October 31, 2018

The Olympics Protect Puget Sound From Westerly Atmospheric Rivers/ Initiative 1631 Reminder

The Olympics Mountains play a critical role in the meteorology of the Puget Sound region and this week it is shielding us from most of the moisture associated with a series of modest atmospheric rivers.

But our friends on the western sides of the Olympics and Cascades will not be as lucky with substantial rain expected.

During the past several days, the winds aloft have been westerly (from the west), so we have been in the rainshadow of the Olympics, even though a strong, moist flow has approached the region.

During the past 72 hrs, while Tacoma to Everett has only gotten around .10 inches, locations on the western slopes of the Cascades have "enjoyed"  2-4 inches of rain, with 1-2 inches on the western side of the coastal mountains.

But this is just a "warm up" for  this week.  Early Friday morning a modest atmospheric river comes in from the southwest (the figure shows the forecast moisture in a vertical column).

Another on Saturday from a more westerly direction:

 And even more on Monday.

The predicted total for the next 7 days, shown below, is impressive, with 5-10 inches in and to the immediate of the mountain crests.  But if you look very closely, there is far less downstream of the Olympics--that is the rainshadow.

If you really want to impress your friends, tell them that some of the moisture hitting us Saturday will be streaming across the entire north Pacific, as shown by the following plot of moisture at roughly 5000 ft above sea level for Saturday at 6 PM.

Initiative 1631:  Bad for the environment and for Washington State

I-1631 is poorly written, will do little to reduce greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, gives control of billions of dollars to an unelected board, is regressive, so it hurts low-income folks the most, has no concrete plan for spending vast sums of money, is highly partisan, and is odds with our basic democratic principles.  I have written three blogs describing its problems:




The pro-side has been highly deceptive, saying things that are demonstrably not true.  Their mailers are telling folks that big polluters and oil companies will pay:  this is a total falsehood.  Everyone will pay.

Avista Utilities, which covers the eastern third of Washington State, yesterday released the numbers of how utility costs would increase under 1631 (see below).  Roughly $ 400. per year in the fifteenth year.  Amazingly, the Yes campaign denies this.

If you want to find out how much 1631 will cost you, check out this handy app.  For most working adults, the 1631 fee will run between 150 and 300 dollars the first year (depending on your transportation choices, living arrangements, etc.).

The Yes side suggests that the initiative will have a significant impact on greenhouse warming.  Simply not true.   Let's assume that the initiative produces the promised reductions in emissions (down by 20 million metric tons in 2035 and by at least 50 million metric tons by 2050).  If one plugs this into a climate model, one gets a global cooling of about .0001 degree C.   Washington represents a very, very small part of global emissions and we are already quite green.

Today, the Yes on 1631 side has gone even further in its false stories.   They accused the No folks of adding names to their endorsement list without permission.   This has gotten a lot of press....but is inconsistent with the facts. The No side has SIGNED endorsement sheets from everyone noted as endorsing (and these signed endorsement sheets were shared with the Seattle Times).

And with all the tall tales provided by the YES on 1631 side, their advertisements accuse the No side of lying.

Truth and ethics matter.  It is ironic that the Yes side is following the approaches of the President they despise,  with false stories, inaccurate information, wild claims, and name calling become stock and trade of the Yes on 1631 side.

There is a religious fervor by some 1631 supporters to do something RIGHT NOW or the world will end.   The truth is the best science does NOT suggest a sudden tipping point, and doing something of little value is both wasteful and prevents more effective actions.  American's has rushed into "doing something" without a real plan and it has gotten us into trouble before (e.g., Iraq, Vietnam).  1631 would be a similar error, but for our state.

Global warming is too serious and the impact on our state too significant to throw away our ability to do something meaningful.   1631 is hyperpartisan, hardwired to a support a certain agenda, and will not work in a meaningful way to reduce our fires, prepare the region for climate change, or reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

October 29, 2018

A Strong Atmospheric River Should Hit the Northwest Next Weekend

A series of moderate atmospheric rivers will hit the Northwest this week, followed by a major one over the weekend.  Serious rain in the mountains.

