April 20, 2024

A Strong Surge of Marine Air Brings Relief to the Pollen Afflicted

During the past weeks, I have gotten several emails from folks with pollen-related allergies.  

When will the suffering end they asked?

Early spring is the time of tree pollen, and the recent warm weather brought high values and substantial suffering to the sensitive.

As shown the pollen levels at Seattle for the last 30 days (below, from pollen.com), the values during the past several days reached a high level (red colors).    

The rise began in late March, with several ups and downs.  Ups during warm periods, downs in cooler periods with onshore flow of marine air.

Compare Seattle's pollen levels with those in Wenatchee, east of the Cascades in the Columbia basin (below).   Much more consistently high, with a major drop on April 4th.  A big drop that day in Seattle as well.

What happened on April 4th?   A major cool down on both sides of the Cascades, as illustrated by the temperatures at Wenatchee this month  (below).

The cool-down was associated with a powerful front that moved through the area during the previous day (see the map below, the blue line indicates the front).

And the same thing is happening as I write this on Saturday evening.

A very powerful front is moving through the region now, bringing much cooler air and strong winds into the region.   The satellite image his afternoon at 4 PM was dramatic, with a well-defined frontal band crossing western Washington and the swirling clouds with an offshore low-pressure center being evident.

Gusts this afternoon and early evening have surged to 20-50 mph (see below).  Tens of thousands lost power in western Washington, the result of the strong winds combined with the newly leafed-out trees.

Expect much lower pollen levels on Sunday and Monday.  

Finally, Seattle is one of the best major cities in the U.S. for the pollen afflicted, sitting in the 88th position on the Allergy and Asthma Association's list.    Thank our location downwind of the Pacific Ocean, mild climate, and favorable mix of trees.   

And yes, the Seattle Times had an article last month saying that the pollen problem will get worse here under global warming:

Scientists predict the pollen for some trees, like birches in the Seattle area, will be eight times more abundant in our region by the end of the century, according to the state Department of Health.

The culprit? Climate change.

I will deal with the problems with these claims in a future blog.

April 18, 2024

Is Washington State REALLY In a Drought Emergency?

On Tuesday, the Washington State Department of Ecology declared a DROUGHT EMERGENCY for nearly the entire state (see map below).

As I will describe below, this really doesn't make sense.  Facts on the ground, meteorological observations, and common sense suggest that this declaration is simply wrong.  

But you decide after reviewing the facts.

If you look at the map, one bizarre feature is evident:  there is no drought emergency from Everett to Tacoma, which encompasses roughly 65% of the State's population.  

How can this be?   The weather systems controlling our weather encompass large sections of the state and meteorologically nothing special has been observed in that tiny metropolitan corridor.
Another strange observation is that this map is FAR more aggressive with drought than the perpetually drought-crazy NOAA/USDA Drought Monitor graphic (below).  The Federal Drought Monitor has NO dry conditions over more than half the State.  Drought conditions are only claimed for perhaps 20% of the state.

Why is a state agency putting out drought information in contraction to the Federal numbers?

As I will show below, the state has had only slightly below-normal precipitation this winter and the current snowpack is about 65% of normal.   The forecast impacts are minor at best and reservoirs are generally in very good shape.

But first a little philosophy and perspective.

We live in one of the wettest locations in the U.S. (see map).  A region that possesses a very modest population considering the carrying capacity of the land and one that generally receives much more precipitation than we need or can use, with the surplus water surging out into the Pacific.

In such a situation, does it REALLY matter that our precipitation is 10% below normal and snowpack is down a third?  Kind of silly really.
The Real Facts

    I wish the Washington State Department of Ecology would have reviewed the available weather and climate information before calling for the big "D."  And perhaps they should have studied the definition of a drought, as for example one provided by the National Weather Service:

“A deficiency of moisture that results in adverse impacts on people, animals, or vegetation over a sizeable area."

The big question is one of impact.  Or lack of them.

Another word that should have been looked up is emergency:

 "an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action"

Let's start with precipitation.  Below is a plot of precipitation over Washington State for the water year from October through March over the past 50 years.  The average is shown by the blue line.  This year is clearly below normal (about 90% of normal), but many years were far less.  No drought emergencies called for most of them.   And impacts of the dry years were generally very small.

Well, what about reservoirs?

Seattle's crucial reservoirs are well above normal (see below).  I repeat ABOVE normal.

