Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The KPLU Miracle

In a world where the news is often depressing (global warming, presidential discord, and constant conflict), it is refreshing to have a story that is so uplifting and encouraging that it brings a smile to your face thinking about it.

The saving of KPLU is just such a story.

Last November, it appeared that the Puget Sound region's favorite jazz, blues, local and NPR news public radio station (KPLU) would be lost.  Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) had made a secret deal with the UW and its public radio station (KUOW) to sell KPLU for 7 million dollars.  The KPLU staff would be fired and it award-winning local news team would lose their jobs.   KUOW would get the KPLU transmitters and a monopoly on local pledge money.

KPLU and the Phoenix Have a Lot in Common

It seemed inevitable:  the loss of ANOTHER news outlet.  The ending of probably the best jazz station in the country.  The loss of valued local content to a corporate-style competitor more interested in its bottom line than serving the public.

But then something unexpected happened.  Folks said no.  Spontaneous protests occurred at PLU.  Massive letter and email writing campaigns began.  Protest websites were established and social media (twitter, Facebook) filled with the comments of angry KPLU listeners.

And it worked.  The UW and PLU decided to give the community a chance to save their radio station--but they had to do it quickly or the sale would go through.  The community would have to raise seven million dollars in six months.

The reaction of the Northwest public radio audience has been extraordinary.  As of today (May 3), KPLU (actually Friends of  88.5) have raised a bit more than 5 MILLION DOLLARS from over 16,000 listeners.  Just amazing.     If the donations continue at this rate, the necessary funds will be collected before the June 30th deadline.

Just to give you an idea of the response, today is GiveBig donation day in which the Seattle Foundation will extend donations given to participating organizations.  Below is the list for major groups.  Friends of 88.5 is NUMBER ONE with over $ 700,000 in contributions from 3368 individual contributors.  In comparison, the problematic KUOW organization (who seem to have too much free cash available for taking over competitors) had only 264 contributions.  People know.

But the contributions are only one part of the story.  All through the region groups are holding SaveKPLU fundraisers:  in restaurants, music venues, lecture halls, and parties in private homes.  In a few weeks, there will be a gathering at the Museum of Flight with a real astronaut.    It is clear that thousands upon thousands of local folks value KPLU and this crucible of fundraising is building a unique and enduring relationship between listeners and their radio station.  

A connection is being forged that will make KPLU stronger. Folks are willing to make pledges, participate in fund raisers, comment on social media, and encourage their friends.  All  to prevent the loss of a valued news outlet, unique musical programming,  personable on-air staff, and popular community outreach efforts that are a signature of KPLU.
But some KPLU supporters are worried, concerned that PLU will find a way to make a deal with KUOW and the UW.   KUOW clearly is still hungry for KPLU's transmitters, and is doing what it can to undermine KPLU  (like starting a competitor jazz outlet called PlanetJazz).  But can you imagine what the public reaction would be if KPLU raises the 7 million from tens of thousands of  contributors and PLU does not let the community purchase the station?    The reaction would be immense and intense.   PLU and KUOW would be isolated and marginalized.  And they know it.   I also believe that the UW administration wants to do the right thing and would prefer if a community solution succeeds.

We are now in the home stretch to save KPLU.   But as in any race, good progress in the beginning is meaningless if you don't reach the finish line.   So please, help keep the momentum going by contributing to saving KPLU: .http://www.kplu.org/save-kplu

Or go to one of the many SaveKPLU events listed on the above web site.   There is nearly one every day at locations around around the area.

The Phoenix can rise out of the ashes.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Today is June 1st: A Very Warm Spring in the Northwest, Again.

Yesterday, I planted my tomato plants in my garden-- about a month earlier than normal.   And I am not worried that are going to be damaged by cold.  If you are a gardener, today is June 1st.

As I look outside this morning, white cottonwood seeds are floating and drifting up and down-- roughly a month earlier.  I love these floating tuffs:  you can see the atmospheric eddies that are normally invisible.

Portland Airport (PDX) has their warmest April on record (going back to 1940).  Essentially May temperatures in April.

Although we had a break last week (see my previous blog), this has been an extraordinarily warm spring and it is highly probable that this warmth will continue for the next few months.

Let's start by looking at the difference of surface temperature from normal for the past month (the temperature anomaly) from the Western Region Climate Center.  The Northwest is a huge hot spot, with temperatures 6F above normal over much of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.  This is a very big warm anomaly.

