Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Why I-732, the Carbon Tax Initiative, is a Win for Everyone

It is not often that a measure comes before the public that is wise, bipartisan, environmentally progressive, and helps address income inequalities in our State.

A measure of such immense promise that it could have profound, and very positive, impacts both in Washington State and around the nation.
What am I am talking about?  Initiative I-732, the revenue-neutral carbon tax that will be put to Washington State voters in November.

The key idea is to tax something that we don't want (carbon emissions into the atmosphere),  using the money to make our State tax structure more fair and less regressive (mainly by reducing the State sales tax).

Why don't we want more carbon in the atmosphere?  Because it is clear that increasing CO2 will lead to a much warmer atmosphere and a number of environmental disruptions.

For all the talk about climate change, mankind is doing very little to stop global warming.

Don't believe me?   Here is a plot of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere for the past half-century.   You see much progress?  I don't.  In fact, the growth rate of CO2 concentrations is increasing.  We need to do more.  Much more.
I-732 is patterned after the proven and highly successful carbon tax in British Columbia and will:

1.  Establish a 25 dollar per ton tax on carbon emissions associated with fossil fuels.
2.  Reduce the sales tax by a full percent.
3.  Provide a Working Families Tax Rebate to provide up to $1,500 a year for 460,000 low-income households
4.  Lower the Business & Occupation tax on manufacturing to 0.001 percent of gross receipts, effectively eliminating the tax.

I-732 is designed to be revenue neutral, so that the money collected by the carbon tax is used to reduce other taxes.   Government will not grow as a result.

I-732 is extraordinary good policy for a number of reasons:

1.   It taxes what we don't want, and lets the market decide on the best approach to reducing CO2 emissions.  Much more effective than government micromanaging the economy or deciding winner/losers.  Folks on both sides of the aisle support this approach.

2.  It will reform the Washington State tax structure, one of the most regressive in the nation (no income tax, high sales tax), making it less onerous for low-income folks.  

3.  It will essentially eliminate the Business and Occupation tax on manufactures, which is a real burden to small and upcoming businesses.

A Bipartisan Example for the Nation

 I-732 would be the first bipartisan effort in the nation for addressing global warming from fossil fuels through a carbon tax.

It would be an influential example to the nation, showing that all sides of the political spectrum can work together to address a major environmental threat.

Environmentally minded conservative folks like I-732 because it lets the free market decide on how to solve the problem, while not putting a net tax on society.    Government doesn't grow.  

Environmentally minded liberal folks like I-732 because it deals with carbon pollution, while making our tax system less regressive.    Everyone wins.

Democrats and Republicans, include a number of major regional politicians, support I-732, as do free-market thinkers like Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center. Recently, environmental policy experts at the Sightline Institute concluded that  "I-732 would launch Washington to a position of global leadership on climate action."  

The list of supporters of I-732 is long and deep, including major local leaders such as Congressman Jim McDermott, Mike McGinn, Ron Sims, Republican State Senators such as Mark Miloscia and Steve Litzow, environmental groups such as the Audubon Society and the Olympic Climate Alliance. And many more.

The Opposition

Unfortunately, there are some folks, generally on the far right and left, that don't support I-732.  Hopefully, reflection and facts will change their minds.  Why are some folks against I-732?

Some on the conservative side of the political spectrum don't believe that global warming is a threat and that humans could not possibly have a significant impact on the global atmosphere.   Their conclusions are wrong and are contradicted by the best science.
"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in 
order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive"

Others worry about the impact on business, particularly heavy energy users. These include the Association of Washington Businesses, the Washington Truckers Association, some of the pulp and paper manufacturers, and a few farm groups.

These groups are mistaken. I-732 is BOTH pro-environment and pro-business. It offers predictability for energy costs, without government intervention. Economic analysis by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) found that by 2020 Washington, I-732 would stimulate a net increase of over 15,000 jobs, and an enhancement in WA annual GDP of over $500 million. The state Office of Financial Management also projects that I-732 will increase retail sales and other business activity.    I-732 essentially removes the B & O tax for manufacturers and there is  a 40-year phase for taxes on agricultural fuels.

In short, I-732 will be good for business.

There are those on the left side of the spectrum, who oppose I-732 because it is revenue neutral.   These folks have nothing against a carbon tax but they reject revenue neutrality.  They want to use the revenue from a carbon tax for government programs (such as supporting renewable energy efforts) and to assist low-income folks, who they believe are preferentially hit by climate change.

