February 28, 2021

Rare Upside Down Lightning Viewed over Puget Sound

On Friday evening, camera 3 of Greg Johnson's wonderful Skunk Bay weather site captured an extraordinary lightning picture (see below), with the camera looking east over Whidbey Island from its location over the northern Kitsap Peninsula (see map below).  

What is so amazing and unusual about this lightning?  

 Look how it starts at a single point at the surface and then fans out into multiple lightning channels as it rises.   It looks like something out of the movie Ghostbusters or some science fiction flick!



Most lightning does not look that this.... in fact, 99% of lightning hitting the ground does just the opposite, dividing into multiple branches as it approaches the ground from above (see samples).




The lightning that hit Whidbey Island around 8 PM on Friday represents "upward-moving" or "ground to cloud" lightning.   Such lighting not only has a strong thunderstorm or cumulonimbus cloud above, but generally starts on some kind of high tower, itself often on a hill or higher terrain. 

In the picture above (reproduced below) and with the help of Greg Johnson, we determined that the right-most upward lightning bolt came over off a big tower located at the red "plus" symbols.  If you look closely, you can see a red light at the top of the tower.  We are still working on determining the second tower location to its left.


The radar image at this time (again, around 8 PM Friday) was impressive, with a very intense band of precipitation (red colors) extending across southern Whidbey Island. 


Inside that strong band, there was intense charge separation in the clouds that led to an increasing potential difference between the surface and the clouds.  The surface towers acting as foci for the breakdown of atmospheric resistance to this potential difference, leading to the upward lightning stroke.  Upward-moving lightning is rare and having a flowering upward spread like the above is even rarer. 

But does happen, with another example being an example of lightning spreading  upwards from a transmitter tower in Slovakia:


Next time you need to charge your electric car...you will know where to go.....
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Public Radio Station KNKX and the Societal Problem of Cancel Culture:  Click here for more information.


February 26, 2021

New Podcast: Weekend Weather and Why Texas Weather is So Extreme

 This weekend promises relatively dry weather over the lowlands and showers on the western side of the Cascades, as a ridge of high pressure settles in over the eastern Pacific. 

  Washington's snowpack is in excellent shape, with most of the region beingaround 140% of normal (see below).   But there is a serious issue:  avalanche danger is high and everyone needs to be careful if they venture into the backcountry.

After the forecast, my podcast goes into some depth on why Texas has such extreme weather during the winter, gyrating between heat and cold.

You can listen to my podcast below or on your smartphone using your favorite podcast service.

Here is my podcast:
Click the play button to listen or use your favorite streaming service (see below)

You can stream my podcast from your favorite services:

February 25, 2021

The Extreme Temperature Changes of Texas

 Few places in the world experience more rapid and extreme temperature changes than Texas.

A place whether the temperature can be 80F at noon and 15F by midnight.

A state where a phenomenon called the Blue Norther can produce extreme winds with rapid temperature declines.

And the impacts of these rapid temperature falls can be larger than some hurricanes:  in fact, the effects of this month's cold wave will probably end up being more costly than Hurricane Harvey--both in terms of property damage and loss of life.

Texans Have A Reputation for Thinking They Can Deal with Anything Mother Nature Throws at Them!
Image by Maroonbeard under a Creative Common's Licence

Consider the case Austin, Texas, a city that not a few Northwesteners are thinking of moving to.  Below is a figure that shows the observed highs and lows (black bars), as well as the normal temperature range (green band) and the record highs and lows for February.  

In the beginning of the month, temperatures were above normal, with some days offering highs around 80F.   But then around Feb. 10th, the bottom dropped out, with lows getting to 6F on Feb. 16tth.  And later in the month, they were above normal again.  Texans have to be a tough breed to deal with these changes!


Look closely at the record highs and lows.  Record highs are in the 80s in the early part of the month and around 100F by the 21st, while record lows are in the single digits to the teens.  And it is not unusual to gyrate between the two quickly.

