May 14, 2021

The Fascinating History of Weather Forecasting and the Perfect Weekend Ahead: New Podcast Cover Both

My new podcast is out (see below).   My second segment tells you about the fascinating history of weather forecasting, including a surprising story about the role of the founders of the U.S.

Benjamin Franklin had an unexpected major role in the history of weather prediction.

But first, the podcast provides the details of the weekend's forecast.

This weekend will bring sun and temperatures rising into the 70s in western Washington and the 80's and 90's east of the Cascade crest.  A continuation of one of the driest springs in decades.    Each day will dawn with clouds on the coast, with some extension through the Strait of Juan de Fuca (see image)

But the sunny/dry weather is going to end abruptly on Monday as the atmosphere shifts gears, with a major trough of low pressure developing over the eastern Pacific.  An onshore marine push is in our future, with lots of clouds and showers.

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:

May 12, 2021

Extraordinary Halos over the Region Tuesday Night

Before and during sunset last night, there were some amazing halos visible around the region. Here are two views from Ellensburg, the first by Richard Wilson and the second by Tom and Barbara Jones, both taken near sunset.

Courtesy of Richard Wilson

Courtesy Tom and Barbara Jones

You start by noticing the semi-circular halo, located 22 degrees from the sun.  But there is more....a sun pillar extending vertically from the setting sun.   And perhaps most impressively of all, there is the upper tangent arc at the top of the halo, right about the sun (looks like an upside-down triangle or perhaps some wings on the halo).

Just stunning.

Halos, sun pillars, and upper tangent arcs are all atmospheric optical effects associated with sunlight interacting with ice crystals in the atmosphere.    Most halos are the result of cirrostratus clouds... high-level clouds made up of small ice crystals.

We can view the cirrostratus clouds from above, using a high-resolution satellite image at 7:51  PM (see below).  The wispy ice clouds are clearly visible and if you very closely you can see lots of lines.  These are contrails from jet aircraft, with contrails being enhanced when the atmosphere is near or at saturation (and to get clouds you need saturation--100% relative humidity).

Ice crystals cause a halo...a ring around the preferentially bending light by 22 degrees as the sun's rays pass through the crystals (see schematics below from the University of Illinois),

The sun pillar is the result of falling ice crystals acting as little mirrors, something illustrated in the figure below.  When larger ice crystals fall from the clouds, they tend to orient horizontally, reflecting the solar rays to your eyes in a way that produces a vertical column of light.

The origin of the tangent arcs at the top of the halo is more complex, they occur when sunlight passes through column-shaped crystals that are oriented horizontally.  Light can pass through the columns in various ways, producing a fan-like pattern of light  (see schematic below).  A more detailed explanation is found here.

Halos are sometimes a sign of changing weather, with higher clouds often leading storm systems.    But not this time!  Only good weather ahead for the next few days, with no rain in the forecast and temperatures rising into the lower 70s by Friday.

May 10, 2021

What Seattle Needs in Its Next Mayor

Seattle’s future is now in jeopardy and two paths lay before it. One path leads to growth into an exciting world-class city. The other leads inevitably to decline, with a rapid exodus of our most creative and innovative individuals and the loss of opportunity for all of Seattle’s citizens.
Richard Croft.  Creative Commons License

San Francisco demonstrates how a once world-class city can rapidly decline.  We do not want to follow its example.  

Seattle residents have watched in dismay as our mayor and city council allowed a homeless crisis to fester, stood by as a portion of our city was abandoned to the mob, took little action as violent individuals destroyed businesses and threatened those with differing viewpoints, supported defunding of police and the reduction of public safety, discouraged major businesses from growing in our city, and neglected making critical investments in infrastructure.

No great city can remain a great city under such poor leadership.  And no city can grow and flourish when those entrusted with its future are so irresponsible and ineffective.  But more than anything else, we need leaders with a positive vision of Seattle.  A Seattle that is a place of exciting possibilities, world-class educational institutions, stimulating entertainment and restaurants, world-leading businesses, great opportunity for all, and a city that is clean, safe, and appealing.

