May 23, 2024

More Wildfire Misinformation at the Seattle Times

 The Seattle Times continues to shamelessly exaggerate and hype the regional effects of climate change.

This week they really went overboard regarding wildfire.

Yesterday's front page features a large banner headline stating that western Washington faces an above-normal risk of wildfire.

Why?  They claim because of low snowpack and precipitation.

The truth is that there is no reason to expect an above-normal wildfire season in western Washington this summer.  Let me tell you about the situation and note that I am writing a paper on this topic (the meteorology of westside wildfires) for my real day job.

Wildfires in western Washington require very different conditions than wildfires in the interior of the Northwest.  Specifically, to get a major wildfire over the wet/cool westside requires strong easterly (from the east flow).

Major western Washington wildfires are rare because the region is moist and dominated by cool, moist maritime air.  

Strong easterly flow pushes out the marine air and causes warming and drying as the air sinks down the western slopes of the Cascades and Olympics.  And this strong easterly flow has to occur in a very limited time window when the fuels are dry enough to burn:  essentially late  August and the first half of September.

The last major westside wildfire was in September 1951 on the northwest side of the Olympic Mountains near Forks (about 33,000 acres).  Strong northeasterly winds were observed.  There have been a few smaller western Washington wildfires (again with strong easterly flow) such as the Bolt Creek Fire (15, 000 acres in September 2022).  There is no increasing trend of such fires.

I read this book last week

Snowpack has very little correlation with western Washington fires because such fires are generally at lower elevations where the snow melts out early even in normal years...and again, these fires don't happen until late summer anyway.

If the easterly winds occur, a hot/dry late summer helps, but at this point there is no reason to expect unusual summer conditions.  El Nino is gone and this summer we will be transitioning to La Nina.  In any case, the correlation of El Nino/La Nina with our summer weather is very weak.  Furthermore, May is turning out to be seasonally wet and cool.

Importantly, there is no reason to expect an increased probability of an unusually strong easterly wind event this summer.  None.  

In fact, the latest European Center pressure prediction for September (the big easterly wind month), is for higher than normal pressure offshore, which WEAKENS easterly flow (see below).

And if the above front-page article is not scary enough, the Seattle Times had a hyped-up opinion piece about the wildfire season now becoming everywhere all the time.   

It even included the claim that:

In fact, it’s getting to the point that wildfire season is all year long.

Do you know how many wildfires are burning over Washington State and adjacent areas now?  Zero.  See proof below.

The article notes there are some fires in Canada, BUT THAT IS TYPICAL for the Boreal Forests.

For those of you worried about wildfire, guess what the forecast is for the next few days?

A nice wetting rain  over western Washington (see below, through Sunday morning)

And then EVEN MORE rain is predicted new week (see ensemble of many precipitation forecasts over Seattle).

Finally, today I was sent the most wonderful video of the aurora, with a background of triumphal music (see below).  Created by 
Bart Durbin. 

Be prepared to be emotionally affected.   Bart did a wonderful job creating this.

May 21, 2024

What Caused the Severe Turbulence on a Singapore Airlines Flight Last Night?

 The media is full of stories about a terrible turbulence event on a Singapore Airlines flight from  London to Singapore last night.  One person was killed and dozens were injured.

The event occurred over the water offshore of Myanmar (the location shown on the map below) at 0807 UTC this morning (21 May).

The FlightAware website provides the minute-by-minute flight information during the critical period.  The last column shows the change in elevation each minute.

Wow.  Sudden declines in altitude starting around 7 minutes after the hour.

I suspect I know what happened.  They ran into turbulence associated with thunderstorms.

Here is a visible satellite image 3 minutes after the incident (from the Japanese geostationary weather satellite).  The plane's location is shown by an arrow.

Even better, below is a close-up infrared satellite image that is color-enhanced.  Infrared images tell us the height of the clouds.  At the time of the accident, the aircraft was approaching a convective cell (thunderstorm).

Substantial turbulence is quite possible in such a location.

There is extreme turbulence at the top of thunderstorm cells and in the near environment, as atmospheric waves (gravity waves) can propagate away from the thunderstorms (see graphic below).