But why stop with Seattle?  There is an informative website that provides the current levels for 19 reservoirs around the State (one additional reservoir is not reporting). 18 of the 19 were filled to 100% or more.

For agriculture, the Yakima reservoirs are important.  The latest water level information shows that the Yakima water reserves are nearly identical to last year and about 78% of normal.  The Bureau of Reclamation notes that those with senior water rights will get full allotments, while junior was rights should get about 63%.  Most agriculture should be fine.

What about predicted forecast river levels at the end of summer (mid-September)?   Around 80-90% for the Columbia and around 65-80% for the Yakima.  Much higher for rivers in Oregon.  Nothing serious. 

Finally, there is the current snowpack, which is around 65% of normal across Washington State.  So there is still substantial snow left to melt in the mountains, but less than normal.  

I talked to a former leader of the local US Army Corps of Engineers about the current water situation.  He noted that with the current snow and reservoir levels, there should not be any problems this summer.

Crop moisture indices are near normal (not shown).

The Bottom Line

    This winter has brought slightly below normal precipitation and modestly lower than normal snowpack (because of warmer than normal temperatures during this El Nino year).  There will be plenty of water for drinking and a modest reduction for some junior water rights folks in eastern Washington.    Most of the key crops (such as apples, cherries, and wheat) appear to be doing well.  So there is no reason to panic at this point.  There is no drought emergency going on.

And don't forget temperature....the other side of significant droughts.  Warm weather causes drying of the soil.   Thus, the forecast temperatures for the next month or so are critical.  The best extended forecast for the next month (European Center see below) is for COOLER THAN NORMAL conditions, which would reduce evaporative water loss, lessening the potential for damaging drought conditions.

Finally, there is a famous story about crying wolf....and it doesn't end well

April 16, 2024

A Good Chance of Seeing an Aurora Tonight over Northern Washington State

A moderate solar storm provides the potential for an aurora extending southward into Washington State tonight and tomorrow night.

In fact, quite a decent auroral show was evident last night over northwest Washington, documented by Greg Johnson of Skunk Bay Weather (on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula).  Check it out below!

The current Kp score, a measure of solar activity, was as high as 5 a few hours ago, enough to push the aurora southward into the northern U.S.

The last prediction of the NOAA Space Weather Center shows the southern extent of auroral visibility reaching Olympia tonight (see below).

And about the same tomorrow (Wednesday) night (below)

We will also have the advantage of clear skies over much of the region (see visible satellite image below at 7 PM);  many of the clouds in the picture should fade out overnight as the Earth's surface cools.

If you can't go out at your location, check out the Skunk Bay aurora cam found here.

Good aurora hunting!

April 15, 2024

A Huge DEI Establishment is Undermining the University of Washington

The University of Washington has been experiencing some major problems of late, including a costly financial system that is failing, violent/destructive students doing major damage to the student union, and a serious homeless problem on campus, to name only a few.

Two years ago, the highly respected Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), rated the UW as the lowest-ranked public university in the nation regarding freedom of speech and expressing diverse views.  

But perhaps the greatest threat to the UW comes from the development of a huge DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) bureaucracy that is draining massive amounts of university funds and pushing policies that make the UW an unwelcoming place for those with diverse political and social viewpoints.  Importantly, it has meant the politicization of a State institution.

The most problematic part of DEI is the E....the Equity part.   

Equity is not equality, a core principle of our nation.  Equity means equal group outcomes.  For example, if 15% of the population is of some ethnicity/race/sex then 15% of the faculty and students in every program should be of the same ethnicity/race/sex. Equity means each individual represents their ethnicity/race/sex and not themselves as a unique individual.

In contrast, equality means that every individual is equally precious, no matter what their background, and deserves the same opportunities and consideration.  They represent themselves and not a group.

DEI Efforts Reduce the Political Diversity of the UW

I can remember the University of Washington of the late 70s, in which there was substantial political diversity among the faculty.  That diversity is now history, with the vast majority of the faculty identifying with the Democratic party and left-leaning groups.  

Disturbingly, the remaining diversity of the faculty is declining rapidly under the UW's DEI administration.   For example, the job application of EVERY new potential faculty member must include a comprehensive DEI statement in which they attest to support DEI principles and describe concrete steps they will take to support DEI at the UW.    Every faculty position has a requirement such as this one from a Mechanical Engineering position ad:

 the applicant must provide a statement of how they have contributed to diversity, equity and inclusion at the previous institutions they have been affiliated with and how they plan to contribute to the UW’s efforts and goals in DEI. 