This warmth has not been from a constant heat wave, but periods of normality interrupted by very warm intervals.  Seattle's temperature for the past week below illustrate this.  As we will show below, the warmest periods are associated with anomalous high pressure aloft, with one major warm period (April 18-23) being the real culprit.
There was good reason to expect a generally warm spring.   Although weakening, an El Nino is still present, with associated warm water along our coast (yellow/orange colors below)  and low pressure offshore that produces enhanced southwesterly flow.  The hated blob of warm sea surface temperatures over the NE Pacific has dissipated.

As I mentioned earlier, our warm temperatures have been associated with anomalously high pressure over the West Coast, which was particularly unusual during mid April.   Here is a map of the upper level (500 hPa, around 18,000 ft) height anomaly from normal (you can think of it as pressure as well).  High height anomaly (yellow colors) over us, with low height anomalies upstream and downstream.  The waviness of the atmosphere was enhanced during this period.

High pressure above the Northwest produces warmth is several ways.   High pressure results in sinking air, which warms as it sinks (compressed).  Such sinking reduces clouds, so we get more sun. On the western side of highs there is warm southerly flow.  And the surface reflection of upper level high pressure (or ridging) is generally east of the Cascades, so we get more offshore (easterly flow), which produces more sinking (warming) over the western slopes of the Cascades and pushes cool marine air away from the lowlands.

A REALLY important point is that this wave-like pattern not only produces a warm anomaly over us, but COLD anomalies where the heights are lower.  Here are the surface temperature anomalies from NOAA for the past 30 days.   Warm over us (orange/red), but much colder than normal over the NE US and eastern Canada.

The situation is not simply a general warming, as one might expect from anthropogenic global warming, but highly localized warm and cold anomalies driven by the enhanced wave pattern aloft.

The question you will be wondering:  could this wave pattern be produced by anthropogenic global warming?    At this point, the best answer is no.   Research, including work done by my past Ph.D. student Matt Brewer, does not suggest this.  In fact, global climate models run through 2100, suggest just the opposite:  a deamplfication of the waves.  But the persistence of ridging for a second year in spring is a bit unnerving.

It appears that natural variability is driving the waviness, but as always in science, we are not 100% sure.

But what about the rest of the spring?   For the next two weeks, there is definite skill.  The latest North American Ensemble Forecast System (NAEFS) guidance, based on combining the US and Canadian ensembles (running our models many times) suggests a warm Monday, followed by cool/wet period midweek, and warmer conditions next weekend (these box and whisker plots, with the yellow boxes showing the range of the 50% of the models closest to the median). The panel are temperature, precipitation, wind speed, and cloudiness.

The forecasts beyond 2 weeks are less reliable.   But let me show you the prediction of the international seasonal ensemble (below):  much warmer than normal for May and June.  I suspect this will be correct.

So go ahead, plant those tomatoes.  Put the seeds in the ground.  If you are a gardener, reset your clock and think of today as June 1st and you will know what to do.

Go ahead, you can buy these for your garden or deck.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Unusual: Normal Weather

Weather is like one's children:  for most of the time you think of it as being exceptional.

And to be honest, I give short-shrift to normality in the blog, since I love to talk about the unusual, the extreme, and the interesting weather situations.

But today I am going to break the mold and tell you that for the last week the weather has been excruciatingly normal.  Boring to some, perhaps.

Take temperatures at Seattle Tacoma Airport for the past week (see chart below with normal highs and lows in red and blue, respectively).  Pretty typical stuff.

Sea-Tac precipitation?  The actual (red) is within .1 inches of normal during the same period.  You are probably starting to yawn.
Clouds...plenty of them, with a few breaks.   Totally normal in late April.

These normal conditions are found throughout the state.   For example, Pasco's temperatures during the same time are.....completely typical:
The famous U.S. Drought Monitor:  no drought in our State, except for some slight dryness over the far southeast.
The official Climate Prediction Center precipitation forecast for the next 3 months for Washington?  EC (equal chances if above or below normal)....which means a forecast of normal.

This is simply maddening.... normal is not good for the weather business.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


The air above us has cooled down substantially compared to a week ago, with temperatures near 5000 ft (850 hPa) on the WA coast at -1.1C this morning, compared to 16C in the middle of the heat wave last week.      But the sun is even stronger being a week later and it has the ability to substantially warm the surface.

