tatoosh,  Big threat of strong winds over Puget Sound.

While the WRF-GFS takes it a bit far northwest.  Both bring strong pressure gradients and strong winds to the coast, which you can expect 40-60 mph gusts.
 The WRF surface winds for this time, show sustained winds of 35 kts (40 mph) along the coast and over the interior waters of NW Washington. Gusts would be considerably higher.

Enjoy the weather show.   Not a good day for a hike.

September 26, 2013

Heavy Precipitation Update

We still have a very early heavy precipitation event ahead of us.  The latest model runs are now shifting the precipitation a bit south, so the southern Washington and Oregon Cascades will get hit harder.

Here is the 72h precipitation totals ending 5 AM on Monday from the UW WRF model.  A large proportion of the Cascades, Olympics, and coastal mountains will get 5-10 inches, with some peaks getting more (more than 10 inches!).  Moderate rain hits eastern Washington and substantial totals will fall on the Idaho Rockies.

An interesting aspect...look offshore.  Precipitation is far less.  The precipitation in our region is associated with a plume of moisture coming off the Pacific (see graphic below of water vapor content at 5 AM Saturday), but only when the moist air is forced to rise by the terrain does large amounts of moisture get released as rain or snow.

Three Pulses

The rain will hit in three pulses.  Today is the weak will start raining this morning and end in the afternoon.   The break will last until early Saturday when a a far larger event will hit.  And then another on Sunday.

 Here is an infrared satellite picture for Friday AM around 6 AM.  You can see the first week system hitting the coast, but look offshore....WOW..   A huge, extensive very wet system in the Gulf of Alsska.    And it is heading our way!

I expect a number of daily records to fall.

Another point:  we will get a similar amount of rainfall as struck Colorado a few weeks ago, but the damage will be far less.  Why?   First, our rain will come more slowly and will be more uniform in time.  No flash flooding. Second, our terrain and drainages are far more accustomed to heavy precipitation than Colorado.

With all this precipitation, the rivers will respond.  The Northwest River Forecast Center is predicting some will hit flood stage (see graphic, red dots are river locations where flood stage conditions will occur).  I suspect they will add rivers farther south tomorrow.

This event is sufficiently unusual that several rivers are predicted to exceeding previous records for the upcoming dates.  For example, consider the Skagit River near Concrete,WA (below).  Not only is the river predicted to exceed flood levels (red line), but the river exceeds daily records (red triangles) for several days.  If you live near rivers or streams, you better be ready to protect low-lying assets.

And did I mention the strong winds?  I will save that for another blog...

Bellingham Talk on October 15th
I will be giving a public talk on "The Future of Weather Forecasting" in Bellingham on October 15th.    In this talk, I will discuss the development of weather prediction from folk sayings to numerical weather prediction, and describe what I think will happen over the next decades.  For more information, go here.

 Reading the Northwest Sky, Seattle, October 1
I am giving a five-lecture evening short course: "Reading the Northwest Sky: Understanding Our Weather and Climate"  
October 1, October 22, November 5, November 26, December 3  
Kane Hall: University of Washington  
Co-Presented by University of Washington Alumni Association   and Seattle Public Lectures.If anyone is interested, more information here.

September 25, 2013

Unusual Early Season Heavy Rainfall Event Heading for the Pacific Northwest

It is quite unusual to get major rainfall events in our region during September, but a very wet pattern looks probable over the region this weekend and early next week.  Over a 72h period, some locations in the Olympics and north Cascades could getting a half foot or more of rain and minor flooding is possible in vulnerable locations.  The National Weather Service put a hydrological notice today for the upcoming period...a good call.

Thursday will be a nice day with sunny skies and highs in the mid 60s.   Get out and enjoy it.  It will be the last one for a while.  Starting Friday morning, a series of moderate to heavy rainy periods will occur over our region.

Let's examine the latest UW WRF numerical model forecasts.   Here is the 24h precipitation ending Saturday morning at 5 AM.   1-2 inches in the mountains, with a some limited locations getting a bit more.  Oregon will remain essentially dry during the period. 

 During the next 24h, ending 5 AM Sunday, the rain does not quit, it intensifies,
with some locations in the Olympics and north Cascades getting 5-10 inches.   Very wet in southwest British Columbia as well.

The rain over the next day (ending 5 AM Monday) heads it is Oregon's turn to get inundated.  And yes, it is still raining to the north.

Ready to be impressed?  Here is the 72h total precipitation ending Monday morning at 5 AM.  Wow...large section of the Olympics, coastal mountains, and north Cascades (and the Coast Mountains of BC) end up with 5-10 inches.  This is a lot anytime of the year and quite remarkable for September.  Some daily records will probably be set.

