September 20, 2014

Time Travel for Northwest Weather

How would you like to enter a time machine and experience the weather of 50 years from now?

Interestingly, many of you have already done this and haven't realized it.

I am talking about this summer's warm weather in the Pacific Northwest.

Many locations on both sides of the Cascades experienced their all-time warmest temperatures for July and August and although it is not official yet, several locations, on both sides of the Cascades will have their all-time record summer (June 21-Sept 21) temperatures.  As I noted in my earlier blogs, this warmth appears to be the result of natural variability, which created persistent high pressure over the eastern Pacific last fall.  Not anthropogenic global (or local) warming.

How warm has the last three months been?  Here are the temperature anomalies (difference from normal or climatology, generally the 1970-2000 is used for climatology today) over the past 90 days for Washington and Oregon (note the scales are a bit different in the figures).  Nearly all of these states have been well above normal;  averaging roughly 3F above normal, with eastern Washington more like 3.5F above normal

Now how far in the future would you have to "time travel" for such temperatures to be normal?

To be put it differently, how far in the future will the average summer be like the summer we just went through?

The UW Climate Impacts Group has published a report outlying their prediction of the future Northwest climate.  Here is a figure from that report showing predicted temperature change (relative to 1960-1989) with time.  They show the warming from various scenarios or RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways).  RCP 8.5 (solid red line) is the most aggressive.   For reasons that I won't go into, many of my climate colleagues believe it it too aggressive and the RCP 4.5  (blue line) will prove closer to what will happen.  Actually, a number of model simulations were made, with the solid lines being the average of many runs (the range of these simulation is shown by the lighter lines).

Reading off the graph, it looks to me that a 3F warming from 1970-1999 would be about a rise from roughly .5 F during 1970-1999 to 3.5 F around 2050.  Quite frankly, even if we choose the more aggressive RCP 8.5 scenario the answer would not be that much different (maybe 2045).

Bottom line:  the warm summer we have experienced is very much like the average summer around 2050.

Thus, we all have been time travelers, experiencing the average weather roughly 35 years into the future!  Congratulations, time traveler.

Is the warming we experienced a good or bad thing?  

I will let each of you decide for yourself.  For my tomatoes, it has been a good thing.  For my desiccated lawn, a bad thing.    For those who like sustained warmth and sun, a good thing.  Those who long for Northwest clouds and cool weather, a bad thing.

                                          When I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was the Time Tunnel.   

I do have an editorial comment that will undoubtedly get me into trouble.   When folks talk about climate change and more specifically global warming, it is always described in negative terms.  I was at the Northwest Climate Conference at the UW two weeks ago.  NO ONE mentioned a single positive attribute of a warming climate here in the Northwest.

Yes, rapid climate change is often (and perhaps generally) negative for fauna, flora, and people accustomed to the current climate, but is there nothing positive about a cool, cloudy part of the U.S. getting a bit warmer?   God knows, I am going to get a lot of flack saying this, but there it is....


  1. I'd be very curious to see what those models would predict for 2014 if fed for initial conditions those of 1950...


  2. I seem to recall hearing stories from a climate conference, way back in the 1990s, where some of the Russian scientists were basically saying "why should we be concerned about global warming? It will benefit Russia!"

  3. all i know is i moved to the pacific northwest for the rain and clouds and all i've encountered is months and months of monotonous sunny, dry days. most people love it. i don't.

  4. Cliff-

    I think you really hit the nail on the head with this one. Climate change is real, but not every yearly variation in temperature and precipitation spells armegeddon. You won't catch me moving to the Sierra and I like to tell my friends who constantly complain about the weather here, "Seattle is the new Sacramento." There will be winners and losers of climate change and as far as things go, the Northwest is one of the best places to be in the long run.

    Thanks for your writing!


  5. Well Dr. Mass. I attended that conference as well, and I heard you speak. You didn't mention anything positive about climate change either!

  6. Cliff - Those who study climate change and its current and future impacts are well aware that some species, regions, individuals will benefit from warming. But those who stress those minor (and often relatively trivial) benefits while ignoring the catastrophic downsides, typically are either naive or attempting to minimize the impact of global carbon emissions.

    Your feelings about how warming might make this region more comfortable to those who do not like clouds or cooler weather ignores what is and will be happening to other areas of the world where biota and infrastructure are suffering from warming.

    There are reasons the IPCC report and recent Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference don't celebrate the current and predicted warming and I hope most people will go to sources other than your blog to find out how the warming will affect more than Seattle's gardens in coming decades.

  7. Cliff and Matt:
    Would you be so kind as to give us your list of pluses matched by the list of minuses of global warming?

  8. This seemed to be a pretty ideal summer here in Seattle. East of the mountains however there were those forest fires, those folks would rather have seen a cooler wetter summer. This might have been an ideal summer for the Eastern Washington vinyards and orchards? How about the wheat? Everybody has a different idea what is ideal.