Essential Tasks for the Next Mayor

Public Safety  

No city can be successful if its inhabitants and visitors fear for their personal safety, and recent trends in Seattle have been disturbing. Police response times have increased substantially as their ranks have been thinned by attrition,  and large numbers of homeless fill our streets and parks, resulting in increased crime and attacks on local residents.  Several public schools in the city have homeless camps close by, with needles and physical threats spreading onto campuses.  The city’s murder rate has doubled and the Seattle City Attorney has released many charged with serious crimes, with many committing more crimes within days of release.  The loss of police has become a flood and public safety is seriously threatened.

Unbelievably, several city council members have irresponsibly supported defunding the police by as much as 50%, with no coherent idea of how “reimagining” policing would work. Others have directed cash from defunding to their political allies.
  The loss of public safety hurts the city’s low-income and minority communities the most, a situation of little concern to the current leadership.  

Would anyone suggest defunding all doctors by 50% because of some criminal or negligent physicians?  Of course not.  Defunding police makes as much sense.

So, above all else, the next Seattle mayor must be a fierce advocate of public safety, a strong opponent of defunding the police, and a powerful defender of the right of all citizens and businesses in our city to live without fear for their physical and personal safety.


Our city is overrun with thousands of homeless individuals.  The majority are either mentally ill or on drugs.  Many live in filth or barbaric conditions; many are involved in crimes; some have violently attacked others.  Shoplifting and other impacts of the homeless population have led to many businesses leaving Seattle.  Spent needles and human waste are a common sight around the city.   It is morally unacceptable to leave these vulnerable individuals on the street with some dying alone in the cold, being the victims of violence, and spiraling downward into despair. No moral society can leave such people on the streets.  No city with a future can allow this situation to remain.

Courtesy of David Lee

The current leadership of our city has been profoundly ineffective regarding homelessness.  Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent and the problem has worsened, not improved. 

The next mayor should make a promise:  that no individual will be allowed to camp out in public spaces and that there would be zero tolerance for doing so.  But with this strict regime should come a program ensuring that every homeless person in the city will be offered safe housing and the services needed to improve their lives.   One could imagine building “barrack-like” housing made up of single rooms that would provide privacy and safety.  Homeless could be divided into those with serious mental illness, drug dependencies, family units, and those simply out of luck, with services tailored towards their needs.  Such housing would, by design by spare to avoid attracting outsiders, and would impose a strict policy against drug use in its facilities.

This must end


The literal foundation of every city is its infrastructure:  its roads, bridges, water supply and sewage systems, electrical systems, and parks.  Seattle has allowed its infrastructure to degrade to a point that critical bridges (e.g., West Seattle) are too dangerous to be used, roads are filled with potholes and are deteriorating, and electrical poles are sufficiently rotted that they fail from minor windstorms. Key bicycle paths (e.g., the Burke Gilman) have been allowed to deteriorate, while no safe cycling path exists for entering the city from either the north or south.  Irresponsible city leadership has neglected necessary maintenance, spending limited funds on showy projects with little benefit (e.g., streetcars).

The next mayor needs to make infrastructure a major priority, pushing for wise investments in the essentials, such as bridge/highway maintenance and the reliable provision of key services.

Courtesy of Joe Mabel

Maintaining an Attractive Environment for Business

A thriving business community is the economic engine that makes everything else possible, a fact that seems to escape many of Seattle’s political leadership.  Head taxes that hurt medium size and larger businesses can only encourage flight to more welcoming communities.  Lack of public safety and a severe homeless problem discourages customers from visiting our downtown or other business centers of the city for shopping, dining or entertainment.  Downtown employees feel threatened. Ignoring roving rioters that break windows and loot businesses communicates a powerful message, and it is not a good one.   Businesses should not be seen as the enemy, as suggested by several city council members, but prized partners in building a better city.