But there are problems with their approach.  Government has  a very poor track record in supporting winners and losers in the energy sector (consider the 500 million lost by supporting solar cell manufacturer Solyndra).    More seriously, removing revenue neutrality will undermine the ability of the measure to be bi-partisan (it would destroy support by Republicans and conservatives).

There is no way major progress can be made on reducing greenhouse gases in the U.S. without the support of both Democrats and Republicans.   Furthermore, there is little evidence that greenhouse gas warming is preferentially hurting low-income folks in WA State, and, in any case, I-732 will reduce the sales tax and provide a working families rebate that will greatly aid low-income individuals and families.
A major failure, costing half a billion dollars, that should not be repeated.

In short, the "progressive" and "left-leaning" folks opposed to I-732 should reconsider the issue and understand that I-732 supports their environmental and social agenda, while dealing with the issues of others on the political spectrum.
Groups that need to reconsider their opposition include some labor groups, social actions groups such as the "Alliance for Jobs and Energy" and the Sierra Club.   Governor Inslee, who says he is passionate about dealing with climate change, needs to get on board (the Democratic party is split on this issue).  They need to decide whether their top priority is to protect the environment or grow government.  They can't have both.

There are those who oppose I-732 because an initial analysis by the WA State Office of Financial Management concluded that the initiative would reduce state income by about $200 million a year.  This is a red herring.  First, this estimate is based on false assumptions and is incorrect.   But even if they were correct, this amount is nearly in the noise level (less than 1% of the state annual budget) and corrections could easily be made by the state legislature.

Finally, there are those who say "why bother"?   Washington State is only a small part of the problem, they suggest.  We are already fairly energy efficient because of massive hydro resources.  My answer to this (reasonable) question?

Everyone is a small part of the problem and thus everyone needs to act.  Only if everyone does their part (in reducing carbon emissions) can we make real progress in dealing with global warming.  This is related to the well-known concept of the tragedy of the commons.

Our effort will be an example to the nation and hopefully will stimulate progress towards a national carbon tax, which could have a MUCH larger impact.  And folks around the world look to the U.S. for leadership;  thus, our progress could have global impacts.

I-732 would represent a bipartisan effort, thus demonstrating that folks of all political beliefs can work together for critical environmental needs.  It has happened before (the bipartisan Clean Air Act of the 70s).  It could happen again.  The U.S. has proven time and again that we can do amazing things when we work together (like travel to the moon).

Read more here:

In summary,  I-732 is a chance for citizens of Washington State to make a meaningful step towards reducing carbon emissions, will make our State tax system fairer and less regressive, will foster business and economic activity, and will serve as a positive example to the nation of environmentally effective bipartisan action.

Announcement:  Climate Talk and I-732 Fund Raiser

On September 28, I will be giving talk  in Seattle on the Impacts of Global Warming on Northwest Climate.  I will review the latest research and describe some  regional "climate surprises" that may well occur.   This talk will be sponsored by CarbonWa, the organization behind I-732, and will be a fundraiser for their efforts this fall.

To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here or  here ( There is both general admission seating ($20) and an opportunity to help further ($ 100, with a wine and cheese reception before).  Of course, even bigger donations would be very welcome and helpful.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Portland Hot Box

The questions that everyone should ask is why would anyone live in Portland, Oregon during the summer, when Seattle and Puget Sound is so close?

Portland, located in the northern Willamette Valley, is a hot box, frequently 5-10F warmer than the more temperate Seattle, which is cooled by the Sound, Strait and the Pacific.

Let's review the temperature data, and those in Portland will be excused for skipping the details.

 Here is a plot of the temperatures at Sea Tac (red) and Portland (green) airports. Portland is warmer virtually every day, and sometimes by a considerable amount.  Portland reaches the 90s F quite frequently

How about the average maximum temperature over the past month?   Mid to upper 70s in Seattle, mid to upper 80s in Portland.

Extreme temperatures?   Here is a plot of daily highs--yellow lines-- at Portland and Seattle.  In Portland, many days have daily records above 100F in mid-summer, several as high as 105-107.

In contrast,  Seattle almost never gets to 100F (one day).

OK, it is clear.  Portland is a hellishly warm place during the summer.  But why?   The key is they have poor access to the cool water and thus natural air conditioning of the Pacific.  As shown by the terrain map, Portland is in a topographic "bowl", with moderate terrain on all sides.    Hard for cool air from the Pacific to get to the city.  The Columbia and Willamette rivers are too narrow to do much good.

