Sunday, August 31, 2014

Major Precipitation Contrast and Holiday Forecast

Saturday was a day of real precipitation contrasts as the first fall weather system moved through.  Here are the totals for the 24-h ending 9:15 AM on Sunday. The red boxes were over 2 inches, yellow 1.5-2, dark green 1-1.5. In contrast, only a few hundredths fell over Northwest Washington, the eastern slopes of the Cascades, and over SW Washington and the north Washington coast.

The reason for this contrast?  A narrow zone of precipitation associated with yesterday's disturbance, enhancement on the western slopes of the Cascades, and a weak convergence zone over central and southern Puget Sound.

And the Camano Island radar broke as well for virtually all day Saturday.  You feel naked as a meteorologist without your radar!  Fortunately, the new Langley Hill coastal radar provided a lot of information about the approaching system, such as the image at 5 AM Saturday that showed the limited region of moderate precipitation moving our way (see image).

The good news is that the Camano Is. radar is repaired (our colleagues at the NWS are on the job 365-24-7) and the regional radar image this morning shows a relatively dry pattern, except for some showers on the windward (western) side of the Cascades.

This showers should fade during the afternoon, but a hike on the western slopes today might be drizzly and cloudy.  Head to the eastern slopes.

A weak disturbance is now approaching us and could bring some clouds and showers to the northern portion of Washington tonight. The infrared satellite pic at 9:30 AM shows it offshore.

But today should be decent for most of you, with highs getting to around 70 or a bit above, with partly cloudy skies away from the western slopes.

Monday looks quite good, particularly over the interior and mountains.  Eastern WA will be warm.  Go hiking, hit Bumbershoot, or paint your fence.

A much stronger disturbance will come in Monday night and Tuesday, but the action will not reach the interior during the day Monday.  So Tuesday will see clouds and rain...but you have work or school anyway, right?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Sign of Fall

After a beautiful summer, with warmth and relatively dry conditions from mid-July to mid-August, a reminder that we are living in the Northwest often comes in late August:  the first passage of the first fall-like system, usually a weak frontal passage.  And just on schedule, one is now approaching us.   As proof here is an infrared satellite image for 9:15 PM, Thursday.

You can see the frontal cloud band stretching from the central Pacific into British Columbia, with the swirl of a low pressure center off of SE Alaska.   A visible satellite view of the frontal cloud band at 5 PM is shown below. Looks impressive!

The fact that the clouds are quite white in the infrared suggests the cloud tops of the band are fairly cold and high.  Our coastal radar at Langley Hill, near Hoquiam, clearly delineated the rain within the front (at around 5 AM on Friday).

The latest forecast models suggest this band will spread over us Friday afternoon and Saturday.   So Saturday should be the worst day of the holiday weekend.

Here is the forecast 24-h precipitation ending 5 AM on Saturday.  Avoid British Columbia...that is where most of the rain will be.  Washington and Oregon are generally dry except for some light showers on the windward slopes of the Cascades.  True Northwesterners laugh at such light precipitation.   But temperatures on Friday won't get much above 70F.

The next 24-h (ending 5 AM on Saturday) will be wetter, particularly over western Washington.  But cross the Cascades and you will be out of it and most of Oregon should be dry, except its far NW corner.

For the 24h ending Monday at 5 AM, precipitation is mainly limited to BC and NW Washington.  Again, heading to eastern WA or Oregon is the ticket to a dry outing.  A Vancouver or Whistler trip could be wet, although a stop for dim sum in Richmond, BC. always good.  Most of the rain comes in late Sunday and

thus most of the day will be dry. That is illustrated by the 3-h precipitation forecast ending 2 PM on Sunday. So Sunday is better than Saturday for most of western WA.

Monday will have light showers over western WA.  Here is the forecast precipitation for the 3-h ending 2 PM.

So to reiterate my advice for enjoying dry outdoor activities this weekend:

Head to eastern WA or all of Oregon (except the far NW coast).
Sunday afternoon looks like a gap between weak systems.
Take your Gore-tex garments out of deep storage.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Hazy Pacific Northwest

More than one person has commented to me about about how hazy the skies have been lately.  In contrast, early in the summer, the skies were often starkly blue with the mountains sharply silhouetted on the horizon.

Want to see the difference between early July and now?  Look at these samples from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency visibility cameras, one from July 7th and the other from yesterday morning:

The reason for the loss of visibility?

