February 13, 2015

Revenge of the Ridges

Looking at the model forecasts tonight, I could not believe me my eyes.   Ridging or high pressure along the West Coast will dominate our weather next week and perhaps longer.

It simply doesn't go away.  It may get knocked down for a day by a weak ridge...but it just pushes back up.  The vampire of weather patterns....but there is no silver bullet or wooden stake to stop it.

If only meteorologists had similar equipment for dealing with ridges that refuse to die.

For the West Coast, the ridging will bring generally dry, warm conditions.  Spring in winter.

But over the eastern U.S., the resulting downstream trough forebodes unusual cold and snow.

So, lets look at a series of upper level (500 hPa) weather maps from the National Weather Service GFS global model. The solid lines are height lines;  where they buckle up to the north there is a ridge and where they push southward, a trough.  Wind are also shown.

Today at 4 PM PST.  Big ridge over the West Coast, trough over the eastern U.S.

Friday night (10  PM) is the only break form ridge-land, as a weak trough pushes down the ridge over the NW, resulting in a few light showers overnight. Still a warm pattern.

Sunday morning, the ridge is back in force.  Active trough in the east and a major snowstorm over the Northeast.
 Monday at 4 PM.    Ridge strengthens over the west.
 Fast forward to Thursday at 4 PM.  Ridge is still in place.
 Saturday at 4 PM.  Still a ridge.  And yes, the trough remains in the eastern U.S.
Monday after that...same thing.  This is incredible.

Other modeling systems (like the European Center and the Canadian Meteorological Center) are going for the same persistent ridging over the West.  Ensemble systems (many forecasts made at the same time) show the same thing.  Our confidence in this forecast is very high.  The implications for those of you who enjoying hiking, biking, and sun bathing are very positive.  The garden centers are stocked for the inevitable crush of  folks getting the itch to weed and hoe.  For skiers...well, lets skip that part.

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center 6-10 day forecast is consistent with the above, with extraordinary cold predicted over a huge area of the eastern U.S.  Dark blue means great confidence in below normal temperatures.

I can not stress enough that there is no reason to expect that this has anything to do with global warming.   And those in the eastern U.S. should not be claiming that it is proof of global cooling.   In fact, some of the latest research (example here) provide strong evidence that the pattern of western ridging is the result of natural variability.  It is not unprecedented.

Several of you have emailed protests to me, pushing a theory that global warming causes weakening of jet streams that then meander more.   This is a completely discredited theory.  Observations show the jet stream is NOT weakening, global climate models do NOT show more meandering jet streams as the earth warms, and the papers claiming this mechanism (e.g., Varvus and Francis 2012) have fatal flaws.  Other research has shown that sea surface temperature anomalies can produce such atmospheric ridging.   And the origin of the blob of warm water off our coast during last year--that was caused by the ridging.

Too many climate advocacy groups are weakening their credibility by pushing an anthropogenic global warming origin of this event.  

I will talk more about such mechanism in one of my next blogs.

KPLU Climate Talk

If you want to hear me talk about the regional implications of global climate change in some detail, please come to my UW Kane Hall talk on March 11th.Sponsored by local public radio station KPLU, tickets for this event can be secured at this web site.

The Pacific Northwest Weather Workshop

Interested in attending the big local weather workshop of the region?  The Pacific Northwest Weather Workshop will be held in Seattle at the NOAA facility on February 27-28th.   Everyone is invited and the majority of talks are accessible to laypeople.  To attend you have to register or they won't let you in the gate.  There will be a major session on the Oso landslide.  There is a registration fee that covers refreshments and food, and special student pricing.  If interested, check out this website.


  1. Seems like this pattern of western ridge and eastern trough has been happening for a few years now. I just returned from nordic skiing in upper Vermont and it was divine. They have it good.

  2. Cliff, any chance you could address your thoughts in more detail regarding the media narrative of automatically assigning all changes in weather to anthro-GW? Your voice seems to be contrary to most of the media narrative. You have made it clear that you do believe in warming/climate change, but have been cautious in assigning "blame" to human elements. I think it would be an interesting blog.

    No need to publish this tied to your article> Just a request for a topic that I find interesting.

  3. Thank you Cliff!!! I always enjoy reading your blog because it is ALWAYS science based. Even when you talk about climate change you have your ducks in a row and your FACTS straight. Again, thank you!