If you are a conservative who does not ascribe to the concept of equity but rather believes in equality, then you can not get a position at the University of Washington.  

My department is going through a faculty search right now, and the attestations of fealty to DEI principles by applicants were fulsome and exaggerated.  The search committee structure ensures that only "right-thinking" applicants have a chance.

The UW has become a political monoculture and the DEI juggernaut is rapidly reducing the remaining viewpoint diversity among the faculty.   Everyone is a loser from the trend: students are denied hearing a range of faculty viewpoints, alternate ideas are not debated, and social research is myopic and limited.

It is fascinating to note that the faculty that are most concerned about the DEI machine at the UW are those born overseas in nations in which large politicized bureaucracies that suppress human liberty and potential.  They know.  And they recognize the similarities here at the UW.

But it is worse than that.  

The DEI bureaucracy and sympathetic faculty are actively attacking faculty with "inequitable" beliefs.   Predatory behavior.   I learned this firsthand when I did a blog criticizing the I-1631 carbon initiative in 2018 because it hurt low-income people and gave tax funds to politically connected activity groups.   Subsequently, the Dean of Diversity of the College of the Environment sent an email to every member of my department, accusing my blog of racism.

Or consider the unfortunate situation of Professor Stuart Reges of Computer Sciences, who criticized the virtue-signaling land acknowledgment that is frequently used before gatherings at the UW.   Disciplinary actions were taken against him, leading to a lawsuit (which goes to trial on Monday)

The powerful UW DEI establishment at the UW is even pushing highly partisan viewpoints using state funds (which is illegal ).  For example, some diversity/inclusion staff in the College of Education sent out a pro-Hamas email last October, just after the barbaric attack on Israel on October 7. 

The UW DEI Bureaucracy is Wasting Millions of Dollars

To support an activist DEI agenda, the UW has created a huge, expensive bureaucracy including DEI deans, diversity staff, and much more.   One day, I used the State of Washington's salary database to see how much money was being spent on the DEI bureaucracy at the UW.   

I was stunned by what I found.  I quickly got to TEN MILLION DOLLARS a year and over 100 positions and could have gone further.  Considering overhead (benefits, retirement, office costs), that would be over 15 million dollars a year.  Enough to support several major departments.

With 46,000 UW students, that is at least 326 dollars per student...and clearly an underestimate.  

Here are a few of the positions.  Many are VERY well paid.

DEI Has Led to Illegal Activities At the UW

The DEI effort at the UW is often at odds with Federal and State law, which is based on equality.  Affirmative action is illegal in Washington State (e.g., Initiative 200) and by Federal law (as confirmed by last year's Supreme Court ruling).    But that has not stopped UW administrators, faculty, and staff from giving preference to those of favored backgrounds...all under the DEI flag.

Recently, the UW Department of Psychology got caught red-handed in giving a faculty position to a lesser candidate because of their race. Serious sanctions resulted.

Highly biased decision-making in admissions is being made by many departments as part of the DEI initiative.   Key to this approach has been dropping valuable objective measures such as the SAT and GRE exams and moving to subjective "holistic" admissions.   Holistic admissions are essentially subjective and allow affirmative action to flourish.

I am inside the system and can see how it works.   For example, in one department, graduate admissions matrices include a DEI flag, that is used to enhance the visibility of applicants with the proper "diverse" backgrounds. The system is heavily weighted to enhance the chances of an applicant that supports a certain conception of diversity.

Negative Impacts on the Most Vulnerable Minority Students

One of the most tragic elements of the UW DEI admissions approach is that it hurts many students it intends to favor.   For example, students with inadequate backgrounds are admitted into the UW and then flail and fail at the university.   

For two decades I was the undergraduate adviser in my department and saw the sad effects firsthand.  One student from a DEI-favored group came to me in tears; they were failing out of the program because their math preparation was inadequate.  I checked their file and was shocked at their lack of preparation in high school.  If this student had first gone to community college to build a strong foundation, he/she could have succeeded.  The UW could have created a comprehensive program of remediation....but did not.  We gave that student enough rope to hang her/himself.  Just wrong.

To feed the DEI establishment and to secure impressive diversity numbers, students are being sacrificed.  It is not ethical.