Budget Excesses

The next mayor must be more prudent regarding the costs of city government and its services.  The city budget has doubled during the past decade, driven by unsustainable increases in city bureaucracy and salaries.  Showy, ineffective projects, such as streetcars, have been funded at great public expense.  Seattle residents pay more for water than in any other major city, unexpected considering its reliable, bountiful and easily accessed water supplies.  And taxes have escalated under seemingly endless special levies.   Lower-income people in the city suffer the most from the increasingly regressive costs of city government.

The next mayor must bring some fiscal responsibility to the city.

Courtesy of the Seattle Times

There is Much More

There are many other items that should be on the “to do” list of the next mayor, such as improving the quality of K-12 education (essential for our kids future), increasing the amount of affordable housing (e.g., encouraging more condominiums and townhouses, and fewer apartments), and improving the flow of traffic through the city (such as getting rid of the silly reduced-capacity “throttled” roads).  

Disappointing ridership

As a scientist, I feel strongly that the next mayor should base their actions on facts and science, rather than taking unthoughtful, highly politicized decisions.
  For example, the decisions by the current Seattle administration to restrict park access due to COVID were not based on science and prevented Seattle residents from enjoying needed outdoor recreation during trying times.

Progressive Versus Regressive

Most of Seattle’s current leadership and the long list of current mayoral candidates trumpet their “progressive” credentials.    A true progressive should care about progress.  The progress of the city’s citizens towards a better, safe, and more fulfilled life.  But this group of leaders has overseen a city moving backward.  Regression towards less public safety.  Regression towards a worsening homeless crisis.  Regression towards a failing infrastructure.  And a more regressive tax and fee structure that hurts our poorest citizens the most.    Perhaps our current leaders are better termed regressives.

Hopefully, a true progressive will come along and run for mayor.  An individual who cares more for fundamental services, rational decision making and public safety than virtual signaling or appealing to the latest political fad.   A mayor with a positive vision of Seattle.  A mayor that does not view the city as a warring caldron of competing identity groups, but a diverse, rich tapestry of individuals working energetically towards improving their lives and others.

Jay Huang Photography

We can only hope that such a candidate will appear.
  But without such an individual, and a similarly minded city council, the future of Seattle will be a shadow of the great city that could have blossomed on the shoreline of Puget Sound.


May 08, 2021

Where is the driest place in Washington State?

Although the Pacific Northwest is known for bountiful rain and lush rain forests, it also possesses extraordinarily dry locations as well.  To illustrate, the westerns slopes of the Olympics have locations that receive up to 180 inches a year and 100-120 inches per anum is not unusual on the windward (western) slopes of the Cascades (see below).  

In western Washington, the driest location is the rainshadow of the Olympics, where some locations, such as Sequim, enjoy 15-17 inches of precipitation per year.  But if you are looking for REALLY dry conditions, you must head to southeastern Washington, where less than ten inches a year reaches the rain gauge.

According to the dictionary definition, that portion of eastern Washington can be considered a desert.

But where EXACTLY is the absolutely driest location?   Rain sodden western Washingtonians want to know!   And the answer should certainly be of interest to agricultural interests.

So let's turn next to the Oregon State PRISM high-resolution annual precipitation analysis (see below).  This analysis is more detailed, showing some portions of eastern Washington getting as little as 4-8 inches.

A terrain map  (below) suggests that the driest areas (indicated by red ovals) are associated with low areas near much higher terrain.    This makes sense, since precipitation declines as air moves down terrain, compressing and drying as it does so.  With westerly (from the west) winds, these locations would experience maximum drying.

So EXACTLY, where is the driest place in Washington?   

 I first asked Dr. Nick Bond, Washington State Climatologist (and my con-instructor of the senior UW weather forecasting class).   He suggested Sunnyside, which only received 6.57 inches a year since 1981.  I also asked Mark Albright, who was past state climatologist, and he noted the Hanford Weather Station, which measured 6.80 inches on average from 1947 to 2020.

Both are impressive.

I next turned to the WSU AgWeather network, which has a lot of stations, but few go back more than 15-20 years.