In contrast, Seattle has direct access to Puget Sound, the Strait is close, and there is a sea level path to the ocean.

Portland Purgatory versus Seattle Cool. Portland also has weird donuts. (see below, so hot down there they put bacon on the donuts)

 The only thing that makes Portland livable is a ready supply of chilled microbrews.  Without them, Portland would be abandoned during the summer.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

One Last Hot Day But Is a Bigger Heat Wave in Our Future?

Yesterday, Seattle-Tacoma Airport got to 95F, breaking the previous daily record, while Willamette Valley locations hit the century mark (see Friday max temps below).  Ironically, eastern Washington cooled substantially from Thursday due to a surge of cooler air from the north (and which was MUCH stronger over Montana).

Temperatures should be similar over the western WA and Oregon interiors today, but a push of marine air is expected tomorrow west of the Cascade crest as a significant trough of low pressure moves through.

The coast should be cooler today, as the offshore flow weakens and the thermal trough moves inland. The visible satellite imagery this morning shows a sign of this....a tongue of stratus hugging the coast.  You will also notice the plumes of smoke from a few fires over the Olympics and Cascades.

Temperatures above Seattle are just as warm this morning as yesterday and the low level northerly winds (which cool) are weaker (as shown by the time-height cross sections from the profiler at Seattle Sand Point below).

The UW WRF high resolution model surface temperature  forecast for  5 PM (below) shows very warm temperates again over the Willamette Valley and southwest Washington (96-100F), with lower 90s extended north to the southern Puget Sound.    Cooler along the coast.

Sunday will bring a major push of marine air and temperatures dropping by 10-20F.  The latest numerical forecasts suggest an even stronger ridge of high pressure building mid to late week, with temperatures climbing again into the 80s and 90s. (see sample below).  The wildfire threat is increasing, as the above normal heat dries the surface fuels.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Breaking the Daily High Temperature Record Today

Temperatures are surging in western Washington today (Friday).  Yesterday was warm enough, with highs reaching the mid-80s over Puget Sound, and over 100F near Portland and the eastern slopes of the Cascades.   Look closely and you will see some 90s over the eastern and southern slopes of the Olympics where downslope flow gave a temperature boost.

Today will be warmer.

Temperatures aloft have warmed further and easterly flow has developed over the crest and western slopes of the Cascades, as illustrated by a time-height cross section over SeaTac Airport (time on x axis, height on y axis).  As a result, temperatures will surge over the western slopes of the Cascades (into the upper 90s in places)

Seattle-Tacoma Airport reached 87F on Thursday and currently it is running 8F ahead of yesterday, which suggests strongly it will reach into the lower 90sF today.
To give you an idea of how unusual the temperature aloft are right now, below is the climatology of 850 hPa (around 5000 ft) temperatures at the Quillayute radiosonde site.  The red line is the all-time record temperature and the silver dot is today.  Yes...we are right at record levels.
A strange aspect of the temperature records at Seattle this time of the year is that the the record high are relatively low for the second half of August (upper 80s to around 90F) and go up again in September.  The figure below shows this (red dots) as well as the observed highs and lows.    We will easily set a new daily record today.
Why a drop in the record highs and some recovery in a few weeks?  The sun starts to weaken in August, working against record highs.  An important mechanism for the big temperature surges is easterly flow over the Cascades, with downslope flow on the western slopes causing compressional heating as air descends to higher pressure.  This easterly flow is generally forced by large scale weather disturbances, which are weak during mid-summer, but increase in amplitude by early September.  Thus, we can get some very warm days in September when easterly flow is strong.

But we won't break really big records and temperatures near Seattle won't get into the upper 90s F as some folks were suggesting.  Why?  Because the thermal trough, the area of low pressure associated with low-level warm air,  is centered south of us, resulting in a modest north-south pressure difference (higher to the north).  As shown in the temperature, wind and pressure forecast for later today (below), this will cause northerly winds that will move cooler air into Puget Sound.  Still warm, but not crazy warm.  The easterly flow is also bringing in slightly cooler air aloft.  Furthermore, sinking on the western slopes of the Cascades will produce some leeside troughing  (low pressure) along these slopes, which will increase the north-south pressure gradient (again bringing in somewhat cooler air).