Earlier this fall, the National Weather Service was going for a dry autumn for our region (see below).  That is NOT going to happen.

The last 72-h has been wet enough, with 4-5 inches along the western slopes of the Cascades, 3-4 inches in the Olympics and 1-2 inches over Puget Sound, which is rainshadowed by the Olympics,  Eastern Washington had much less of course (click on image below to enlarge).

But hold on to your hats....Pacific moisture has big plans for us.  Plumes of moisture will move around a region of high pressure off of California and then produce substantial precipitation as is it forced to rise by our region terrain.

You know that name of these currents of high moisture values:  atmospheric rivers. 

Below I will show you a series of forecast column-integrated water vapor, basically summing up the water vapor in a vertical column.  Red is high, white and blue are very high.

The first one hits on Wednesday morning, with moderately high values moving in from the west.

Thursday night and Friday morning, another weak one.

But Saturday morning is another thing...much stronger and heading directly from the west.

Now moisture is important, but so is wind.  A strong wind pushes more moisture up the terrain, producing more precipitation.  And, of course, we can quantify this, using something called IVT:  Integrated Vapor Transport.  Throw that term around and you will either impress your friends or be classified as a hopeless nerd.

Well, in any case, here is the IVT for Saturday morning.  OMG.  This is serious.

With lots of moisture pushing westward, the 48h precipitation ending 5 AM Monday is substantial, with as much as 5-10 inches in the Cascades.

But if you really want to be impressed, here is the total precipitation forecast for the next 7 days. Wow.  Most of the higher terrain gets 5-10 inches, with several inches in the lowlands.  Because the winds are from the west, the interior lowland (e.g., Puget Sound) will be partially rainshadowed by the Olympics.

 Rivers will rise, reservoirs will fill.  And unfortunately, the long-term forecast will prove unskillful.

October 27, 2018

The Spigot Turns On

We can now look back on our dry season as we turn to the wet portion of the year.  As shown in the plot below, which shows the observed (purple) and normal (blue) accumulated precipitation since 1 May at Sea-Tac, we have clearly had a dry summer, receiving about 5.5 inches less than normal.
Looking at nearly the same 6-month period, but with a regional view (see below), shows that western Washington and Oregon had the largest dry anomalies in the western U.S., running about 4-8 inches below normal in the lowlands and even drier on the western slopes of the Cascades.   Arizona, hit by Hurricane Rosa, was a wet spot.

Kind of interesting...if you wanted a dry anomaly...head to western WA.  Wet anomaly.... Arizona.

Well, the dry anomaly is about to disappear.   Here is the total precipitation forecast for the region over the next week, based on the UW WRF forecasts. 2-5 inches over the mountains, with some favored terrain areas (e.g., Olympics, Vancouver Is) getting over 5 inches (red colors).  1-2 inches over Puget Sound.

To get a longer-lead view, here is the latest 384 hr (16 day) total precipitation from the National Weather Service GFS system (see below).  California is dry, but much of western Washington will receive more than 4 inches and the mountains hit by as much as 10-15 inches.  If this verifies, much of the summer deficit will be made up by mid-November and our reservoirs will start filling in a major way.

Finally, it is really pouring around the Northwest on Saturday night...the 7 PM radar image is impressive.  Yellow is heavy rain.

It will rain overnight, with showers and blustery winds tomorrow.  The meteorological faucet had been turned on for the winter.  Enjoy.

October 26, 2018

First Wind Event of the Winter Season

It blustery out there this morning as a Pacific cyclone passed to our north.  As shown by the maximum gust map, winds gusted to 30-40 mph in exposed areas around Puget Sound and 40-55 mph in the mountains.