The Sunnyside WSU site had only an average of 6.1 inches from 1994-2018, while the nearby Mabton E. location had a mean of 5.76 inches from 2009-2020.  Horrigan (south of Prosser)  had 5.8 inches

WSU Professor David Brown has worked to expand the WSU AgWeather network

But now it was time to go for the big dry.

So I next checked locations I thought had the best combination of low elevation and big terrain immediately to the west.

First, Desertair, which had nearly exactly 5 inches a year since 2009.

Then, Mattawa E. in Grant County. 

OMG.  A 4.6 inches average for 2008 to 2020.  You can see the location below.

Less than five inches in Washington State.  Who would have thought?  

Mattawa has almost exactly the same annual precipitation as Las Vegas (4.49 inches per year).  Perhaps, someone should put a casino there.  The weather station looks kind of lonely, surrounded by irrigated fields.

May 07, 2021

New Podcast. Why do we have showers and sunbreaks during the spring? And a favorable Mother's Day forecast.

The visible satellite today is a spring-time classic, convective showers with lots of sun breaks over the Pacific and sections of western Washington, a Puget Sound convergence zone over the north Sound, and sunny skies over eastern Washington.

The weather radar at the same time (10 AM), clearly shows the showers around the coast and southwest Washington, with an impressive convergence zone north of Seattle,

Springtime showers and sun breaks like this are not unusual and are a major component of Northwest weather.  Why do we get these showers?  My podcast explains.

A trough of low pressure is over us right now (see below), but should move out by Sunday.  The result will be an improving weather trend, something I discuss in the first portion of the podcast.

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:

May 05, 2021

The Subtleties of Wind Energy in Washington State

There have been a number of stories in local media about wind energy in Washington State, including questions about its availability throughout the year.  So let's examine the wind energy potential of the State--perhaps some aspects will be surprising.

A good place to start is the NREL (National Renewable Energy Lab) maps of annual wind speed at 80 meters above ground level, high enough to be applicable to giant wind turbines  (see below).   

You might think that Puget Sound is windy, but that is simply not the case; only along the coast is wind sufficient for wind energy in western Washington  (the orange and red areas).  

The crest of the Cascades and its eastern slopes are a different story, as are several areas over southeastern Washington.   Some decent wind locations.  The best region includes the hilltops near and east of Ellensburg, a region where wind turbines are now everywhere. And the hills surrounding the Columbia Gorge, from The Dalles to Walla Walla, are also good wind energy locations.

The origin of the strong winds from the Cascade crest eastward

There are two major sources of these winds.

First, there are the strong westerly (from the west) winds of the cool season, associated with the jet stream and powerful storms coming off the Pacific.  Such westerly winds are accelerated over the Cascade crest and can remain strong and even accelerate as they descend the eastern slopes of the Cascades.   Hilltops in eastern WA can get a piece of it.   But often the strong inversion (temperature increasing with height) capping the Columbia Basin during winter, often prevents strong westerly wind from getting to lower elevations of eastern Washington during the cold season.  Another reason why the hilltops are favored for wind turbines.

Second, there are the warm-season westerly winds that increase each afternoon and evening during summer.  Eastern Washington is much warmer than western Washington during the summer, and the warmth causes pressure to fall east of the Cascade crest during the day.  Over the ocean, the eastern Pacific high-pressure area is in place much of the summer.  With high pressure offshore and lower pressure over eastern Washington, air accelerates down the eastern slopes of the Cascades during summer afternoons and evenings.   You can think of it as a giant diurnal (daily) sea breeze.

But why are winds so strong around Ellensburg?  

Because there is a weakness in the Cascades called the Stampede Gap, which provides a favored conduit of strong winds from western to eastern Washington.  This gap enhances winds at major wind energy facilities around Ellensburg, such as the Wild Horse Project (see terrain map below from my book).

The near sea-level gap of the Columbia Gorge can also aid in allowing strong winds to reach some of the wind energy projects near the Columbia River.

Are the winds always there?

If one puts up a wind energy project, it would be nice if reliable strong winds were there all the time, but that is unfortunately not the case for the windy locations in Washington.  And it would be useful if wind energy availability corresponded with energy demand, but that is not necessarily the case either.