(Based on Hooke, 1986; by permission of the American Meteorological Society)

May 20, 2024

Winter-Like System in May

Tomorrow will not feel like late May, with a winter-like Pacific weather system making landfall, bringing lots of rain, wind, and cool temperatures.

The latest infrared satellite image shows a potent weather system moving in from the Northwest;  it will arrive around daybreak tomorrow.

The whole day should be cloudy and damp.   Here is the predicted accumulated precipitation by 5 PM.  The entire western side of the region will enjoy several tenths of an inch, with over an inch in the mountains.  Not a good hike day.

 The rain will continue into Wednesday, with the total accumulation through 5 PM reaching impressive levels (2-4 inches) in the mountains.

This torrent will have very positive implications for westside streamflow, which is now running below normal.

Consider the Snoqualmie River at Carnation. The latest National Weather Service forecast is for a rapid rise to near historical maximum levels before falling back to near normal (below).

And then there are the winds!  The approaching disturbance will cause wind gusts to 20-35 mph tomorrow afternoon and evening, which could cause some branches to fall on the newly leafed-out trees (see the latest forecast below from Seattle WindWatch.

Temperatures will only climb into the low 50s tomorrow, about 15F below normal!

I suspect May precipitation totals will end up near normal by the end of this event for most stations, making up for the dry period earlier this month.  And the good wetting will help fill reservoirs, reduce water use, and push the fire season out in time.

All and all good news.  Except for tomato plants. 😆

May 18, 2024

New Podcast: How Far into the Future Can We Forecast the Weather? and A Cool/Soggy Forecast

My latest podcast is out.

I start with the forecast, which calls for a continuation of the cool, sometimes wet, pattern of the last few days.  Forget any heatwave!

Then I discuss the issue of forecast skill.

We can now skillfully forecast for over a week and in much greater detail.

Not so 50 years ago.  What has changed?   All is revealed in the podcast.

The Decline of Forecast Skill over time for the North Hemisphere.

You can listen to the podcast below or through your favorite podcast server.

Some major podcast servers:

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May 17, 2024

A Moral, Ethical and Legal Failure at the University of Washington

This has been a sober period for the University of Washington, diminishing the institution in profound and important ways.

Today, the UW caved to several of the demands of a group of pro-Hamas students and their antifa/activist allies.

This group of activists has:

(1) Established an illegal encampment on the UW campus
(2) Caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage, including painting graffiti over many buildings
(3)  Took over the administration building during Chanukah
(4)   Attacked and threatened Jewish students on campus and painted antisemitic messages on buildings.
(5)  Physically hurt and intercepted media representatives trying to cover the situation. 
(6)  Closed off portions of campus and interrupted classes.
(7) Attacked faculty and others who visited the encampment.

To illustrate the seriousness of the situation, consider the statue of George Washington that was painted with a threat to kill Jews (known as colonizers by the encampment group).

Not only were the pro-Hamas group threatening and hurting people, breaking the law, ruining campus buildings, causing massive damage to the UW, and guilty of antisemitic acts, but they also made huge demands on the UW administration, such as breaking relations with Boeing, breaking all relations with Israel, divesting from Israel, giving scholarships to Palestinian students, and much more.

And UW President Ana Mari Cauce, in a statement that was weak and inappropriate, gave in to several of the demands.

In the deal to end the encampment, UW agrees not to proceed against students who were illegally camping on campus, will hire a Palestine studies faculty member, pay for the education of 20 students from Gaza, invite representatives of this group to review the UW's investment policies, and much more.

In short, break the law, threaten people, promote rabid antisemitism, and massively damage the UW, and not only do you not face legal restraints but you are rewarded.  A very bad look.

But it is even worse than that.

Ana Mari's statement as UW President calls for a ceasefire (totally inappropriate as a UW President), makes accusations that Israel targeted civilians (unfounded), and then talks about Islamophobia, for which there is no evidence at the UW.  The UW President represents the entire, diverse UW community, and it is a state employee, who should NEVER take sides on politically charged issues during official communications.  

Amazingly, there is not a single mention of antisemitism in Ana Mari's statement.  Nor does she mention the barbarism of Oct. 7.

