July 31, 2020

Smoke Reaches the Northwest, High Temps in Eastern WA, and Marine Air is Poised to Move In

Smoke is now covering the Northwest, but most of it remains aloft.  The haze was obvious this morning from the SpaceNeedle Pano Cam, as was some mid-level instability clouds (altocumulus and altocumulus castellanus for those of you who enjoy cloud names).

But it was in  early morning satellite imagery that the smoke was really evident.  Thursday's mornings visible satellite image around 6 AM showed the smoke clearly (the hazy stuff), with a few mid-level cumulus as well.  Stark shadows of the clouds on the smoke.

The National Weather Service HRRR-smoke model shows the distribution of smoke aloft at 5 AM this morning, as diagnosed by their system.  You see the red area near the Oregon/California border?  That is the huge July Complex Fire, which now covers 82,000 acres, and is the biggest source of regional smoke. Such smoke rises and spreads out aloft.

We do have some local fires, but those are small and generally under control, and not major sources of regional smoke.  But the regional fires are the ones to really worry about, because they can bring smoke down to the surface.

Washington State's Department of Ecology has a wonderful wildfire smoke website and here is graphic from it, showing local air quality.   Western Washington has clean air, but air quality has declined along the eastern slopes of the Cascades due to both some local fires and CA smoke surfacing.

Moving beyond smoke, yesterday was an extremely warm day in eastern Washington, with a number of locations getting ABOVE 110F (see map below of Thursday's highs, click to enlarge).  One site near Moses Lake got to 112F and temperatures above 100F hit the slopes of Cascades. The temperature at Hanford WA (HMS) spiked to 113.2 F late yesterday afternoon around, tying their all-time record high temperature set previously in Aug 1961, July 2002, and July 2006 (records there extend back to 1945).  

Keep in mind that the highest temperature EVER in Washington State is 118F, at Ice Harbor Dam near the Tri-Cities.  Several locations tied or exceeded their daily records.

Well, everything is about to change.

Marine air is starting to push into western Washington and temperatures are 5-8F cooler than yesterday around Puget Sound, much cooler than that near the coast.  So instead of hitting around 90F, temperatures should top off in the lower 80s in the interior of western Washington.  And much cooler tonight.

The passage of marine air across the Cascades will produce strong winds east of the Cascade crest.  With warm, dry conditions in place, this situation will produce dangerous wildfire conditions,  resulting in extremely high values of the USDA Forest Service HOT-DRY-WINDY index (see forecast of this parameter at 8 PM tonight).  Reds and browns are very hight.  

I am sure Washington DNR and the Forest Service folks are getting ready for this.  Fortunately, all the fires on the eastern WA slopes are contained now, but we all have to make sure there is no ignitions.

July 29, 2020

Extreme Heat and Super Heat Low in Eastern Washington

Tomorrow should be a record-breaking day in eastern Washington with temperatures surging above 105F in a number of locations, accompanied skin-cracking low humidities and even moderate winds.

The forecast surface temperatures for tomorrow are simply stunning, with the Columbia Basin being ground zero for the warmth (the white areas are above 104F!),

The map of relative humidity at the same time shows some locations getting down to around 10%---extraordinarily low.  Seattle will be dry....but no where as arid.

The eastern Washington/Oregon heat is associated with a feature known as a thermal or heat low, something made clear by the sea level pressure map at that time.   Warm air has less density than cooler air, which contributes to the low sea level pressure.  Look closely and you will see the pressure lines will be close together  over eastern Washington.  Such large pressure differences will produce stong wins, in this care strong easterly winds.

With extreme warmth, low humidities, and strong winds, the USDA Forest Service HOT-DRY-WINDY wildfire index will be very high.  Brian Potter, a wildfire expert at the Forest Service, told me that he gets very worried when the index gets over 600...which it does in several locations tomorrow.

Let's hope there is no fire ignition by a scattered thunderstorm or an inattentive human.

A major marine push will occur late Friday and Saturday morning, which will cool eastern Washington over the weekend, but could stoke up any fires.   This is the time we have to be careful folks.

K-12 Outreach Idea

With kids being forced to learn online  by COVID (which is a not-ideal for most), I was thinking that some might enjoy some educational weather related online videos.   Such as:

1.  What are clouds made of?
2.  How to identify clouds and what do they tell you about the weather?
3.  How to be your own weather observer (set up an inexpensive weather station)

Probably would direct it to grades 4-8.