What Needs to be Done

  The UW DEI program is a disaster:  financially, morally, and pragmatically.  Tuition and state funds are supporting a political/social issue advocacy group within the University.  Desperately needed funds that are being wasted.

This huge, expensive bureaucracy needs to be disbanded.  The DEI statement requirement for new faculty must be ended.   UW admissions must make decisions based on merit and achievement, such as the SAT and GRE and grades, and not on race or ethnicity.  The UW must return to the core American principles of equality and individual worth.

April 13, 2024

A Drier Than Normal Spring over the Pacific Northwest

I had to water some new plants today because the last few weeks have been relatively dry.   So I was curious.....how dry has it been in our region?

Below is the March 22-April 12th precipitation in Seattle for the past 75 years.  This year we had 1.5 inches over the period when 2.5 inches is more typical.  

Not a record dry year by any means, since some years had only about 0.3 inches for the same period.  Interestingly, early springs have gotten a bit wetter over the past 75 years, so one can't blame the dryness on global warming.

Another reason you can't blame global warming is that just down the coast, southern California is experiencing one of the wettest springs on record.   To demonstrate this, look at the March 22-April 12 total precipitation in Los Angeles for the same period (below).

A very wet year and much about normal.

To give you some spatial perspective,  below is the percentage of normal precipitation for the past month.

Much wetter than normal in southern California (blue and purple colors), but drier than normal over western Oregon and Washington. Very wet in Arizona.

This pattern, dry north and wet south, is associated with a persistent atmospheric pattern this winter and spring, with a strong trough of low pressure off California.  

The forecast upper level (500hPa pressure, about 18,000 ft) is shown for today at 5 PM---exactly what I was talking about.  A strong low parked over California.

For those hoping to save on their water bills, the forecast precipitation through Thursday morning is more of the same.  Wet California and a few light showers over western Washington and Oregon.

I am getting totally bored of this.

April 11, 2024

More Typical Spring Temperatures Will Save Washington and California's Cherry Crop this Year

Last year was a cherry disaster for the West Coast and the key driver was the cool/wet weather late last winter and spring in California.  

This resulted in a very bountiful but late California cherry crop that became available at the same time as the larger Northwest cherry harvest, which was early because of a few warm weeks in May.

With too many cherries available simultaneously, cherry prices plummeted and several Northwest orchards left their cherries on the trees.

Cherry armageddon!

But this year should be much better for cherry growers and lovers of the red fruit such as myself.  

Why?  Because California is warmer this year and the Northwest should be cooler in May.   

A bountiful and extended cherry season is promised.  Let me show you why.

The figure below shows the average temperature for February 1 through April 10 at Modesto, CA (in California's Central Valley) from 1950 through 2024.

2023 was way below normal, while this year is near normal.    Thus, the California cherry crop will be earlier this year because of the warmth, and with plenty of rain, there should be a bountiful harvest.  

Typically, the California cherry season runs from mid-May to early June, providing lots of cherries for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.   Expect the same this year.

So what about Washington State?    With El Nino rapidly weakening, there is no reason to expect a major warm period (above normal) in May.   

But what about what has happened in Washington state during the past months?  Below are the average temperatures for Feb. 1 through April 10th for Wenatchee, WA for 1950 through 2024.  

This year's temperatures are slightly above normal and last year was slightly below normal.

At this point, there is no expectation of a May heatwave like last year.  In fact, the latest 46-day forecast from the most skillful system (European Center) suggests cooler-than-normal conditions through the end of May (see forecast below).  That could extend the cherry season into August.

Although my professional expertise is in the area of weather prediction, I will go out on a limb and suggest a bountiful cherry harvest in both California and the Pacific Northwest, and that we will have an extended period of sweet cherries in our food stores.

I can't wait.😁

April 09, 2024

The Surprising Weather "Miracles" of Yesterday's Total Solar Eclipse

The solar eclipse had substantial impacts on local weather, some of which might surprise.

First, many reported a "miracle", with the clouds thinning just before the eclipse.

And the "miracle" was true, but there is a scientific explanation!  But first, let me show you what happened.

Just before the eclipse there were a lot of low clouds over the totality path in northeastern Texas (see blue oval area below)

But during and right after the eclipse, many of the clouds were gone (see below)

Divine intervention?  The influence of the prayers of the astronomically devoted?   