Damage to UW's reputation

The UW administration's handling of this situation has been inept and morally problematic, allowing the situation to fester and increase for weeks.

When a terrorist makes demands, the worst thing is to give in to them.  The inevitable result will be more terror.   UW's weakness allowed the situation to spiral out of control. 

 When you give in to spoiled, immature children they always demand more.  It is revealing that none of the UW activists were picketing around the Boeing facilities of the region.  Nor were they collecting funds and supplies to be sent to Gaza.   And why were they not concerned about the dozen or so other conflicts around the world, several of them leading to vastly more loss of life?

UW's reputation is in tatters.  I have talked to several people who said they would never allow their children to attend UW.   Media coverage has been highly critical and negative (see sample below). The UW "brand" is highly damaged.

A major UW donor told me that his contributions to the UW will end.

Imagine if the UW administration had the wisdom of the leadership of the University of Chicago, which made the decision to remove a similar encampment with little injury or problems (they did it in the middle of the night).  The U Chicago president's statement is found at the bottom of this blog.  Importantly, he talks about the central issue of institutional neutrality on contentious societal issues.   The UW administration knew the situation was becoming increasingly dangerous, as older (and more violent) outsiders were joining the camp.  

An Educational Failure

Perhaps most serious of all, the UW administration threw away a valuable educational opportunity.   Imagine if Ana Mari had ended the encampment on the second day when it was small and easily cleared.  Then she could have announced a series of special lectures in Kane Hall on the history of the Middle East and the conflict.  And she could have established a series of fact-based debates on the conflict and how to proceed. 

Students would have learned that although freedom of speech is supported, breaking the law is not accepted in a free society.  For contentious issues, we need to take special care to learn the facts and to expose ourselves to different viewpoints.  THIS is what the university is supposedly all about.

Ana Mari Cauce would have been hailed as a visionary and much of the destruction could been avoided.

The University of Washington has been greatly damaged, and it did not have to be this way.

A reason for all Huskies to be sad this weekend.


Statement of the President of the University of Chicago (reprinted)

By Paul Alivisatos

May 7, 2024 5:01 pm ET


As president of the University of Chicago, I ended the encampment that occupied the University’s Main Quad for more than a week. The Tuesday morning action resulted in no arrests. Recent months have seen tremendous contention over protests on campuses, including pressure campaigns from every direction. That made this a decision of enormous import for the university.

When the encampment formed on our campus, I said I would uphold the university’s principles and resist the forces tearing at the fabric of higher education. I didn’t direct immediate action against the encampment. I authorized discussions with the protesters regarding an end to the encampment in response to some of their demands. But when I concluded that the essential goals that animated those demands were incompatible with deep principles of the university, I decided to end the encampment with intervention.

Some universities have chosen to block encampments from forming at all or ended them within an hour or so. We had the means to do so. Immediate intervention is consistent with enforcing reasonable regulations on the time, place and manner of speech, and it has the advantage of minimizing disruption. Yet strict adherence to every policy—the suppression of discord to promote harmony—comes at a cost. Discord is almost required for the truth-seeking function of a university to be genuine.

Protest is a strongly protected form of speech in the University of Chicago culture, enshrined in the Chicago Principles for a reason. In times of discord, protest serves as a mechanism for democratic societies, and places of reason like universities, to find a way back toward dialogue and compromise. This has value even if protests result in disruption or violate the rules—up to a point. When a protest substantially interferes with the learning, research and operations of the university, when it meaningfully diminishes the free-expression rights of others—as happened with this encampment—then it must come to an end, through dialogue or intervention.

Therefore, it was a crucial decision whether to seek a dialogue to resolve a disruptive protest. Some will argue that the moral hazard of even holding such discussions is so severe that they should never be undertaken at all—that no agreement could possibly be legitimate if it originated from these circumstances. Others will say such dialogue should always be sought. I believe dialogue may be appropriate under certain circumstances, provided that protesters come to it openly with an understanding that the consequences of their policy violations will be reviewed evenhandedly. The same applies to discipline now that the encampment has ended.