  4. Caveat Emptor,
    I have no clue what comments you are talking about. Send them again if you sent some that are not getting online..cliff mass

  5. Thanks for standing up for science! Just read a great piece about Hubert Lamb, the founder of the Climatic Research Unit at the Univ of East Anglia. Much of his career was based upon discovering the non-random processes in climate only to have it all discarded as non-consequential in the view that all non-random climate changes are man-induced. Don't these people realize they have set climate science back decades with their insistence on man-caused only?

  6. A little off topic, but was listening to Science Friday, and they presented a pretty dire prediction about mega droughts in the american SW:

    Unprecedented 21st century drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains

    Any comment on this work?

  7. Cliff,
    Is there any reason to think that this ridge/trough pattern will break up by next winter so we can ski on snow and not rocks and mud?

  8. Any long term forecasts saying when the ridges will finally end?

  9. Hi Cliff, you mention in your post one paper from September 2014 in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society that makes the case for this ridging to be due to natural variability. But Stanford has a news brief which suggests that the very same supplement you linked to actually makes the case that "the persistent region of high atmospheric pressure hovering over the Pacific Ocean that diverted storms away from California was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations." So who is right Stanford or NOAA?


  10. I've never seen the high-probability blue that…blue before in any of the NOAA charts. That is just insane.

    New England maternity wards: start ordering extra supplies of everything. You'll need them come ~December 1st.

  11. Growing tired of the western ridge that has hung around since the PDO flipped.

  12. Used skiing equipment pilling up at Goodwill!

  13. Admittedly, I am not a climatologist or a meteorologist, but is whether or not global warming is causing this weather system the best, i.e. most interesting, question to ask? Causality being the bear to establish that it is, wouldn't asking whether and/or how global warming is contributing to or exacerbating this pattern be a more illuminating question?
    How does, for example, the extreme ridge/trough system we've seen the last two winters compare with similar patters 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years, etc. ago, etc.?

  14. Jessie,
    We know the answer to your question: the amplitude or frequency of this pattern are not increasing...cliff

  15. Question: Is the ridging due more to atmospheric events or water events? I am sure the answer is both, but which of the two is considered the bigger factor? I only ask because if the answer is water, I was curious if the issue is geographic due to how the waters move in the NE Pacific due to the shape of the coast line from Alaska down to OR.

  16. Cliff,
    I've only lived in the region for nine years - and this is the first winter I've had where the weather is generally comparable with what is typical in southern California. You note that this is unprecedented, and this is a record breaker - and in fact, looking at the forecast on Weather Underground, I can probably count on going without a jacket tomorrow as I stomp around Alki Beach.

    But all that said, while this is not unprecedented, when else, in the past three decades, have we had warm winters such as this in the PNW?

  17. Are the warmer temps in the Atlantic off the coast of New England expected or related to climate change?

  18. Cliff, just back from Puerto Vallarta. That part of Mexico has seen some unseasonal rain and storm activity; we had a nice, quite large thunder cell develop over the city while we were there, and another, further west and somewhat north, the next day. Is it coincidental to, or connected with, the ridging and troughing over the U.S. and eastern Pacific?

    John McBride

  19. Cliff, it's your blog, and of course you'll decide, but this NOAA report may be analogous to your discussion of this subject.


    John F McBride

  20. It's a sad world when we question science coming out of NOAA, but science has also been skeptical

  21. Cliff, I greatly appreciate your blog. I am among the much-derided "denialists," which is to say that I am yet to be convinced that the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis is true. It's a huge topic with all kinds of tribuataries, but much of my skepticism is based on the failure of the climate models to predict the "hiatus" in rising temperatures for a period now in its 19th consecutive year.

    You subscribe to the AGW hypothesis. I don't agree with it, yet nor are my feet set in concrete. What I definitely appreciate is your conservative approach, i.e., your habit of sticking close to the data, and patiently dismissing the alarmism that has characterized almost all of the climate change exhortations.

    I think the climate change lobby has done itself serious damage by ascribing every significant departure from statistically average weather to AGW. This habit that's developed in the past few years directly contradicts their earlier exhortations not to confuse climate and weather. It is largely responsible for my own decision, about a year ago, to take a much closer look.

    Until then, I was what you might call a casual believer in the hypothesis. But when they blamed a Midwestern tornado outbreak on AGW back in 2012, it got my attention, because I'm from the Midwest and like many people there grew up being awed and fascinated by them. The connection made to climate change was ridiculous on its face, and at that point I "bookmarked" it in my mind.