No, it was the result of the weakening solar radiation that caused the surface to cool.  Many of these clouds were shallow convection/cumulus, driven by solar heating (see figure below).  When the sun weakened, so did the clouds.

Not surprisingly, surface air temperatures cooled during the eclipse by as much as 5-10F at some locations.  To illustrate, here are the temperatures in Joplin, Missouri, where temperatures went from around 80F to 73F between 12:30 PM and 2 PM, before recovering during the next hour as the sun returned.

And then there was the wind.
  At many locations, there was a dramatic reduction in the wind speed during the eclipse.  Here are the temperatures and winds at another Missouri location (Folly Ridge).  Significant wind reduction during totality (from roughly 10 to 3 mph).

This can be explained by a reduction in vertical mixing in the lower atmosphere. 

Have you ever noticed that during the warm season, winds are greater during the afternoon and weaker at night?    During the day, solar heating at the surface causes vertical mixing, that brings strong winds aloft (not slowed down by the rough surface) down to the surface.  When the sun weakens, the mixing weakens, which reduces the flow of stronger winds to the surface.

Finally, there is another change I am not quite sure I can explain-- so maybe I better be careful about downplaying divine intervention.  

What am I talking about?  Changes in the weather radar imagery.

Consider the radar image from Dallas, Fort Worth, early in the morning (1406 UTC or 9 AM Dallas time).  Not many radar echoes.

Three and a half hours late (12:34 PM), there were lots of weak radar echoes.

But an hour later, near the height of the eclipse, there were few echoes...just like night.

And then an hour later when the sun returned, the echoes were back.

What is going on here?  What are these echoes?  Birds or bugs that like to fly during the day?  I will have to dig into this deeper.

In summary, by greatly changing the heating profile in the lower atmosphere, the eclipse had some profound, but temporary effects on many weather parameters.  

April 07, 2024

The "Hail Mary" Strategy for Texas Eclipse Watchers

The forecasts have not been favorable for the many total eclipse seekers in Texas, with considerable clouds forecast for tomorrow morning.  

But the latest forecasts show this is a significant chance to experience the full impact of the total eclipse in a narrow band across a portion of northern Texas--one worth a try.

A Hail Mary strategy for eclipse enthusiasts.

For those not familiar with this terminology:

In American football, a Hail Mary pass is a long forward pass with a low chance of being completed, usually made in desperationIt's often used by the losing team when time is running out and no other play is practical, in an attempt to score the winning points. The term "Hail Mary" comes from a last-ditch prayer for strength and help

Instructions for the "Hail Mary" Eclipse Strategy

First, you need to know exactly where the area of totality will be (see below).  It does not pay to be anywhere else.   A band passing over San Antonia and Dallas.

The excellent and high-resolution NOAA/NWS HRRR model shows a narrow band of fewer clouds extending southwest to northeast during the eclipse (1900 UTC) across Texas.  I have indicated with a blue oval the general area with totality and lesser clouds.

What about the European Center Model at the same time (see below)?  The less cloudy slot will be displaced 50-100 miles to the southeast, with my suggested area circled again in blue.

A simulated infrared satellite image for this time also suggests an opening over extreme NW Texas (darker shades indicate less clouds)

If you are in Texas, you need to follow the latest NOAA HRRR forecasts and shift appropriately.   But at this point, northeast Texas looks like the best place to be.

And now some cloud subtleties that are important.

Not all clouds are equal in messing up your eclipse viewing. 

Thick low-level clouds made of water droplets are the worst.  But high cirrus ice clouds are not as problematic.  You can often watch the eclipse action through them...although they can obscure the finer features like solar prominences.  

Below are the European Center model's cloud cover forecasts at the critical time for the various layers (as well as the total cloud cover).  By the way, this graphic is from the WeatherBell website.....which is more than worth the modest subscription cost).

There are no low and middle-level clouds over the northeast Texas part of the eclipse path!  Very good.  There are some high clouds, but the thin area is evident.

Based on the latest model guidance, I believe that folks over northeast Texas may get a very good view of the eclipse.  Get in position early, guided by model output (available here and here).   

Good luck to all.  Experiencing a total eclipse in person is a near-religious experience, worth a "Hail Mary" effort.

A Strong Surge of Marine Air Brings Relief to the Pollen Afflicted

During the past weeks, I have gotten several emails from folks with pollen-related allergies.   When will the suffering end they asked? Earl...