Those poor folks in Portland don't enjoy this natural air conditioning and will burn... heading above 100F.  At least they have fine microbrews to cool down with.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Glory and the Space Needle

Yesterday morning at the top of the Space Needle dawned sunny with low clouds on the horizon (see image), but around 7 AM low clouds pushed into Seattle, reaching the upper reaches of the Needle (shown below)

6 AM
8:30 AM

But something beautiful and subtle occurred as the low clouds extended toward the Space Needle:  a glory, characterized by colorful, concentric rings.  Here are a few shots from the SpaceNeedle cam: 

It is not rare to see glories when flying above clouds when the sun is high in the sky.

Glories are optical effects that occur when you have the right configuration of sun and clouds. They result when light is scattered back to the viewer by a field of relatively uniform, small cloud droplets and is always opposite the sun (centered at the anti-solar point), just as the shadow of an object (like the Space Needle or aircraft) would be.   It is possible to realistically simulate the generation of glories using the equations describing electromagnetic waves and their interactions with droplets (Mie Scattering) as shown below (the upper left corner is the simulation):

Keep your eye out for glories next time you are flying.

Monday, August 15, 2016

How to get aircraft turbulence information?

Some folks are a bit nervous about flying, with turbulence being a major concern.  They feel better knowing what will happen or is happening.  So where can you secure such information?

My favorite is from the NOAA/NWS Aviation Weather Center on their ADDS Turbulence website (  You can see an example below.  This page has turbulence SIGMETa (colored turbulence warming areas) in the upper left, pilot reports of turbulence (PIREPS) in the upper right, and model-driven turbulence forecasts at many levels and times (bottom panel).

The pilot reports are particularly useful and they are color-coded (green for light, orange for moderate, and red for severe).    Below is  a recent example for the Midwest.
 Turbulence symbols look like strange omega symbols--here is a blow up of how they look:

Light turbulence is routine--a modest movement that is not even uncomfortable, sort of like driving on a rough rode.  Moderate turbulence makes it a bit uncomfortable to walk around, but generally doesn't send things airborne (although the seat belt sign is virtually always on in moderate turbulence).  Finally, there is severe, which CAN send you airborne.

The final plot (on the bottom) provides forecasts of non-convective turbulence (from wind shear and mountain waves).  It is useful, but sometimes gets the pattern wrong.

To check out turbulence on an international route, go to this  NOAA site: /   An example over the Pacific (shown below) indicates turbulence with yellow dashed lines and thunderstorms by the scalloped red areas.   The Great Circle route to Japan looks clear, except for some thunderstorms over Japan.

Another source, and one particularly good for international routes, is   They have some of the same things as the NOAA site, but they have other products as well.  You can even sign up for warnings.

You want some advice on lessening your exposure to turbulence?  Fly early in the day, because thunderstorms are generally less frequent then.   Don't sit in the back of the plane, which tends to be bumpier.  Avoid switching planes in Denver (a notoriously bumpy place to land any time of the year).  And fly as big an aircraft as possible.   But most important of all is to lock your seatbelt at all times.   Not all turbulence is forewarned. And having your head go through the ceiling is unpleasant.


New Weather Smartphone App, uWx

At the UW, we have developed a wonderful FREE weather app for Android smartphones that also collects pressure for use in weather forecasting. If you want to try it, please go to the Google PlayStore and download it.

Talk in Port Angeles on Wed. August 17th 

I will be talking in Port Angeles about the Future of the Pacific Northwest Under Global Warming at 6:30 PM on August 17th. More information here.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Was the JetBlue Turbulence Incident Avoidable?

On Thursday night, JetBlue flight 429 hit severe turbulence over South Dakota, sending 24 passengers and crew to the hospital.  This turbulence, associated with a line of thunderstorms, resulted in the abrupt termination of the Boston to Sacramento flight, with an emergency landing in Rapid City, South Dakota.
This blog will analyze the meteorology of this event and examine whether it was possible to foresee and avoid this terrifying incident. (Answer:  it was).  Strangely enough, I was only a few miles from the incident, traveling on an Alaska Airlines flight between Baltimore and Seattle.

The Details

The actual flight path of JetBlue 429 is shown below with information from the FlightAware website. Weather radar information, but from a later time, is also shown.

A key problem for the JetBlue captain was to avoid the turbulence associated with convection (thunderstorm) over much of his/her route.

To analyze the situation we need to know the exact time and location of the incident.  FlightAware provides minute by minute information and I have selected (below) the period of interest before the aircraft was diverted (at 0716 PM Mountain Time or 0116 UTC UTC).  Looking the previous few minutes, you will notice they were flying at 33,400 ft and then dropped suddenly by 100 feet at 0714 PM.  I suspect that is the time of the incident.