    The breaking point for me was when the AGW group used the so-called "polar vortex" to push AGW. As I just mentioned, I grew up in the Midwest, and frostbit my ears, toes, and fingers delivering newspapers in Milwaukee, the second-coldest major city in the country. I was quite familiar with cold winters, as is anyone in that area. Once I was through laughing, I jumped into the deep end of the pool pn climate change. It's not a pretty picture, to put it mildly. Science has been corrupted by politics in a big way, or so it appears to me.

    I am also a history major from way back when, and retain a lifelong amateur's interest. There have been far colder winters than last year's in this country's history, and before any significant industrial CO2 emissions. Same for hurricanes and droughts. What's happening in California is bad, but not as bad as 1977 or 1924 or several droughts of the 1800s. And there are actually significantly fewer hurricanes recently, although you'd never think so to hear the AGW alarmists.

    I'm not a scientist, but rather a reasonably intelligent non-specialist. I am disturbed by the constant repetition of AGW being "settled science." This is directly at odds with the scientific method. Science is never truly settled, and there are plenty of recent examples of long-held theories being overturned by new observations and evidence.

    In any case, I urge you to keep up the good work. To me, you're a shining example of what a scientist ought to be. While I'm pretty skeptical of the AGW hypothesis, my mind is not entirely made up, and I definitely pay attention to your writing on the subject. Thanks very much for your work. Same goes for your comments on education. One of my brothers has a couple of kids who've tested off the charts on I.Q., and guess which math he and his wife are using? You got it, "Singapore math," which I'd never heard about until you mentioned it.


  22. @Dennis the Tiger, the Pacific NW has much more dynamic weather than it's generally given credit for, especially when you get east of the mountains and south of the Columbia River.

    I have two tall stacks of books about Eastern Oregon, a vast, empty, and fantastically beautiful region roughly the size of New England. One of those books has a chapter dedicated to the historical weather record. It's not scientifically comprehensive, i.e., with tables and graphs. It's narrative and selective, but I think fairly representative of reality. It's factual, quoting newspaper accounts and official data going all the way back before 1900.

    Eastern Oregon has seen temperatures in the 80s in every month of the year, and snow in every month but July. There have been days that started with snow and ended in the '80s. Rivers and lakes -- big ones -- have dried up and reappeared, all before any significant emissions of CO2 from industry.

    The winter of 1887-1888 was so cold and snowy throughout the West that cattle froze standing up. Prominent ranchers all over the West were busted, and the era of the open range was mostly ended as a result. The native Americans, who had lived here for (ahem) a while and knew the land and the signs, tried to warn the settlers. Who, naturally ignored them.

    All of this followed several increasingly warm years, which peaked in the summer and early autumn of 1887. Then, wham-o. The variability of Eastern Oregon's climate, in particular, lured homesteaders to the region. After several decades of warm, moist weather near the turn of the 20th Century, the cycle shifted. Homesteaders went bust, and in the 1920s, there was a mass exodus, followed shortly thereafter by an order from the federal government to burn down just about all of the homesteader cabins in Lake County, an area of south-central Oregon the size of New Jersey.

    Abert Lake, the biggie in Lake County, was dry in the mid-1800s. Then it filled up. Then it went dry in the '20s and '30s. Then it filled up. Today, it's going dry again, after having been filled to the brim in 2011. Similar changes have happened to the rivers and smaller lakes in the region, figuring prominently in the conflicts between ranchers, homesteaders, and Indians.

    All of this is in the history books, which seem to go unread by today's proponents of the AGW hypothesis, many of whom don't think there's anything to examine east of the mountains, or in a library. And the weather west of the mountains has been dynamic as well, although not as varied on the moisture side of things.

    People who take a truly objective, historical, data-driven look at all of this, and not just regionally, will see that we live in a climatically dynamic world that has seen gigantic changes within recorded history but before industrial times. I am not dead-set against the AGW hypothesis, but when you look closely at the record there are grounds for considerable skepticism toward what we're being told.

    And, before I finish this comment, please note than I'm not calling the AGW hypothesis a liberal conspiracy. Nor do I have connections to or investments in fossil fuels. In fact, I drive an electric car and am pretty knowledgeable about and very interested in alternative energy, which I think is going to make strides in the 2020s and 2030s that will shock many of the politically conservative doubters. My point is this: For me, this is entirely about the facts. First you've got to get the facts, then you've got to face the facts. Nothing less is acceptable.

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