So with cool temperatures aloft and strong warming at the surface, a large vertical temperature gradient (or lapse rate) developed, one that allows the lower atmosphere to destabilize and convect.

Yes, just like in your hot cereal, when you rev up the heat, the cereal starts to convect--some cereal moving up, some moving down.  Convection results when temperature in a fluid decreases rapidly in height.  In the case of a dry atmosphere, the temperature must decrease by at least 9.8C per kilometer.

In the atmosphere today, instead of upward and downward convection currents in the oatmeal, we have convecting air parcels, with clouds (cumulus) forming with the upward motion.   Today's satellite picture documented the convecting action. At 7:40 AM, there was a lot of layered (stratiform) low clouds over our region (see satellite picture).  These are generally stable clouds without much vertical development.

The the strong late-April sun did its magic over land during the morning and that warming, coupled with cool temperatures above, caused instability and convection over land.  The satellite image at 12:15 PM shows this clearly in the puff-ball looking clouds.  Over our coastal waters it was virtually clear....same with the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The water surface did not heat up.

The shallow nature of the convection was evident in local weather cams, such as my favorite SkunkBay Weather cam on the north side of the Kitsap Peninsula (see below)

And for those of you who like to have plenty of water during the summer, there is very good news.  The Yakima River reservoir system, so critical for agriculture in the Yakima Valley, has now reached the typical full level, but nearly two months earlier than normal  (see image)

The same thing is true for the City of Seattle reservoirs (red line below).

 There is still plenty of snow to melt int the mountains, unlike last year, so things look very good regarding water for this summer.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Most Extreme Warm Day in Seattle History: April 18, 2016

On Monday, Seattle experienced a stunning and unparalleled temperature extreme:

the warmest daily temperature relative to normal conditions ever observed for any date since record keeping began at Seattle-Tacoma Airport (1948).  Any date, any season, any year.

Specifically, temperatures on Monday surged to 89F,when the normal maximum temperature for that date was 58F:  a 31F anomaly (difference from the normal high).    Never had the daily maximum been so far from the average maximum.  Just amazing.

The daily records showed this was the largest maximum temperature anomaly on record, with April 1, 1987 coming in at second place (28F anomaly).   Here are the top ten daily maximum temperature anomalies provided by Mark Stoelinga, a research meteorologist at Vaisalla, Inc.   You will notice the most of the top events are in spring, with April being heavily represented.  Why spring?

Average highs are relatively low in April (mid 50s to lower 60sF) and the sun is getting quite strong (the sun's intensity and duration on April 21st is the same as on August 21st).  May and early June is also a good period for extreme maximum temperatures compared to normal highs for the same reason.

But even in the best season (spring), to get the truly extreme high temperature anomalies, the atmospheric circulation on both the large and local scales must be just right.

So why was Monday so amazingly anomalous?

We started with a strong upper-level high pressure ridge in the idea location:  just inland from the coast. (see upper level (500hPa, roughly 18,000 ft)  map at 5 PM Monday) On the western periphery of the ridge there is southwesterly flow which brought very warm air northward.

The 850 hPa map (around 5000ft) shows the warm air (red/orange colors) and southerly winds along the coast, with higher heights (pressures) to the east, lower to the west.  The temperatures that morning over Seattle were very warm--higher that all days but one for the period January 1 through May 1.  The existence of a very strong El Nino, with above normal water temperatures along the West Coast, contributed to the warmth.

At low levels there was a modest offshore pressure gradient, so that weak easterly flow was pushing the cool, marine influence away from Sea-Tac Airport.  To show this, let's look at the winds and temperatures (red lines) above Sea-Tac Airport that day (below is a time-height cross section, time increasing to the left, time is in UTC).  1821 is 2 PM on Monday, the y axis is pressure (850 is about 5000 ft).  Weak easterly flow dominated at low levels.  If the flow had been westerly, cool air would have moved over Sea-Tac.   Stronger easterly flow over the Cascades would have produced low pressure near the Cascade foothills that would have drawn in marine air near the surface.

To quote Goldilocks:  everything was "just right."

Some folks will suggest tjat this as a good example of the impacts of global warming, but they would be wrong.  Of the 31.5F anomaly that day, perhaps 1-2 F could be traced to human impacts, the rest are the result of natural variability.   Thus, without any human intervention it would still have been a record-breaking extreme day.