These precipitation amounts will be sufficient to drive some local rivers to near bankful.  The National Weather Service is already warning that a number of rivers will get to "action levels"-- high enough for some mitigation by local agencies.  To illustrate, here is the current and predicted flow levels for the Snoqualmie River near Carnation.  Anyway, keep tuned as the forecasts are updated...and don't plan a hike over the weekend in western Washington!

Bellingham Talk on October 15th

     I will be giving a public talk on "The Future of Weather Forecasting" in Bellingham on October 15th.    In this talk, I will discuss the development of weather prediction from folk sayings to numerical weather prediction, and describe what I think will happen over the next decades.  For more information, go here.

September 24, 2013

A Corrugated Cold Front

The front that crossed the region on Sunday was a strong one--certainly the strongest of the season so far.   Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of its passage was the impressive radar signature from our wonderful coastal radar at Langley Hill (near Hoquiam).

During the 1970s, work by Professor Peter Hobbs and colleagues (at the UW!) explored offshore fronts with aircraft and coastal (research) radars.   They found that many fronts, and particularly the strong ones, were not unbroken lines of precipitation, temperature change, and wind shift;  rather, the fronts were often corrugated, with areas of heavy precipitation (and large changes in temperature and wind) separated by gap areas, where changes were much more gradual.  Sunday's front had these characteristics:  let me show you. 

Here are two radar images at 9:20 and 10:20 AM on Sunday morning.  The front is offshore and heaviest precipitation with the front is denoted by red.  Can you see the corrugation and the core/gap areas?

Here is a blow up at 10:08 AM of a core/gap combo:
Pretty neat.  Aircraft penetrations have showed  radical difference in the frontal characteristics in these two areas.  A true story I love to tell:

During the 90s we have field experiment called COAST in which we flew the NOAA P3 Hurricane Hunter aircraft into a Pacific front.  The scientists wanted to go out and cross one of the cores to see what it was like.  The NOAA P3 pilots agreed...they had been through many hurricanes, so they were not concerned.   Well, the passage through the core at around 2000 ft was very, very intense--with several g's up and down and the coffee pot broke off in the rear of the aircraft and life rafts pulled out from under the seats.   Several scientists thought they were going to die. The pilots were more flights through cores at low levels--this was a lot worse than going through hurricane eye walls.  The return was at 5,000 ft through a problem.

Why the cores and gaps?   It is thought to be due to some kind of wavelike instability forced by the large wind shears along strong fronts.

To get an idea how strong Sunday's front was, here is a graph of sustained winds, gusts, and pressure at Destruction Island, just off the central Washington coast. Time increases to the right. Look in the middle of the graph for the right time.  Wind gusts him 45 knots, around 52 mph.  The pressure shows a very sharp dip...the lowest pressures are associated with the front.

Reading the Northwest Sky

I am giving a five-lecture evening short course: "Reading the Northwest Sky: Understanding Our Weather and Climate"  

October 1, October 22, November 5, November 26, December 3  
Kane Hall: University of Washington  
Co-Presented by University of Washington Alumni Association   and Seattle Public Lectures.
If anyone is interested, more information here.

September 22, 2013

Wealthy Folks Try to Take Over the Seattle School Board, Again.

It is something about human nature.  

An individual does fabulously well in some endeavor, often gaining great wealth and power, and they assume their competencies extend to other areas.  Like education.  And as I will show, a bunch of wealthy folks are determined to ensure that the Seattle School Board follows their "corporate-ed" ideas. 

A critical race is now occurring for an opening in the Seattle School Board.   On one hand there is Suzanne Estey, with very little experience in Seattle School affairs, but enjoying the deep support of the ultra wealthy and powerful interests.  On the other, there is Sue Peters, with a decade-long record of working in Seattle Public Schools, a stellar background in pushing for better math curriculum, a record of independence, and grass roots financial support.  For reasons described below, I am strongly supporting Sue Peters, with whom I have worked for several years.
But before we talk about the candidates, let's examine why this race is so critical and why the rich folks are willing to invest huge sums in improving Estey's chances.

The Seattle School board is immensely better today than in the past.   A few years ago, there seemed to be one financial scandal after another.  The Superintendent (Marie Goodloe Johnson)  and the Chief Financial Officer were forced to resign.  Student performance was stagnating, particularly in mathematics and science.  The School Board was pretty much of a rubber stamp for a deficient administration, performing little real oversight.  The Board was also making poor, uninformed decisions, like closing down schools that would be acutely needed in a few years.  And the new superintendent Susan Enfield was supporting bad ("reform" ) math, heavy testing and constraints on teachers, incompetent administrators, and the firing of popular principals.