At the Skunk Bay website, the winds even gusted to 50 mph around 4:20 AM.

The cause?   A low center that moved into central British Columbia (see pressure analysis at  5AM this morning,  below).  The low center was not something you would write home about (991 hPa), but there was a strong pressure gradient south of the low that caused winds to accelerate from the south.

A higher resolution map at 8 AM shows the large pressure gradient more clearly.  The lines are isobars, lines of constant pressure, and the pressure gradient is greatest when the lines are closer together.  Large pressure gradient or change means strong winds.

The infrared satellite image at 5 AM this morning shows the tight low pressure making landfall on the BC coast (look for tightly curved clouds associated with the low center)

The visible satellite image at 1 PM today was beautiful....and very typical of winter.  A well formed cyclone and attendant fronts was east of the west coast and south of the Aleutians.    You see the "popcorn-like" clouds swirling into it?  That indicates great vertical instability with cold air over much warmer water.  A frontal band was sweeping into the Pacific Northwest, and a little "comma cloud", associate with an upper-level trough was due west of Vancouver Is.   A great image to use in class.

 Tomorrow (Saturday) show be dry in the morning and early/mid afternoon for Puget Sound, but substantial rain will move in during the evening.  Heavy rain overnight and more showers on Sunday.   As I warned in a previous blog, we have made the winter transition, and you won't see too many dry days in a row for a while.

October 23, 2018

Taking Off and Landing in Dense Fog: A Miracle of Technolgy

On Sunday, I flew out of Sea-Tac on a flight that took off around 8 AM.  The region was covered in dense fog and the horizontal visibility at Sea-Tac Airport was reported at .12 miles (630 ft) at 1453 UTC (7:53 AM)--see below for hourly reports.   The sky was obscured, which means the cloud reached the ground.

Here was the situation looking out the window while we were on the taxiway.  We were in cloud and one could barely see objects a few hundred feet away.

We reached the well-lit runway and visibility appeared to be a few hundred feet.

As we accelerated down the runway, the visibility seemed to decline.

But as we lifted off, we got out of the fog in seconds-- it was only a few hundred feet deep--with bright sunshine above it.

 A few minutes later, the sky was blue and fog was far behind.

The visible satellite imagery at 8:30 AM shows the low clouds/fog, with fog over the lower elevations of westerns Washington...although the Strait of Juan de Fuca was mainly clear.  The mountains were in the sun.

The fog was capped by a strong inversion, with temperature warming with height.   Below is the vertical sounding at the NOAA Seattle Sand Point facility, warming about 8C in 1000 meters.  The inversion is caused by sinking (and warming) air aloft, coupled with cooling at the surface or the top of the fog bank.

So how can planes take off and land during such terrible visibility?  In fact, the arrival/departure board at Sea Tac at 7 AM showed most planes leaving on time, but with several delays (but few cancellations) of arrivals.   Thirty years ago, the airport would have been crippled.

So what has changed?  To get the answer, I asked a friend, Wally Powelson, a highly experienced Alaskan Airlines Captain.  He explained to me that there are two main technologies that make such foggy landings/take-offs possible:  Head Up Guidance and a technology called AutoLand that takes control of the plane during the critical last moments of flight.

Head Up Guidance (HGS) provides a visual display of what the surface and runways look like, even when visibility is near zero.  If you want to see what it is like, check out the video below.

The AutoLand system takes control of the airplane, using radio beacon signal for horizontal navigation and a highly accurate radar for vertical height.

According to Captain Powelson,  to take off in fog, a runway with centerline illumination, a heads-up guidance system, and roughly 300 ft of horizontal visibility is needed.   When I took off, they just had enough visibility, and the runway was lit like a Christmas tree.

To land, they need at least 500 ft horizontal visibility, the heads-up system, and the AutoLand system.  The pilot MUST see the runway when they get down to 30 feet, if not they have to do a missed approach landing and head back into the air.  I have been on a few AutoLand landings and they were as smooth as silk.