... material like that.  Might Seattle or one of the other school districts be interested in such material?  Would be easy to work up,

Petition Against Defunding Seattle Police

I believe a 50%  (or any) defunding of Seattle Police is a reckless and dangerous proposal.  If you agree, please consider signing this petition:

July 27, 2020

Mid-90s Today and Significant Wildfire Threat in Eastern Washington

Today will bring 90s a significant portion of western Washington and some daily high-temperature records will be broken, with many locations getting into the low to mid-90s.  Tomorrow will be 10F cooler, but the real threat will occur later tomorrow in eastern Washington where very threatening conditions regarding wildfire initiation and growth are probable.

Let's start with a graphic I have never shown you before:  the difference in temperature between yesterday and today (for 10 AM).  Warming by 2-12 F over the eastern side of Puget Sound, but cooling along the coast.  Consider that many locations in western WA surged into the mid to upper 80s yesterday, low to mid-90sF is guaranteed for today.   On the other hand, the cooling on the coast is important reflecting lots of low clouds and beginning of the inland movement of marine air.

But now the threat.   I have spent a lot of time on wildfire meteorology lately (I have an NSF grant to work on it), and just finished the NW wildfire chapter of my NW weather book (available next March!).    A situation that has recently produced dangerous wildfire conditions in eastern Washington is the one we are about to experience. 

You start with a period of warm, dry conditions--and we have had it, with temperatures rising to 100F in eastern Washington.  Light fuels (e.g., grasses , bushes) are dry and dangerously dry fuels extend to roughly 3000 ft.  A measure of this dryness is shown by the USFS map of the Fire Potential Index (FPI), an estimation of the fire potential of deal and live fuels.   High values are found at lower elevations on the eastern slopes of the Cascades.  Still moist at higher elevations (something I confirmed while hiking yesterday).

Marine air will surge into western Washington tonight and tomorrow morning, and in doing so, will increase the low-level atmospheric pressure.  Warmth and low pressure will remain on the east side (warming produces lower pressure), and as temperatures warm tomorrow the pressure difference  across the Cascades will increase.

This increasing pressure difference will push air across the Cascades, resulting in substantial acceleration.  You can see the large pressure difference in the forecast map for 5 PM Tuesday.  The solid lines are isobars, lines of constant pressure.  You see a lot of lines across the Cascades...that is what a large pressure difference looks like.  The shading indicates temperature...very high in eastern Washington.

Dr. Brian Potter of the USDA Forecast Service devised an index called Hot-Dry-Windy that indicates dangerous areas for wildfires.  My group creates this graphic operationally, being driven by our high-resolution prediction model.   Take a look at the graphic for 5 PM tomorrow.  Some very high values (red and yellow) in areas that are quite dry. 

There is already some fires in eastern Washington (see below). 

Will there be more fires tomorrow?  That depends, of course, of whether there will be a source of human ignition (there won't be lightning).  But if a fire gets started, it could expand rapidly and dangerously...and, of course, the current fires could expand.  I just had an email exchange of Josh Clark of Washington DNR and they are fully cognizant of the dangers.   

Let's hope nothing happens.

July 26, 2020

Hurricane Douglas Hits Hawaii

If you were planning on an early morning cruise around Oahu and Kauai, you may want to reschedule.... Hurricane Douglas is now buffeting the central and western islands of the Aloha State.

Hurricane Douglas this afternoon near Hawaii

Hurricanes hitting Hawaii are unusual but not rare.  Here is a map of hurricanes that came within 75 miles of the islands since 1950.  Kauai has been the hurricane hotspot for the islands.  One reason that hurricanes are fairly rare in Hawaii is because the water temperatures are often too cool.

The current forecast track takes the storm across Kauai tonight and to the west on Monday.  So the action is going on now and during the next 18 hr.

Fortunately, this is a small system, and only a Category 1 storm, with winds reaching 85 mph.  But tropical storm winds (greater than or equal to 39 mph) will hit Kauai and northern part of Oahu during the next day.

The maximum winds so far (below) have only gotten to roughly 35 mph at official observing stations, but higher speeds are expected.