Two independent, energetic individuals, Sharon Peaslee and Marty McLaren, ran for school board against the stay-the-course incumbents, Peter Maier and Steve Sundquist, both of whom were supported by the rich folks and the Seattle Times.  To the dismay of the establishment, the citizens of Seattle had a different view from theirs:  Peaslee and McLaren won, and a new activist, inquiring majority was formed:  Sharon Peaslee, Marty McLaren, Kay Smith Blum, and Betty Patu.

Things started to change.  Have you noticed that there are few new financial scandals?  That better decisions are being made in important areas such as adding new schools and transportation?  That schools are being given the opportunity to use the best books for their students rather than being forced to use the district choice?  A problematic, ideological superintendent Susan Enfield resigned when she saw the independent, questioning new board.  And a competent, non-ideological, quiet administrator, Jose Banda, was selected to run the district.  Scores have begun to rise and the there has been a surge of new students into the district.

The Seattle School Board Today

But the powerful interests were very unhappy that their candidates had lost, as had their control of the district.  These interests included some very wealthy individuals, including eastside folks from the high-tech industries, the Blethen family that controls the Seattle Times, the Gates Foundation, and local entrepreneur and Crosscut publisher David Brewster.    Brewster was explicit what would happen during the next school board race.

"Seattle School Board races have to be treated like Seattle City Council races, complete with consultants, polls, and a budget of several hundred thousand dollars"  

And David Brewster was very honest; this is exactly what he and his fellows are doing this time around.  They are attempting to use massive resources to get their way.

But what are these moneyed interests trying to accomplish?  The sad thing is that many of them mean well, but have an agenda that actually is very harmful to Seattle (and other) students.  They are trying to extrapolate the approaches of the business world to education. Many call this "corporate ed" and they are pushing some key "reforms":
  • That schools should be run like businesses.  
  • They see schools as assembly lines.   The workers (teachers) need to be carefully monitored, with their jobs dependent on sufficient productivity as measured by "objective" tests given to their students. 
  • The believe in competition, and see Charter Schools as a way to get it.
  • They have little faith in teacher training and are supporters of Teach For America, a program where graduates of elite colleges are thrown into teaching after a few weeks of training.
  • They believe in "reform" math education, also known as fuzzy math, where students figure out things for themselves rather than are taught proven math algorithms, use calculators in early grades, and explaining how they got an answer is more important than being correct.
The truth is that objective evidence (which I have discussed in previous blogs) demonstrates that their "reforms" are counterproductive and are undermining the student performance they long for.   Shakespeare would do well with such a combination of tragedy and irony.
This year board member Michael DeBell is stepping down and either Sue Peters or Suzanne Estey will take his place.   Sue Peters will be an independent voice and will allow the maintenance of a four person majority moving the district in the right direction.  Suzanne Estey will vote with the interests of the rich folks in mind.    How do I know this?

Sue Peters

You can start by following the money.  The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission provides information on the origin of campaign donations.  Let's take a look at Suzanne Estey's.  So far she has received $79,000, which is huge for a school board race.   Take a look at the biggest donors.  Top of the list, Steve Ballmer, head of Microsoft, and his wife.  Jeanne Nordstrom of the Nordstrom family.  The Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy is the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.   Matt Griffin is wealthy local developer and  Christopher Larson is a retired Microsoft investor and part owner of the Mariners. Evelyne Rozner is Matt Griffin's wife.  Jeffrey Rakes  is Chief Executive Officer of the Gates Foundation. I could go on, but you get the message:  a lot of very rich individuals are financing Estey.

In contrast, Sue Peter's has received only $17,000 in contributions.  You will note she got far fewer of the $900 maximum donations and that her contributions were from a more varied group, including teachers and current school board members.

These rich folks are not content to limit their contributions to the $ 900 individual limit; they are used to getting their way with things.  Several of them set up a PAC (independent expenditure group) to run advertisements for Estey, and some of these advertisements have been in the form of attack ads, with little factual foundation and even outright untruths.  Specifically,  Matt Griffin, Christopher Larson and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce created a PAC (Great Seattle Schools) they funded with over $30,000, and this group recently sent out a hit piece brochure on Sue Peters.  Publicola did a story on this troubling activity and documented the deliberate misinformation of the mailing (see below for example):

Several of Estey's contributors were big supporters of I-1240, the Charter School Initiative.   In a recent debate, Suzanne Estey claimed she had no idea who the big contributors were to her campaign (proof on this video at 10:30 into it).  Hard to believe.