An amazing technology that makes air travel safer and more efficient. And by the way, the fog will soon be gone as winds increase with approaching Pacific storm systems.

October 21, 2018

Initiative I-1631: At Odds with Democratic Values

I-1631 not only has profound problems that makes it an ineffective approach for dealing with anthropogenic climate change, but it is at odds with the democratic values of our state and nation.  These problems are compounded by the fact that many I-1631 supporters have been willing to follow a disturbingly divisive and untruthful approach in their advocacy.

A Failure of the Democratic System

Our nation is a representative democracy, in which we elect representatives who are responsible for making policy.  If their efforts are unsatisfactory, they are voted out of office. When it comes to producing policy regarding climate change, from putting a price on carbon to making investments in climate resilience, the Washington State legislature and Governor have performed poorly.   Even with one party controlling the governorship and both houses of the legislature, little was accomplished during the past session or during previous ones of dual-party leadership. 

Two years ago, another carbon initiative (I-732)  proposed a straightforward revenue-neutral approach that returned all the carbon tax money to the people. It was fair to low-income folks and had the potential to spread around the nation.   I-732 failed mainly because a group of social action groups (The Alliance), some labor unions, Indian tribes, and a few environment groups (e.g., the Sierra Club) worked against it.  Why?  Because they disliked the revenue neutrality and wanted access to the carbon tax funds.  Concern about climate change was clearly not their priority.

This year, essentially the same group (social action groups, office-worker labor unions, and local Indian tribes) came up with I-1631, which puts a fee on carbon but would use the funds to support the goals of the I-1631 coalition (climate justice, clean up air and water, push clean energy, training of workers, public health).    But their initiative has a major problem:  it essentially takes representative government out of the picture and is a deviation from representative democracy without precedent in state history.

How?  By putting the control of vast sums of money from the carbon tax into the hands of a board of 15 individuals, with only one of them being elected (the commissioner of public lands).

We are talking about tens of billions of dollars and major policies that could substantially alter the business environment, health, and safety of all of our citizens.  Washington State has many boards, but none of them decide on spending priorities for billions of dollars.

So what I-1631 proposes is an unprecedented invasion into the prerogatives of our legislative system.
Making such policy decisions and deciding how to spend such vast sums is the job of our elected representatives and it is profoundly undemocratic and contrary to the core values of our State and nation to push the role on an unelected board. 

There is nothing wrong with an initiative that allows the people to vote on specific proposals--this represents direct democracy.  But 1631 is not like that--it dumps huge sums of cash into a pot that the unelected board can disperse as it sees fit.

Now some I-1631 supporters might object to the above, saying that the state legislature could intervene if it wished.   But is it likely to do so, when it has repeatedly failed to show any leadership in this area, with many prominent legislators energetic supporters of I-1631?  And the pressure to go along with pork distributed by the board will be overwhelming.

The Future I-1631 Board Room

But the undermining of our democratic traditions by the I-1631 crowd goes beyond this.

Why?  Because the undemocratic nature of I-1631 is reflected in the attitudes, actions, and words of many of its most vocal supporters, who have followed a divisive and untruthful approach that undermines the democratic process.

I-1631 advocates and official information have a persistent problem of not telling the truth.    For example, their ads talk about making the "State's Big Polluters Pay"!  That they "can afford to pay this fee without raising prices on you"!    So if you vote for I-1631 big polluters will cover all the costs! And you will get lots of benefits! (see part of their flyer that landed in my mailbox yesterday, if you don't believe me).

This claim is TOTAL NONSENSE.   Oil companies will pass on any carbon fee directly to the consumers. They have always done so in the past.  I asked an oil company representative about it...yep, you will get the bill.  So big "polluters" and oil companies won't pay for the I-1631 fee, the citizens of the state will.  The repeated claims by the I-1631 crowd is a total untruth....and they have to know it.