Smoke from wildfires all around us.  There are many fires in British Columbia to our north (see map)

And lots of fires over Washington, Oregon,  Idaho, and California (see image)

So if the winds are from North to East to South, smoky air is moving over us.  During the past few days we have gotten smoke from British Columbia fires, smoke that first moved west and then south.   Here is the MODIS satellite imagine on Monday...can you see the smoke over the interior of BC that is moving towards the coast?

We can run a trajectory calculation (Hysplit) to see where the air over us Monday night came from (see graphic)...yep...from coastal British Columbia.

The wildfire smoke has caused the air quality in a number of Northwest locations to decline to moderate.  Here is an example from Seattle...Queen Anne Hill.

This is not the only summer we have experienced worsening visibility from regional wildfires and won't be the last.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Yakima and and Central/Southern WA Cascades Gets Hit by Thunderstorms

This is really getting to be an amazing year for thunderstorms over the Cascades and the eastern Cascade slopes.   It just doesn't stop!

Today's storms were focused from Yakima into the central and southern Washington Cascades.  The 24-h rainfall ending 7:30 PM Sunday is shown below: 1/2 inch in Yakima, with as much as .80 inches near Snoqualmie Pass and .5-1 inch over the eastern slopes of the northern Oregon Cascades.

Rain gauges can, of course, miss some significant rain features, particularly from thunderstorms.  Here are the "storm totals"--mainly for this afternoon-- from the Pendleton, Oregon radar.  In limited areas along the eastern slopes of the WA Cascades there was 1-2 inches.

The National Weather Service had a flood warming out this afternoon for the Yakima area and there was some localized flooding over roadways.  Here is a report from a NWS spotter near Tampico (east of Yakima, see map below).  The spotter estimated 2 inches of rain (consistent with radar) and water running over Ahtanum Rd.

Time:0340 PM
Magnitude:E2.00 INCH
Location:2 E TAMPICO

A storm-total precipitation map from the Portland radar shows the Yakima precipitation and the heavy rainfall south of Hood River.

The thunderstorms today brought lots of is the lightning strike map for the 24h ending 9 PM Sunday.  Lots of lightning over the central and southern WA Cascades, as well as eastern Oregon. Some new fires have been reported.

For example, one small fire started near Selah, Washington, but was quickly extinguished (see picture)

Picture courtesy of MASON TRINCA/Yakima Herald-Republic

It looks like the lightning and thunderstorms will take a break for a few days, staring tomorrow (Monday)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Thunderstorms and Flooding in Northeast Washington

This is turning out to be the summer of thunderstorms in parts of eastern Washington and yesterday was no different.  Strong thunderstorms hit Okanogan County, including much of the area of the Carleton fire, resulting in mudslides and flooding.  At least ten homes were destroyed and both SR 20 and 153 were closed (see pics from Methow Valley News and Wenatchee World).

Take a look at the "storm total" of the precipitation from Thursday to Friday morning based on the Spokane National Weather Service radar:  1-1.5 inches fell, with most of that happening within an hour or so.

The thunderstorm tops were so tall (about 35,000 ft) that they were picked up by the Camano Island radar (see image at 5:08 PM yesterday).

As an aside, I should note that radar coverage is very poor over the eastern slopes of the Cascades, with the radar beams from the Seattle, Spokane, and Pendleton radars being quite high (about 6000 ft!) by the time they get to say Wenatchee.   Thus, shallow rain can be missed by these radars. The solution to this problem would be to secure smaller, gap-filler radars.   Folks in Wenatchee, Ellensburg, and Yakima might lobby for decent coverage.

The heavy precipitation caused some of the rivers to rise very fast;  here is an example of the river stage of the Methow River near Pateros.  Nice spike from a passing thunderstorm.

Why the thunderstorms?  Same old story...a weak upper trough moved through when potentially unstable air was over Washington (see upper level map for 5 PM Thursday below)

Let me give you an idea about how unusual things have been.  Here is the departure from normal of precipitation over the last month.  Except for the Olympic Peninsula, it has been wetter than normal and MUCH wetter than normal over the Cascades and eastern slopes of the Cascades.

 Want to be impressed?  Here is the percentage of normal for the same period. Much of eastern Washington has received 300+% of normal (but keep in mind that normal is modest this time of the year).

 It looks like things will dry out this weekend as the trough moves eastward.  Nice weekend.