The storm is forcing some large 8-9 meter waves, as predicted tonight by the NOAA/NWS wavewatch3 model:

The other issue is rain, and some locations will probably get 5-10 inches, with the potential for flash flooding.   A recent infrared satellite image does not show a well-defined eye (see below)

But the eye is quite evident in the NOAA/NWS radars (see below).  You can see the rainbands circling the rain-free eye.  Kauai in particular will get a piece of the heavy rain in the encircling rainbands.

Finally, I should note that the U.S. global model--the GFS--did an excellent job with this storm.  Here is the 66 hr forecast valid Monday at 5 AM PDT.  Not bad.   The kind of forecast that allows people to prepare.

July 24, 2020

Heat Wave Coming to the Northwest

The past few days have been cooler than normal as marine air inundated the western side of our region.  But that is going to change over the weekend, and by Monday, Seattle may hit 90F and Portland could surge to 100F or more.   So get your fans and cool drinks ready.

Our current cool weather has been associated with an upper-level trough of low pressure over the region (see 500 hPa--about 18,000 ft--map below for 8 AM this morning).

But things change over the weekend as a significant ridge of high pressure and heights builds along the West Coast...check out the same map for Sunday at 2 PM... 180° change!

Ridging brings sinking and warming air over the region...and more important than that, inland pressure rises resulting in offshore (easterly) flow that cuts off western Washington and Oregon from the cool, coastal air.

Let me show you the predicted warm up! 

The forecast surface air temperatures and winds for 5 PM Saturday, shows 80sF in the Willamette Valley and the Columbia Basin, but cooling northerly flow over Puget Sound where temperatures only climb into the lower 70s.  Very nice day.  Good one for outdoor activity.

But the situation is considerably different, and more toasty, on Sunday at 5 PM.  Notice the development of easterly flow over southern WA and northern OR--easterly flow rapidly warms as it sinks and compresses on the western slopes of the Cascades.  Our big heat waves all have strong easterly flow crossing the mountains.  Portland jumps into the upper 90s, as does the Tri-Cities area.

 But the real show-stopper is on Monday (5 PM shown)--the warmest day of the sequence, except for the immediate coast.  The Columbia Basin and the Willamette Valley are torrid....with significant areas above 100F.  Seattle gets into the upper 80s to near 90F.    But look closely and you can see cool air moving inland from the coast.

There will be a weak marine push late Monday and Tuesday, with  modest cooling west of the Cascade crest.  And there will be major cooling...and the chance of rain later in the week.

July 23, 2020

Cutting the Seattle Police Budget in Half is Both Reckless and Irresponsible

Seattle has the potential to be one of the great cities of the world, with a stunning physical location, a diverse and creative workforce, home to one of the world's great universities, and the birthplace of important and innovative businesses that have improved the lives of billions across the planet.

But this potential is being seriously threatened today, and the future of Seattle's current and future citizens undermined, by political leadership that is determined to take extraordinarily reckless and uninformed steps based on perceived political expediency.

No better example exists than the intention by a majority of the Seattle City Council to defund Seattle's Police Department by half.  Let's consider the actual facts and real numbers.

The beginning of this movement to defund the police began with the tragic and criminal death of  George Floyd on May 25th in Minneapolis.    The Minneapolis police involved in this murder should feel the full weight of the law.

The Seattle police department has had its own issues, including poor handling of the 1999 WTO protests/riots (where there were no deaths or serious injuries) and the death of Indian woodcutter John Williams in 2010.  In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice begin an investigation of the Seattle police department's use of force, and in 2012 the city and Department of Justice completed a settlement agreement that called for improved oversight, training and reporting.  Under this agreement, major reforms have already been made, including de-escalation and crisis intervention training, implicit bias training, and force review boards.  Furthermore, major gains have been made in recruiting underrepresented groups into the Seattle police force.

A reasonable conclusion from the DOJ and other investigations is that although there have been isolated incidents, the Seattle Police Department is one of the best and most forward-leaning in the nation, led by an able police chief, Carmen Best, a long-time member of the force with local roots.  So where does this mindless reduction by 50% come from?  Is even the current staffing sufficient to ensure safety in a quickly growing city?

Let's consider an analog.  There has been several incidents of criminal behavior by a very few nurses, including a recent one in which a nurse murdered a number of patients by injection.  As a result, should we defund all nurses by 50%?   A few doctors have done the same thing or sexually molested their patients.  Should we defund doctors by 50%?  During the COVID crisis, a number of medical experts and epidemiologists stated that masks were useless, something we now know is not true and probably led to thousands of deaths.  Should we defund such medical personnel by 50%?