I-1631 brochures and web pages make grand claims of how they will clean up the air and water of our state.  But there is no plan in the initiative on how they will do it. And their primary member and contributor, the Nature Conservancy, claims I-1631 will take care of the unhealthy smoke (see below), but how it will do so is left to the imagination.  Forest scientists are very

explicit that to deal with the east-side forest fires: it will take a huge investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to thin the forests, remove debris, and bring back prescribed fires.    1631 only dedicates 30% of the funds to forest, air and water recovery, and public health.  Under 1631 the money needed to fix our explosive east-side forests  (again, hundreds of millions to billions of dollars) will never be available.  Their claim of solving the wildfire/smoke problem is a tall tale...and a dishonest one at that.

The great irony in all this is that the Yes on I-1631 crowd accuses the oil companies of lying (see below).  Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.  They lie about lying.

But the dishonest ways of several I-1631 supporters and leadership are made worse by their toxic and divisive tactics.  For example, many are spewing really hateful stuff about Republicans--saying that they are selfish and don't care about global warming.  This is divisive and untrue...many Republicans

 want to deal with global warming and to make our State more resilient to climate change.

A good example is the youthful American Conservation Coalition led by 20-year old Benji Backer, a UW student.  Or major Republican leaders like Rob McKenna, Slade Gorton, and recent Republican gubernatorial candidate  Bill Bryant.  I gave a talk to the Rotary Club in Yakima on Global Warming--and they were nearly all Republicans.  They were worried about climate change and wanted to deal with the resulting water supply issues.

Denigrating individuals and groups with different opinions and name calling for those disagreeing with you is toxic for democracy.

Just as bad are the mean-spirited social media attacks by leaders of the Yes on I-1631 organization on anyone with a different viewpoint.  For example, Nick Abraham, paid head of communication of Yes on 1631, has been making nasty accusations against those who don't support I-1631.  Here his recent unpleasant tweet against moderate Republican Bill Bryant, an environmentalist who ran for Governor in 2016:
He has sent similar messages to others.    And "Izzy the Iguana", the Regional Field Director of Yes on 1631 sent me toxic messages, telling me I was a racist for writing a blog criticizing I-1631.

This kind of mean-spirited, ad hominem attacks have no place in the debate on policy in a democratic society. It says a lot about the values, or lack of values, of some of the I-1631 leadership. 

And it is even worse than that.  Some members of the I-1631 coalitions are trying harassment of those with different opinions.   I have experienced this myself.  Last month, Jesse Piedfort, the Director of the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club (which opposed I-732 by the way and a major member of the I-1631 coalition) made a formal public records request to the UW for all my emails dealing with carbon initiatives and all communications with oil companies.  He is going to be disappointed.  I have no email traffic with oil companies and have no relationship with them.  But such requests are chilling and a not-so-subtle form of harassment.

In many ways, the I-1631 crowd are following the playbook of the one individual they despise:  Donald Trump.  Lying and suggesting that opponents are evil and sub-human is his stock in trade.  Several I-1631 advocates are following his approach.

Democracy is a fragile thing and our most precious inheritance.  The I-1631 effort appears to think that their cause is so noble and right that they are willing to undermine basic democratic principles by giving huge powers to a board of unelected individuals and to demonize those who oppose them.

If you care about democratic values, you must vote no on this poorly written, ineffective initiative.   Either our elected representatives must step up to the plate and put together a real plan or an initiative that explicitly spells out policy and programs is needed.

Finally, so much of the impetus of the Yes on 1631 campaign, is that "we have to do something."   History teaches us that doing "something" ineffective and undemocratic is worse than doing nothing at all.  If I-1631 passes, truly useful approaches will be pushed aside and special interests will be enriched.

"We have to do something" logic often produces bad results.

The Weather Regimes of Summer

 Weather patterns tend to get "stuck" for extended periods and we have certainly seen such persistent conditions this summer.    W...