So I authorized the opening of dialogue with the protesters, even though that extended the number of days the university was disrupted. I won’t describe the sequence or the content of those discussions, since we agreed that our exchanges would remain private unless and until we reached a favorable conclusion. During our substantive dialogue, there were some very difficult moments, but also moments of progress. The student-protester representatives offered analytical arguments and made powerful statements; their faculty representatives and liaisons also made important contributions. I believe that the administration representatives showed respect for their interlocutors and came to the discussions with genuine openness and a willingness to look for ways to make it work.

Why then didn’t we reach a resolution? Because at the core of the demands was what I believe is a deep disagreement about a principle, one that can’t be papered over with carefully crafted words, creative adjustments to programming, or any other negotiable remedy.

The disagreement revolves around institutional neutrality—a foundational value to the University of Chicago. It is a principle animated by the idea that authority can’t establish truth for an entire institution dedicated to truth-seeking; rather, it is the imperative of individuals to seek truth without being limited by authority. Institutional neutrality vests freedom of inquiry and speech directly in faculty and students, where it belongs.

Underpinning the demands was a call for the university to diminish ties with Israel and increase ties with the Palestinians in Gaza. In short, the protesters were determined that the university should take sides in the conflict in Israel and Gaza. Other demands would have led to having political goals guide core aspects of the university’s institutional approaches, from how we invest our endowment to when and how I make statements. Faculty members and students are more than free to engage in advocacy on one side or the other. But if the university did so as an institution, it would no longer be much of a university.

As the depth of this philosophical difference became clearer, I decided to end the dialogue. I yielded on some time, place and manner policies and allowed some degree of disruption in favor of protest, regardless of viewpoint; engaged in dialogue with those who were disrupting the university so long as they were prepared to face discipline. But there is no way I would ever compromise on institutional neutrality.

Mr. Alivisatos is president of the University of Chicago.

May 15, 2024

No Heatwaves for the Rest of the Month!

 Today may well be the warmest day for the rest of the month.  

Mid-May warmth is quite typical around here.  But so is a cool down at the end of May.

And yes, precipitation will return.

Let's start with the latest European Center 10-day forecast for Seattle (below). 73F high today, but then temperatures slide into the 60s and then 50s.  My tomatoes will not be happy.

The NOAA/NWS National Blend of Models (NBM), which combines many forecast models and is usually quite accurate, also keeps things cool, with highs in the lower 60s.

You will need your sweater again.

And what about precipitation?

Let's look at the latest forecasts of the European Center Model.  The forecast precipitation accumulation through Friday morning shows a regional dampening, with the North Cascades getting a good wetting.

But it does not end there.  By the following Saturday morning (May 25th), there will be relatively heavy accumulated rain in all the regional mountains.  Good for river levels and fish.

The UW model has a similar solution.

This cool/wet period will be very positive for regional crops.   By the way, it appears that the Northwest cherry crop is in very good shape (I like cherries).

So why are we cooling down?  Because the warmth-inducing, high-pressure ridge over our coast will rapidly weaken, replaced by a trough of lower pressure.

Consider the average over the next five days for the upper level (500 hPa, about 18,000 ft) heights (like pressure) shown below.   Blue indicated below normal heights (called roughing).

Troughing (low pressure) is dominant over the region, with ridging (high pressure) offshore.  It's not a warm pattern for the Northwest.

Next five days?   Even cooler, with the troughing pushing westward over the Northwest coast.  Expect cooler and wetter than normal conditions.

You won't need any AC this month.


Massive Vandalism Around the UW

I will talk about it in more detail in my next blog, but there has been massive (and very expensive) vandalism around the UW, including spray painting both historic and new buildings (see below).

This is what happens when a college administration allows lawbreaking and vandalism to spread. 

Antisemitism, physical violence, property destruction, and illegal camping are endemic around the UW.  The UW administration should have closed down the illegal encampment weeks ago.  When lawbreaking is tolerated with no consequences, it simply increases.

A sad period for all Huskies.  We are going the way of Columbia and UCLA and it could have been avoided.

May 13, 2024

Why isn't aurora prediction as good as weather prediction?