The answer to all these questions is clearly no.   Those guilty of criminal behavior (George Floyd's killers, murdering nurses, molesting doctors) should feel the full brunt of lawful justice, such as long prison terms (I don't believe in the death penalty).   Where mistakes are made or systems are broken, organizations, recruitment, procedures, and training must be improved.  You correct and fix without destroying essential services, and public safety and police are essential services.

Considering that the defunding of the police started with the Floyd murder on May 25th, what did our city leaders think about the Seattle police officer staffing before that date?

Well it turns out that our City Council, the mayor and most everyone else was in agreement before May 25th on this subject:  that the Seattle Police department was understaffed and actions were needed to INCREASE the sworn officer cohort in our city.

Police Chief Carmen Best

By any reasonable measure, our rapidly growing city needed more officers, particularly with large number of retirements occurring during the past several years.  Mayor Durkan not only noted the importance of recruitment of additional police but found funds for this purpose:

And most city council members were vocal about supporting more police before May 25th.    Councilmember Strauss stated:  we need more police.  So said council members Herbold, Gonzalez and Lewis.    Councilmember Mosqueta, now a major advocate of defunding Seattle police, supported expansion only a year ago.

So the question you must ask:   why did these Seattle leaders change their positions 180 degrees after May 25th?  Did the shift make any sense?   

You know the answer, of course not.  The Seattle City Council is playing politics and taking actions that will hurt every citizen of our city, and especially the most vulnerable. The lack of sufficient police has already had negative effects on the safety of Seattle's citizens.  Defunding will only make things worse.

You want proof?  No problem.  Consider what the lack of sufficient police officers has meant during the past several years.

Let's start with 911 response time to level 2 or urgent calls:

From 2010 to 2019, the response time to such 911 calls doubled from 9 to 18 minutes (see below).  Think about what that means.  Twice the time to respond to threats of violence.  On Capitol Hill, served by the embattled east precinct, the response time has tripled.

And with inadequate numbers of police, far fewer are watching our roads, providing tickets for speeding, dangerous maneuvers, or poorly maintained vehicles.

With a reduction in police monitoring, traffic tickets were down 43% between 2015 and 2019.   And fatal or serious accidents have rose substantially during the same period, as illustrated by the collision rate normalized for traffic volume from Seattle's Department of Transportation.

There is clearly not enough police in the University District, where attacks, gun violence, and robberies seem to be daily affairs in the same locations (and sent to University folks via email). And there are many other crime hot spot locations around the city with similar problems. They require more attention, not less.

Beyond response, the presence of police acts a crime deterrent and provides a sense of safety to the population--for ALL members of our community.

If these numbers aren't sufficiently compelling, the protests/riots of the past month show what happens when police withdraw from a portion of the city.  Specifically, the Seattle police were forced to abandon a major section of Capitol Hill (known as CHOP or CHAZ).  As a result, two young men died, several were injured, and a huge number of crimes (robbery, rape, destruction of property) occurred.  When police withdraw from an area, chaos reigns.

The absence of police presence creates a vacuum, and vacuums  get filled.  Either by those intent on violence and crime or by outside forces, such as the Federal officers that have been sent to Portland.  Is this what the Seattle City Council wants?

And such lawlessness has profoundly damaged the national and international reputation of our city.  Seattle has received daily attention from around the world as a city in chaos, an example of failed governance, of how not to respond in a time of crisis.

When police are sparse and when 911 calls are delayed, who suffers the most?  It is not those in our higher income communities, but rather those in our minority-majority and low-income neighborhoods.  The calls to defund the police, if effected, would preferentially hurt the very people that our council members wish to assist and protect.

To illustrate, here are the locations of violent crime in Seattle in 2019 from Seattle SPD crime dashboard.  Downtown, Capitol Hill, Northgate, and areas away from the water are the hotspots.  Folks living in the darker blue areas will be the most affected by a crippled Seattle police force.

Now, most of the defunding advocates push the meaningless phrase "re-imagining policing. "  Meaningless because they rarely provide explicit policies and concrete changes.  Meaningless because they don't describe how they will keep Seattle citizens safe.  Sort of a progressive version of "Make American Great Again."  And you know how well that worked out.