The rapid transition from summer warmth to Arctic cold is not usual in Texas--so frequent that they have a name for it, the Blue Norther.   Sometimes called the Texas Norther.

Moderate blue northers (temperature declines of 10-20F), typically occur several times per year, and the mega-events, like this month (with temperature declines of 30-60F), happen every decade or so.

One of the great Blue Northers occurred on November 11, 1911, where temperatures dropped as much as 70F in less than a day.  The map below, centered over Oklahoma and northern Texas, shows the highs on Nov. 11th and lows on Nov.12th.  Unbelievable.


Such very large temperature declines have been noted as long as Texas has been occupied and is certainly not a new phenomenon.  Texas cold waves are not the result of the "global weirding" that is so popular in the press but a natural part of Texas weather.

But why, you ask does Texas weather, particularly in the winter, have such rapid and severe gyrations?

It is all about geography...and the absolutely unique geography of U.S. Great Plains.

Take a look at this terrain map.  Texas has the broad and high Rockies to its west, which isolates Texas from the temperate/mild effects of the Pacific (which we in the Northwest enjoy in spades). But it is open to the Arctic.... a clear shot from cold air moving south.  Furthermore, the terrain to the west actually helps channel cold air southward, something I did a paper on with Professor Brian Colle of the State Univ. of NY at Stony Brook.


And Texas is also very close to the warm Gulf of Mexico and is at a relatively southern laitude (thus, plenty of strong sun).

So if the flow is from the south (from the warm Gulf) or from the southwest (northern Mexico, with compressional warming as well), Texas can be toasty, even during the winter.  80s to 90s are not unusual from November to February.  

 But then if an Arctic air mass forms to the north, and then pushes southward over the plains, Texas can get primo polar air, backed by strong northerly winds.

No other place in the northern hemisphere is so uniquely endowed for such gyrations between summer-like heat and Arctic cold during the winter.

And it is obvious that in building the infrastructure of Texas--from power generation, to transportation, to water storage and transport--- there must be a consideration of the potential, if not thea certainty, of big temperature swings.  

Texas icing.
Picture by Texugo at wts Wikivoyage through a Creative Commons license

If I was the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, I would be doing some clipping of Texas newspaper headlines:



February 23, 2021

Double Convergence Zone

One of the key elements of western Washington weather in the Puget Sound Convergence Zone, a band of clouds and precipitation that is produced by air moving around the Olympics Mountains and converging...or coming together...over Puget Sound (see schematic below).


As the the airstreams come together, air is forced upwards, producing clouds and precipitation.  The Puget Sound convergence zone usually forms when the low-level air from off the Pacific is from the northwest.

Under these conditions, another convergence zone often forms downstream of the mountains of Vancouver Island.   Perhaps we should call it the Georgia Strait Convergence Zone or the Victoria Convergence.  Few people talk about it.   Canadians are more restrained perhaps.

Anyway, tonight we have had a spectacular example of a DOUBLE convergence zone, with great examples of both happening simultaneously.

Let's start with the weather radar.  Two convergence zones are obvious, one heading just north of Everett and the other over Seattle.


One thing you should notice is that these convergence zones can extend WAY downstream, ascending and crossing the Cascades, and can be big snow producers in the Cascades.

You can see this by viewing the visible satellite picture around 5 PM today (see below). And also notice the enhanced clearing to the north and south of the convergence zone clouds....good to know if you want to find some sun.


If you would like a convergence zone "crib sheet" indicating their locations with dashed ovals....here it is:

We are now coming into convergence zone season, since northwesterly flow is more prevalent during spring.  And La Nina years like this one have more northwesterly flow...and thus convergence zones-- than normal.

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Featured blog on the Decline of Public Radio Station KNKX: 

February 22, 2021

Amazing Precipitation Differences and Avalanche Threat

 The super rain shadow event of the past day resulted in startling precipitation contrasts over the region.