 Most potential wind energy sites in Washington have a substantial seasonal variation of wind.  To illustrate how wind varies with season, below is another plot from my book showing winds at various locations around the State.  Hoquiam on the coast and Seattle in Puget Sound have their strongest winds in the winter and substantial declines during the summer.   Walla Walla, with some wind turbines on nearby hills, has the strongest winds from April to September, but they really aren't that much stronger than during winter.  

But Ellensburg is a different animal. Very strong winds during the summer, but weak winds during the winter.  

So you see the problem?   Our primo wind generation area has the strongest wind during the summer when power demand tends to lessen over Washington State (less electric heating and lighting is required during the summer).  But the summer wind energy peak could be very valuable for us if electric car usage expands or if we need more electricity for air conditioning due to global warming.

According to a local wind-energy expert, Dr. Justin Sharp, the higher hills in portions of eastern Washington are sufficiently tall to get a piece of the westerly winter winds and thus offer more year-round energy potential. 

As discussed in the media, a wind energy project is planned for the Horse Heaven Hills (see map)

Using the NREL wind site, Dr. Sharp plotted the wind speeds throughout the year at a location in the center of the proposed Horse Heaven Hills project (winds shown below, months are noted on the x-axis, wind speed in mph). Stronger in the winter and weaker dring the summer.

In contrast, a site near the Columbia Gorge in Oregon (Klondike area, see map) has its maximum winds, and thus potential, generation in summer (see below)

You can see why it is important to have lots of wind turbines at different locations and elevations--it helps spread out the generation across the year--which is a good thing.

Finally, it is interesting to note that although wind energy may be a useful part of the mix in Washington State, our wind energy potential is in the bush leagues compared to the Great Plains of the U.S., which might be considered the Saudi Arabia of wind energy (see NREL wind map below).  Absolutely huge wind energy potential from the Dakotas to Texas.

May 03, 2021

A Nighttime "Light Pillar" Plus Weather Cam Poetry

A relatively unusual optical effect is the nighttime "light pillar"--  vertical lines in the sky at night produced by the reflection of a surface light source by ice crystals aloft.  

Consider the beautiful example of a light pillar last night, captured by weather cam maestro Greg Johnson of Skunk Bay Weather (see below).  The image was taken at 3:04 AM, looking north from Kitsap Peninsula towards southern Whidbey Island.  Unsettling.

Picture courtesy of Greg Johnson, Skunk Bay Weather

Perhaps you would enjoy a video of these ghostly features:

They are almost scary....but very beautiful at the same time.

Light pillars are associated with falling ice crystals and a view of the infrared satellite imagery at 3 AM confirms that clouds over western Washington were sufficiently high (see below) to produce such ice particles.  White clouds in the infrared indicate that the cloud tops are sufficiently cold.

As impressive as last night light pillars were, they can really get wild (see below)

Courtesy of Timmyjoeelzinga and a Creative Common license

Why Do Light Pillars Occur?

Light pillars are associated with large, hexagonal (six-sided) ice crystals that tend to be oriented in a horizontal configuration as they fall ( see graphic).

 Courtesy of V1adis1av

Such falling ice crystals act as small reflectors of light originating from the surface, providing the optical illusion of a vertical column of light.    

A close cousin of the nighttime light pillar is the sun pillar, often viewed near sunrise and sunset (see below)

Picture courtesy of Brocken Inaglory

A Major Treat

At the end of Northwest Weather Workshops, we often sit back and enjoy the extraordinary weather videos created by Greg Johnson of Skunk Bay Weather, who brings together weather cam imagery and music in ways that are both moving emotionally and highly educational.    Below is Greg's video for this year's workshop..... it is an extraordinary pleasure to watch.  And don't be surprised if your eyes don't moisten up a bit....

The Fascinating History of Weather Forecasting and the Perfect Weekend Ahead: New Podcast Cover Both

My new podcast is out (see below).    My second segment tells you about the fascinating history of weather forecasting, including a surprisi...