There is certainly room for enhancement in improving policing and security for Seattle's citizens, but this will take MORE resources not less.  Maintain the current sworn police force--they are the bulwark of public safety--and take on ADDITIONAL staff to deal with non-violent, non-confrontational issues (e.g. fender benders, homeless folks in trouble).  Provide improved training for dealing with confrontations and street protests. FINALLY, deal with the out of control homeless problem, which means getting them all off the streets.  Clearly, the status quo in homeless policy is an abject failure. The large numbers of mentally ill and drug addicted homeless people are associated with crime and physical assaults, and it is inhumane and unethical to leave them on the streets in any case.  A great city does not allow this.

In summary, Seattle council members that are calling for defunding the police are pushing a "solution" that will only make matters worse.  What will it take before Seattle voters elect leaders with a coherent, rational, fact-based approach to governance?  Because without such leadership, the future of the city is not promising.

July 22, 2020

The Longest Shadows in the U.S.?

Among the other exceptional aspects of the Pacific Northwest, perhaps, just perhaps, we have the longest shadows in the U.S.

From what?  Our huge volcanic peaks.

Shadow of Mountain Rainier by Troy Mason through a Creative Commons License

During the past few weeks I have been viewing some of the early morning imagery from the NOAA/NWS GOES-West weather satellite, which has far higher resolution sensors than previous generation satellites.  And the shadows one can see are amazing.

Consider yesterday, July 21.  Here are the GOES visible images at 5:51 and 5:56 AM.  Wow.  

In the first picture, the shadow of Mount Rainer extends at least all the way to the Columbia River,  92 miles (149 km) away.  Other major volcanic peaks, such as Adams and Hood also project impressive shadows.

Our mountains are actually well-situated to produce long shadows..they are very high compared to their surroundings and there is a major low area (eastern WA) to their east.

The Seattle PanoCam at 5:30 AM actually shows the shadow from the side.

We clearly possess world-class mountain shadows, although other countries and regions do claim the big-shadow mantle (see below).  Rainier is higher than Mount Teide by a lot.
Are the volcanic shadows the longest observed over the Northwest?   I don't think so.  

What is even higher than our volcanic peaks?  Clouds.  And clouds can project amazing shadow.  

Here is an example from July 19th at 5:51 AM.  High cirrus clouds over eastern Washington are projecting shadows that extended into western Washington.  Amazing.  We are talking about shadows that are at least 160 miles long.

This morning the shadow action is not so good, with low clouds surging into western Washington and Oregon (see below).  And there is something else: wildfire smoke has entered the region, mainly from fires over California.  But more about that in a future blog.

July 20, 2020

Why is staying so warm tonight?

I am sitting at my computer right now, with sweat literally covering my face.  It is not cooling off quickly tonight.  And this morning started quite warm, with a very high low temperature.

There is a reason.

We start with warm air over us today, with highs getting into the mid-80s around Puget Sound, 90s in the south Sound and SW Washington and into the low 100s in eastern Washington (click on image to expand).  Warm air associated with an upper ridge.

Each day we have gotten warmer, both for our highs and low (see  temperatures at Sea Tac below)

But something else has been happening that has taken away the crisp, refreshing feel of a few days ago, leaving us sweating tonight...the moisture in the air has increased, as measured by the dew point temperature.  The higher the dew point temperature, the more moisture in the air.  Here is a plot of the dew point at Sea Tac Airport the last few days--major shift upwards from around 50 to 60F.  You can feel that.  

More moisture means evaporation on our skin is less effective.  And water vapor in the air acts as an atmospheric blanket, reducing cooling at night.  Why?  Because water vapor very actively absorbs and emits infrared radiation, and the loss of heat through infrared radiation is how the earth's surface cools at night.

The winds have also declined and wind helps pull heat away from our skin and promotes evaporative cooling.

But compared to the eastern U.S. we have little to complain about. Dew points are in the mid-70s (at 5 PM) over the SE quarter of the U.S.  Very sticky--no wonder folks there are taking their chances in air conditioned spaces.  And no wonder nighttime temperatures stay warm in the SE U.S.

Tomorrow will be a bit cooler and then much cooler on Wednesday as marine air pushes in.

Lightning Returns to the Pacific Northwest

 Lots of thunderstorms, some approaching severe levels, have hit eastern Oregon and Washington during the past day.....and there are severe ...