A picture worth one thousand words

The map below shows the 24h amounts ending at 11 AM this morning (click to enlarge, and a blow up is below).  A few hundredths of an inch over north Seattle and northern Kitsap, but as much as 6 inches in the Cascade foothills, tens of miles away.




The forecast of 24-h precipitation ending at 4 PM today, shows the rain shadow and the immense precipitation on the lower western slopes of the Cascades.  And look at eastern Washington: an immense dry zone in the lee of the Cascades.


This huge precipitation gradient was supercharged by strong westerly flow associated with a narrow, but potent atmospheric river.   And the air warmed considerably yesterday, resulting in rain hitting the lower passes.   Such heavy precipitation in the Cascades, on top of substantial snow of the past few weeks, has led to a serious avalanche risk, with the Northwest Avalanche Center going for high to EXTREME.   So serious that WSDOT closed down Stevens and Snoqualmie passes overnight.

The local snowpack currently is well above normal, as shown by the SNOTEL network this morning:


And the snow forecast this week is very aggressive, with 2-5 feet in the Cascades and Olympic by Friday evening.  Classic La Nina.


With the 8-14 day forecast from the Climate Prediction Center being colder than normal, the snow is not going anywhere soon (see below).   So both summer water resources and March snow fun look to be in good shape at this point.



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Featured blog on the Decline of Public Radio Station KNKX: 


February 20, 2021

Super Rain Shadow

 There are rain shadows.... and then there are super rain shadows.  

On Sunday, a super shadow will produce an area of virtually no rain over northern Puget Sound country. And another super rain shadow will occur over the eastern slopes of the Cascades.

As I have discussed many times in this blog, when air approaches a terrain barrier, it is forced to rise on one side, producing bountiful precipitation, and when it descends the other side, the air is compressed, warms, and dries (see figure).  The wet side is the windward side, the dry side, the leeward one.


The effects of terrain--both windward enhancement and the lee rain shadow-- are enhanced when the wind is strong and headed straight up the mountain range on one side and straight down on the other, like the example shown below.


On Sunday, the situation will be perfect:  strong winds from the west will approach the north-south terrain barriers of our region.  And this wont be just any air...but a moist atmospheric river as well!

Here is the forecast 24-h total precipitation ending at 4 AM Monday. As much as 2-5 inches on the windward side of the Olympics and Cascades, but NOTHING east of the Olympics and over northern Puget Sound and NADA over the lower eastern slopes of the Cascades and nearby easterly Washington.


Here is a closer look over western Washington.  NOTHING from north Seattle to southern Snohomish County and back towards northern Kitsap.


The perfect day to visit  Richmond Beach Park on the Sound.    The folks in Sequim, normally smug in their rain shadow ascendency, will be jealous.

To show you how perfect the set up is, here are the winds and heights (like pressure) around 5000 ft (850 hPa pressure) at 4 PM Sunday.  Winds are parallel to the height lines....and you can see wind barbs if you look closely.

Just wow.  HUGE  north-south variation in heights (which means STRONG winds), with the winds coming out of the west.  Due west.   Winds are directed perpendicular to the north-south mountain ranges of our region, which means strong uplift (and precipitation) on one side, and extraordinary sinking on the lee side of the terrain crests.

And this westerly (from the west) flow will be very moist, as shown by this forecast of atmospheric moisture at 10 PM Sunday.  You see the  orange/red areas directed right into Washington?  THAT is a plume of moisture, commonly known as an atmospheric river.



But even with all that "juice", the strong sinking to  the lee of local barriers will make it  bone dry downstream of them.

A major issue will be heavy precipitation...including rain... in the lower passes on Sunday and Monday.  It might get unpleasant

So enjoy the dry rain shadows if  you are in a favored spot, and perhaps take a short trip to a local rain shadow if you are not.  

Finally, it turns out that there is a Super Rain Shadow action figure .  I will have to get one!