Now let's consider the candidates.

Sue Peters has an extraordinary background for the Seattle School Board. She is one of the founders of the popular Seattle Education Blog, which has been analyzing district policy for years.  She is a co-founder of the Seattle Math Coalition and a founding member of Parents Across America, a national education policy organization. She was a member of the district's Superintendent Search Community Focus Group and the Strategic Plan Stakeholder Task force, and has extensively volunteered in the Seattle Schools over the past decade.    

Sue is a journalist by training (masters in Journalism from Stanford), with a bachelor's degree in Literature/Writing and advanced-level French certificates from the University of Paris.   She has extensive endorsements by most of the Democratic organizations in the city, the Stranger, many labor groups, the King County Democrats, and four of the current school members (the current majority).   Well known educational historian and author Diane Ravitch (who will be in Seattle on Thursday to give a talk at Kane Hall) is a strong supporter as is Melissa Westbrook at the Seattle Schools Community Blog.  Sue has had two children in the Seattle Schools during the past nine years.

In contrast, Suzanne Estey has a very thin educational background, apparently limited to tutoring in her son's classroom this year.  She has a master's in public administration and owns a business, Dale Estey Partnerships, Strategy & Results, a government relations and economic/business development consulting firm, so her corporate/business approach undoubtedly comes from her personal experience.  She is a member of the Renton Chamber of Commerce, the King County Economic Council, and the Friends of Renton Schools.  She is endorsed by the Seattle Times, which is a strong supporter of corporate-ed approaches.  If you want to do the right thing in an education vote, doing exactly opposite of the Seattle Times recommendation is almost guaranteed to be the right call. Suzanne Estey keeps on pushing that the current school board is dysfunctional and that is why she is running.  Perhaps dysfunctional to her wealthy and powerful supporters, but actually making real progress if one examines what is going on.  Estey has the money to hire expensive consultants (ARGO Strategies and NW Passage Consulting), who will surely use their massive financial resources for a heavy advertising campaign against Sue during the next month.

If Peter's wins, the progressive majority will continue making improvements (including new and better math textbooks).   If Estey wins the corporate-ed crowd will take over again.

The voters of Seattle have a real and important choice.   My vote will be to support Sue Peters (her website is here).

September 20, 2013

First Day of Fall, First Big Storm

 Update:  Sunday morning.  Front is moving in faster than models predicted....about 3-4 hr faster.  Rain will be in Puget Sound by 7-8 AM.  Mountains an hour later.

Fall officially begins at 1:44 PM PDT on Sunday, September 22, 2013

Our first major storm of the fall will hit almost exactly at the same time.

After a weak front went through tonight (Friday), we will have a break (but with some showers and clouds) on Saturday.  But Sunday will truly feel like fall as a strong front, with lots of rain and some wind, moves through the region.  According to the UW WRF model, a strong front will be right off the coast at 11 AM (18 UTC) Sunday morning, with strong southerlies along the coast and a BIG wind shift to westerlies behind it (see map). A fairly strong low pressure center is moving into the Gulf of Alaska with this front, producing a decent pressure gradient along the coast and  in the Strait of Georgia.
By 2 PM, moderate rain will spread to the Cascade crest (see WRF forecast for the 3 hr ending 2 PM).  So if you want to get in a late season hike, head east of the Cascade crest, go early, and be done by 3-4 PM.    Notice our old friend, the Olympic rain shadow, is back.  Port Angeles to Victoria could be dry at this time.

Impressively, this front has enough oomph to bring rain east of the Cascade crest.  Here is the 3-h rain totals ending 8 PM Sunday.  You see what I mean!  You can see some weakening in the rainfall just to the lee of the Cascade crest, where air is moving downward.

The "storm total" rain fall will be quite respectable.  The 24-h total ending 5 AM Monday, shows up to 2.5 inches in the mountains, and a third of an inch in much of eastern Washington.

You like a nice blow?  Fairly strong winds (sustained to 35 kt) will precede the front on the coast and equally strong flow will strike the NW marine area, particularly around the San Juans and norther Whidbey Island.  These NW interior strong winds result from the large north-south pressure difference with the front and the effects of the Olympics and mountains on Vancouver Island.

The last month has been considerably warmer (but wetter) than normal.  Here are the temperatures at Sea-Tac Airport for the past four weeks.  The red and blue lines are the average maxima and minima.  The thing that really strikes you is the our minimum temperatures have generally been MUCH warmer than normal.   Temperatures have rarely gone below 60F.  I should not that there is probably some minor issues with the Sea Tac temperature (reads a few degrees warm), but similar warmth is found at other stations on both sides of the Cascades.

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