    I'm not surprised to see the occasional complaint about it being too sunny here this summer--don't worry, six months of dreary weather is coming!

  9. The temperature increase for certain locations is not the most important aspect of the dynamics behind global warming. Not even close.

    The potential acidification of oceans (which could disrupt the food supply of Billions of people), the bread basket of the USA moving north into Canada, Salmon runs decimated, lack of snowpack in the cascades, water supply issues for this and other regions, coastal flooding, the release of methane from previously frozen areas, and on and on and on.

    If you think that digging up and burning massive amounts of fossil fuels and having them released into our atmopshere is in anyway a good thing, I suggest you step back and look at the bigger picture.

    This is not to mention the many potential effects of this release of carbon into our air that we cannot anticipate.

    We have the means to live without digging up and burning the stores of our earth, lets use our intelligence and get on it already.

  10. Michael Synder and John Franklin,
    Please understand what I am saying. I am not saying that global warming is overall a good thing. It is not. But we need to stand back a bit and understand that not all regions will be influenced in the same way, with some regions (like the NW) having lesser impacts. And most important of all, we need to avoid the misinformation that is coming out of both "sides." On one side there are those saying the "pause" proves climate change is nonsense and on the other there are those saying acidification is killing our shellfish TODAY. Both are not being honest...cliff

  11. Loving all this sunshine and warmth. Having gone through some very soggy years here, my gardens and I are very grateful and fully enjoying one of the best summers in years here. Cooler, soggier weather is coming inevitably, so we try to make the best of the good weather when we have it.

  12. Yes there is missinformation from Deniers and those who accept the science of global warming.

    There is a huge difference in the "sides" however.

    Some who dont quite understand the science will exagerate its effects from time to time.

    The other group is either willfully ignorant, or spreads outright lies in attempt to confuse the subject that is already well understood by science.

    I would hope that educating the population on the merits of science would be our approach rather than giving attention to outright lies and willful ignorance.

    That being said, I know that this isnt your agenda Cliff and appreciate your blog very much so, thank you.

  13. A good thing for adaptable humans maybe. Not much else.

  14. There are a lot of things that go into enjoying a warmer, drier summer in Seattle.
    1. The weather
    2. Having the time to enjoy it
    3. Having the money to enjoy it
    4. Living in a stable place where we don't worry about safety, security, stability, etc. so that we actually relax and enjoy the weather.

    I see climate change giving us a positive on point 1, a neutral on point 2, a neutral to negative on point 3 given the amount we'll have to invest in rapid remediation and adaptation, and negative on point 4.

    Not being a sociology, politics, or economics professor, I think it's perfectly fine to say there is an upside.

  15. Neel Blair-

    When we are poisoning the planet and you claim the upside is "the weather will be nicer"?

    The entire dynamics of the planet could possibly change and we are calling a few degrees of warmth an upside to a potential massive upheaval?

    Its like claiming that having a fever helps you stay warmer at night.

    Its a sign that something is wrong, not an upside.

  16. Mr. Mass, with much respect, I think you tend to discount or overlook the fact that when it gets over 80 degrees or so in Seattle, it becomes nearly unbearable inside many homes and businesses, the vast majority of which have no air conditioning. I keep seeing you call this "nice" weather. I can assure you, inside my apartment and many workplaces, it's over 90 indoors, and quite the opposite of "nice". I am assuming you live and work in an environment where air conditioning is available? If not then I'm off-base. If so though, try turning off the a/c during these 80 - 90+ degree heat waves and see if you still think of the weather as nice.

  17. Dr. Mass,
    I always enjoy your tutorial blogs. While I read your thoughts, answering questions, my mind asks more questions. My question for the future is this. In your own opinion based on trends,If we are heading towards a warming of the globe, will the amount of precip we receive also trend in the upward direction? (More atmospheric evaporation=more west coast rain) Or, will it head in the opposite direction, more like this summer where the lack of upwelling off our coast allows a more Chilean climate?

  18. Certainly, I always felt that our summers are often too short- but not this one. It has been a fine summer. For myself, a little warmer than Seattle's average would be fine.

    From the standpoint of the Earth, I should move if I want a warmer climate. True, there is no "best" climate from the planet's point of view... except that any change (except predictable change, like the seasons) stresses the system, and will create a decrease in biological productivity until the global ecosystem re-adapts, which could take several hundred years.

    So from the standpoint of maintaining the current interconnected natural systems as they are, we need to cut our emissions (and population too) as soon as we can reasonably do so.

  19. Cliff... you have to assume that sometime in the 2040s and 2050s we will have a summer that is 3F above the average for THAT decade.... which would then be 6F above todays average. The current hot weather this year may be due to variability, but a similar variability will exist in future decades.

    I'm not hopeful that a summer 6F above average will be "good" in anyway for our agriculture, forests, Puget Sound, water supply, and health.


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

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