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Featured blog on the Decline of Public Radio Station KNKX: 

February 19, 2021

New Podcast: Super Rain Shadow, Heavy Mountain Precipitation, and the Truth About the Texas Cold Wave

 My new podcast is online.  In the first part I talk about the weekend forecast, which on Sunday includes heavy precipitation on the western slopes of the Olympics and Cascades, but relatively dry conditions over the western lowlands.  Below is the 72 hour precipitation through 4 AM Monday.  

Up to 5-10 inches over the western slopes but a rain shadow "dry hole" of only about a tenth of an inch from north Seattle to southern Whidbey Island.  Also very dry east of the Cascades.


And then I take on the big news story.....the cold wave over Texas.... and analyze in depth the claims made that such severe cold waves are the result of global warming.

You can listen here or on your smartphone using your favorite podcast service.

Here is my podcast:
Click the play button to listen or use your favorite streaming service (see below)

You can stream my podcast from your favorite services:

February 18, 2021

The Progressive Decline and Politicization Of Public Radio Station KNKX

During the past decade there are few things that I am more proud of than the role I played in saving public radio station KNKX.

And there are few things that I find more disturbing and disappointing than the failure of the station to fulfill its promise to the community, its declining listenership, and the increasingly partisan tone of its news coverage and station management.  And yes, the fact they ended my weather segment because of the anti-violence stance in one of my blog posts.

This blog describes the progressive decline of the station, its embrace of cancel culture, and its rapid loss of listeners.  And I ask your help in persuading station management to change direction.


The Real Story of How KNKX Was Saved

In November 2015,  Joey Cohn, station manager of public radio station KPLU, told his staff that they should find other jobs.  That the station was finished.  Pacific Lutheran University (PLU), owner of the station's license, had secretly made an arrangement to sell KPLU to the University of Washington (PLU was in financial trouble and needed to raise cash).  KPLU would be terminated, and its audience and valuable transmitters would be subsumed by KUOW, the public radio station owned by the UW.

There were several of us who found this backroom deal very disturbing.   The KUOW program manager felt in-depth coverage was unnecessary, listener call-in shows should be ended, and killed the popular Weekday morning program hosted by Steve Scher.  KUOW wanted a local monopoly on public radio in the market, which would reduce the already plummeting number of news outlets in the Seattle area.

I went to Joey Cohn and told him that we should try to save the station by building public support for an independent public radio station. That people wanted diversity of viewpoint.  He doubted anything could be done, but allowed me (and others) to try.

So a bunch of us started a movement-- including Keith Seinfeld and Stephen Tan-- putting up a web page and organizing community meetings.   But the key was the University of Washington and the essential person was University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce.  Could the UW be persuaded to give KPLU a chance to raise the funds and "purchase" its independence from PLU?

UW President Ana Mari Cauce Decided to Give KPLU a Chance

I was friendly with President Cauce and emailed her about the issue.  She agreed to meet me at the U. Village Starbucks to talk it through.  

And after about an hour of discussion, a miracle occurred:  she agreed to give KPLU an opportunity to raise the money.   

Ana Mari Cauce is someone who understands the importance of diversity of information in the public sphere.  She was unsure whether KPLU could raise the huge amount needed (about 8 million)--but she gave KPLU six months to try.

During those six months many of us worked hard to raise the funds.  You may remember I had several blogs about KPLU, and I was the speaker for a large fundraiser at Kane Hall.  And amazingly, we succeeded.  KPLU became KNKX and an independent public radio station was born.

Why did so many people want to save KPLU?  It wasn't the jazz--KUOW had already established a jazz outlet and was ready to expand its jazz offerings.  The key reason the community acted so powerfully was to protect diversity in the western Washington news market, which had hollowed out during the past decade (e.g., the effective loss of the PI, reduction in news staff at the Seattle Times, and more).

So by summer 2016, the new KNKX was at the top of the world. 