 On Friday afternoon, the NOAA Space Weather Center forecasted a great aurora for the Northwest and it happened.  A tremendous event to watch.  At the same time, the Center predicted a substantial event for Saturday night, but it never happened.

Aurora forecasts a day or two ahead often fail, while weather predictions are generally nearly perfect a few days into the future.

Why the difference between weather and auroral prediction?  

To understand the auroral forecast problem, you must understand why auroras occur.

Auroras generally start with a disturbance on the surface of the sun, such as a solar flare or a coronal mass ejection (CME)---see below.  Note that the corona is the outermost layer of the sun.

Courtesy of NASA

These disturbances eject vast quantities of charged particles that move at vast speeds (such as a million miles per hour!) away from the sun.  Such ejections of charged particles can also alter the magnetic field around the sun.  I should note that even without disturbances on the sun this is a background amount of particles leaving the sun, known as the solar wind.

The sun has a magnetic field around it, and so does the Earth (see below, from Zappys).  Note how the magnetic field lines (light blue) approach and leave the polar regions.   

Now the key part.  As particles from the sun (the solar wind) approach the earth, they interact with the earth's magnetic field, so that solar particles can enter the earth's atmosphere near the poles...or actually a ring around the poles centered on the earth's magnetic poles (see below).

These solar particles can interact with various atoms/molecules in the atmosphere (like oxygen and nitrogen), causing them to glow (just like a neon light tube).    This is what causes the auroral colors.

During a solar storm, increased numbers of particles leave the sun, which can reach the Earth a day or two later.  This revs up the aurora. It also disturbs the earth's magnetic field.

The aurora prediction problem

Astronomers have little skill in predicting disturbances on the sun's surface.  Yes, we know that solar flares, sunspots, and CMEs are more frequent during the height of the 11-year sunspot cycle, but skill in predicting individual events--the ones that revved up the aurora on Friday-- is minimal at best.

But it is worse than that.  The speed and direction of the particle ejection vary by event and it is very difficult to observe such parameters from Earth.

Like predicting where a ball will go, not knowing its exact speed and direction.

But there is some useful information at very short time ranges.   NASA and others have spacecraft between the Earth and the sun at what is known as the L1 point, about a million miles towards the sun  (see below).

Such spacecraft can sense solar particles approaching the Earth and provide reliable observations of changes 30 minutes to an hour before they reach the Earth, providing highly accurate auroral prediction.   On Saturday afternoon, an L1 satellite gave the warming before the approaching solar particles and the incipient aurora.  When I saw that data, I called my friends for an aurora party.

Right now, the NOAA Space Weather Center has noted another CME on the sun's surface and predicts the potential for a minor aurora tomorrow night (see below).   So I will be watching the L1 satellite data, just in case the forecasts are wrong again.


May 11, 2024

Another Big Aurora Tonight

The aurora was absolutely stunning last night over the entire region, in fact, most of the U.S.

I was with friends on the top of the kite hill of Magnuson Park, where it is dark and the view unimpeded.

By 11 PM the sky was ablaze with shimmering curtains and lines of color, mainly green and red.

Picture taken by Bud Featherly in the Okanogan Valley of Washington State.. 

It is a moving and emotional experience.

A NASA polar orbiting satellite (VIIRS) could view the aurora from space, as shown below by the white band.

And here is its view of the auroral over us.

If you missed the aurora last night, you have a second chance tonight, although I suspect it will be less impressive.  

The Kp index, a critical measure of the disturbance of the Earth's magnetic field, is still very high (see below)

And the latest NOAA aurora forecast map (below) suggests the aurora should be visible over much of Washington State.

Sky conditions?    As shown below, clear over much of the state.

I will be out there tonight! Remember, it will not be dark enough until about 10:15 PM.

May 10, 2024

My New Podcast is Online

 My podcast is back and today I talk about the weekend forecast and the potential for an extraordinary auroral display tonight.

You can listen to the podcast below or through your favorite podcast server.

Some major podcast servers:

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More Wildfire Misinformation at the Seattle Times

 The Seattle Times continues to shamelessly exaggerate and hype the regional effects of climate change. This week they really went overboard...