Then they returned to their previous altitude.   The location at that time is provided and I plotted it on the map below.  The position is in south/central South Dakota.

Now we are ready to investigate the meteorology of the incident.  Let's start by looking at the radar imagery, based on the National Weather Service radars in the region (image from the NCAR RAP website).  Here is the radar reflectivity at 0115 UTC, with an oval showing the aircraft location.  Red indicates high reflectivity, which is associated with heavy rainfall, strong vertical velocity, and lots of turbulence.  You want to avoid reds if you are in an aircraft.

Clearly, you can see the problem:  the plane flew into a very active portion of the thunderstorm complex.   Notice the arching shape of the red colors:  this is indicative of a very vigorous system.   In short, the aircraft entered a line of very strong convection,  a region that all aircraft should avoid. Strong midwest thunderstorms frequently grow to 40,000 to 50,000 feet and turbulence can exist above them due to upward propagating waves.

Here is a blow up so you can see the situation more clearly.

So how did this line of thunderstorms develop in the previous hour?   Did the pilot have time to avoid them?  To answer this question, let's look at a series of radar images prior to the incident and I will indicate the location of the plane on the imagery.

At 0100 UTC, 13 minutes before the emergency, the aircraft was well upstream of the convective line, with plenty of time to move around it (see below).

Ten minutes before that (0050 UTC), the convective line was apparent, with over 20 minutes to find a path around it.

During the prior hour, the convective line was strengthening and moving to the NE, something that is evident by looking at a series of radar  images (found here).

Normally, pilots fly around major convective lines like this.  There was plenty of time to get around it, and an excellent flight path to the south of the line existed.  So why did the pilot fail to avoid this dangerous feature?

One possibility was that the pilot did not have access to the real-time radar imagery shown above.   Pilots can view their aircraft weather radar, but as described later, such radars have limitations.  The radar I showed you above is available in a number of forms on the internet and a wide variety of web sites.   As a passenger, you can view the radar imagery in real-time at your seat using a laptop/pad and onboard internet services (like Gogo).   In fact, that evening I was following the weather on my Alaska Airlines plane, a few hundred miles away (although Gogo was really poor on my aircraft).   Unfortunately, many airlines do not provide such real-time radar data (from the National Weather Service radar) to their pilots, and I assume this is true of JetBlue.   No pilot would knowingly fly into such a severe line of convection.

What about weather radars on aircraft?  They are helpful, but provide only a localized view of the precipitation situation and possess relatively small antennas that do not give high-resolution information.  This is certainly true of the radar on the Airbus 320 (shown below), which was the aircraft involved in this flight (see below).

I assume that the aircraft radar did show the strong line ahead of the aircraft during the final few minutes before the incident, yet the pilot decided to punch through.  A mistake.

My Flight

As noted earlier, I was on Alaska 761 that left at nearly the same time from Baltimore and followed a route roughly 200 miles to the north of JetBlue 429 over South Dakota (see below).  Our pilot skirted north of that convective feature, with light to occasionally moderate turbulence (seat belt sign was on for most of it).

The Bottom Line

For some reason, JetBlue 429 headed directly into a strong convective line.   It should not have done so.   Radar imagery clearly showed the threat and there was plenty of time to avoid it.   Pilots should have access to the same detailed radar imagery that folks in coach with laptops (like myself) can readily access.   They should also receive the training necessary to understand the impacts of various types of convection.   My own conversations with pilots suggest that many do not have sufficient meteorological knowledge and this should be addressed.  With proper use of weather radar and good pilot training, incidents like the JetBlue 429 one should be avoidable.

Destroyed toilet in JetBlue 429.  
You don't see this happening in Boeing aircraft


One of the comments left this very relevant link (

The writer describes a very similar situation where a commercial jet (another A320!) plows right into developing convection that nearly took down the plane.
There is no excuse for the current lack of state-of-technology real-time weather information in the cockpit.  The public should demand it, as should pilots that are putting their lives on the line everyday.


New Weather Smartphone App, uWx

At the UW, we have developed a wonderful FREE weather app for Android smartphones that also collects pressure for use in weather forecasting. If you want to try it, please go to the Google PlayStore and download it.

Talk in Port Angeles on Wed. August 17th

I will be talking in Port Angeles about the Future of the Pacific Northwest Under Global Warming at 6:30 PM on August 17th. More information here.