Many public radio listeners were unhappy with KUOW, and KNKX listenership had almost caught up to KUOW.  KNKX station management had an opportunity serve the community in an important way, providing an aural town square for the region.  

And they threw the opportunity away.


I and others suggested to station management that a new morning news/public affairs show be added during weekdays, while maintaining strong jazz programming. KNKX has an experienced  and savvy news director (Erin Hennessey) and some excellent news/special feature staff (such as environmental reporter Bellamy Pailthorp).  But the new weekday programming never happened.  

And then something worse occurred:  the politicization of the station's news coverage and the move to partisanship and active identify-politics advocacy.

Slowly the material presented over the air changed and this transition accelerated when a new news director was appointed in September 2019.  

The director of content hired at the end of 2015, Matt Martinez, had strong views that would greatly influence the direction of KNKX.  In a stunning interview this year, he described the "uncomfortable truths" about the racial makeup of the KNKX staff, announcers, and "very white" audience.   There is a term for being uncomfortable about an individual because of their race.  Needless to say, such an attitude is inappropriate for a leader of a public radio station.

The online content, as well as on-air material, drifted away from news and analysis to social justice and equity issues, while at the same time KUOW doubled down on news coverage.  To provide one illustration, here are shots of the KNKX and KUOW web pages on the same day (during the past month).  One headlines diversity issues, the other the pandemic.  I could show you a dozen more like this.




Listeners to the station noticed the political drift and complained online, for example, here is a recent comment on Yelp:


Or these on Facebook (removed the names)




From my viewpoint from inside KNKX, the changes in the attitudes of station management were obvious.  In 2019, Joey Cohn invited me to lunch. He told me that he had gotten flack about my opposition to I-1631, the carbon fee initiative, particularly from some well-off financial supporters of the station (note: I was a strong supporter of the previous carbon initiative-I-732, but thought I-1631 was highly regressive, hurting low-income people and was poorly designed). 

He asked me to clear with him my participation with such initiatives in the future.

But things were to get worse for me.  Some of the uber "progressive" supporters of the station were unhappy with my communication of peer-reviewed science on my blog and my occasional discussion of climate issues with Bellamy Pailthrop.  They were pushing to get my segment cancelled.  To censor the information available to KNKX listeners.  Some of these "climate advocates" were on the KNKX advisory board and accused me of taking money from "big oil."  I asked them what science I got wrong....no answer.

Then a group of Seattle social/climate activists (Seattle350), started a petition to get me removed from KNKX.  KNKX station management, to placate the mob, decided to commission an analysis of my on-air and OFF-AIR writings, and gave the responsibility to a MEMBER OF SEATTLE350.  Unbelievable.  And they spent donor money to have my segment evaluated by the past ombudsperson of NPR.  

Not surprisingly, I was "cleared"  by both reports, but the whole activity was designed to satisfy the "cancel culture" mob that did not want truthful statements on climate and weather to be aired.  KNKX management could not, would not, stand up to the activist mob.


Then in July, I did a blog about the destructiveness to democracy of political violence in Seattle, including the destruction of property, intimidation of politicians and our chief of police, and the hurting of individuals.  It was not popular among the activist crowd, who demanded that I be punished for it: from termination on KNKX to my expulsion from the UW.

KNKX management, under pressure from the mob, immediately terminated my weather segment.  They gave in to cancel culture,  which is totally inappropriate for a public radio station.

The Collapse of KNKX Listenership and Web Interest

As KNKX progressively retreated away from news towards social activism, its listenership declined rapidly.  To illustrate, here are the "cume" numbers (from the Nielsen ratings company) that illustrate the listenership of both KUOW and KNKX over the past few years. KUOW listenership has remained nearly constant in the low 400,000 range.  KNKX has lost a third of its listenership, from roughly 310,000 to approximately 200,000 today.

The collapse of interest in KNKX can be confirmed in other ways.  Consider the internet searches for both KNKX and KUOW in 2016, 2018, and 2020 (available from the Googletrends website).   In 2016, KNKX searches totaled about 75% of those of KUOW.  But by 2018 it had dropped to around 45% and by 2020 only about 30%.  Huge decline.

A key aspect of this collapse was that folks were no longer going to KNKX for online news, which is not surprising consider the lack of news coverage on the KNKX website.  This is easy to prove.

Below are the online search numbers for KNKX and KUOW during the past year.  KNKX searches are generally less than KUOW and declining over the period, while there is a slight rising trend for KUOW.  


But there is something more important....the ups and downs of the searches.  When there are big news stories, KUOW searches go up sharply (for example, the big surge in March during the COVID crisis).  But there was little change for KNKX--folks do not see it as a place to go for news.  

There IS one major spike for KNKX, where it temporarily exceeded KUOW.  That corresponds to the period after I wrote a blog on my firing from KNKX.  In fact, as confirmed by the Alexa rankings site, my blogs on KNKX and cancel culture have driven searches regarding KNKX.  Not the attention I suspect KNKX management is looking for.

Perhaps most devastating analysis is a comparison of Seattle market share for KUOW and KNKX during the past year (see below)... from the period where COVID became news to the election (again from the Nielsen ratings company).  Right in the middle they ended my segment.  

A disaster for KNKX   In April, KUOW was only about one percent ahead of KNKX, but by November, KUOW quadrupled its lead to nearly 5 percent, with the gap accelerating after my weather segment was ended.


What now?

I can't tell you how many people have told me to give up on KNKX. 

That they are not worth it, considering their stunning levels of ingratitude, surrender to woke thinking, and lack of concern for their listenership.  Let them fade out.

But I am not going to give up on the station...and you shouldn't either.  Listeners and financial supporters have a lot of clout that they can and should use to turn things around.

KNKX is now the poster child for cancel culture in public radio....and this should not stand.   KNKX management has undermined the reputation of the station.

KNKX was saved to promote viewpoint and media diversity in our community, and that diversity is still needed.

Cancel culture is all about power: those with power thinking they can silence those with differing viewpoints.  Let's show them that they can not succeed.

So let me ask your help to address the situation:

1.   Money talks, particularly in public radio.  One of the reasons that KNKX has tilted to activism and cancel culture is the left-leaning attitudes and pressure of their major donors.  Trust me, I know these people and have interacted with them for several years.

If you are a KNKX donor, pause your contributions with a note to the station telling them what you expect:  an end of biased and limited news reporting, no more canceling of diverse voices, the restoration of the weather segment, and new programming that fosters discussion of regional issues. 

2.  Email station management and the KNKX Board, expressing your concerns about poor online and on-air content and their "canceling" of segments based on political pressure.  Tell them freedom of speech is important, as is respect for viewpoint diversity in their staff and contributors.  Tell them that racially inflammatory statements among senior management is not acceptable.

3.  Email major corporate donors (view here), asking for aid in making the station an important venue for the many voices and that differing viewpoints should be heard.

Jazz is in its very essence about embracing diversity.  It combines many musical traditions into a very American amalgam, and celebrates the richness of differing viewpoints, histories, and experiences.    It is strange that the management of a station dedicated to jazz did not understand this essential truth and by their own actions rejected it.
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KNKX Contact Information

If you want to help,  please contact KNKX management and ask that they reverse their decision:

Station Manager: Joey Cohn, jcohn@knkx.org
Program Director: Matt Martinez,  mmartinez@knkx.org
Chair of KNKX Board, Claire Grace, send to info@knkx.org
Listener support: info@knkx.org
Mary Dunaway, Director of Development, mdunaway@knkx.org

Station phone number: 1-877-677-5659

Public Radio Station KNKX and Cancel Culture

If you are interested in learning more about public radio station KNKX and cancel culture, check out my new blog/website on the issue: https://knkxcancel.blogspot.com/2021/02/knkx-and-cancel-culture.html


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