But you want to see this visually?   Here is an analysis done by Mark Stoelinga that shows the trend in yearly maximum extreme temperatures anomalies for the spring season (March, April, May)--blue lines.   We will talk about the other temperatures in another blog.  The biggest anomaly was this year (18C or 31F). And you will note that there is a very slow upward trend during the past 70 years:  about 1 C (1.8F).   Some of that trend is from human-increased greenhouse gases, some from urbanization, some from sensor changes, and some from natural variability.  In any case, the upward trend is small and eclipsed by the natural variability, with its jagged ups and downs.

As I noted in my Golden Rule of Climate Extremes:  the greater the climate anomaly, the larger the percentage of that anomaly due to natural variability.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

TV Meteorologist Jeff Renner Retires from KING TV

One of the most distinguished members of the Northwest meteorological establishment, Jeff Renner, retired from KING TV on Friday, and his on-air presence will be missed.  Those of us in the Puget Sound weather community have come to depend on Jeff as one of our most visible and effective members, and this blog will tell some stories that may not be generally known about Jeff, including his substantial service to the University of Washington and my department.

Jeff came to KING TV as a general reporter in 1977, but became the weather anchor and science lead in 1980.   When St. Helens exploded in May 1980, his in-depth coverage of the event made him well-known throughout the region.   I started at the UW in late 1981 and quickly got to know Jeff at local weather gatherings.  

He was not satisfied being a TV weathercaster, without a weather background.  Jeff was determined to become a real meteorologist and to secure a degree in atmospheric sciences.  And he was willing to take years of math and physics courses that were the first step before entering a degree program, such as the one we offer at the UW.  

I was really impressed.   And during the next few years, he was good to his word.  He fulfilled all the responsibilities of his KING TV job while taking years of technical prerequisites before entering the UW atmospheric sciences program, which he completed successfully.  I enjoyed having Jeff in the senior forecasting class, where he was one the best students.

Jeff developed a reputation as someone who not only had an excellent delivery (and a voice more appropriate for an Olympian god) but a dedication to bring science and education into his message, frequently evincing the knowledge he had gained at the UW as well as an excellent intuition about the weather.   At regional meetings, like the Northwest Weather Conference, you could always be sure Jeff would be in attendance taking notes.

But then a setback occurred in his career.  A new news director at KING decided that a flashy female presence would be beneficial to ratings and Jeff was let go.   Many of us in the weather community protested to KING management (his replacement had no degree in meteorology was making serious technical errors), but it was the unhappiness of the viewers and their demand for Jeff's return that led to his triumphal reinstatement a year later.

During his year off, Jeff applied his formidable communications skills to enter a new sideline:  forensic meteorological consulting.  Many don't know that meteorologists are often hired to do research and testify in court cases, something I have done as well.  There is no better way to find out how weather is influencing people's lives in a serious way.   Jeff rapidly become well known in this endeavor:  he and I have even on the opposite sides for some lawsuits.

Jeff is an uber outdoorsman:   a frequent hiker, sailor, and pilot, among others.  He combined several of these interests with writing to produce a series of popular books on weather for outdoors enthusiasts.

 And he didn't stop there.   Over the years, Jeff created a number of excellent educational 1-hr specials on meteorological topics.

During the last several years, Jeff understood the importance of the developing technology of high-resolution weather prediction and arranged to secure a real-time feed of the UW's super high-resolution WRF output for KING TV , with this information translated into compelling graphical products known as FutureCast (see below).

Finally, Jeff has been a huge friend to the UW. During the years, a number of atmospheric sciences students interested in TV weather have interned at KING 5, gaining invaluable experiment that led to successful careers for several (such as the redoubtable Shannon O'Donnell and MJ McDermott). When the department had special evening lectures for the community, Jeff often was the MC, skillfully guiding the evening, providing wonderful intros for the speakers, and gentling asking for community support at the end.

Jeff retired this week, along with a number of other veterans of KING TV, a sign of downscaling of stations shrinking as TV newscasts become less popular as web access to information gains ascendance.  

But I suspect we have not heard the last from Jeff.  He has never been better as a communicator and his creative abilities are undiminished.   Improving models and internet capabilities do not mean that people don't require an experienced, knowledgeable voice to help them interpret and act upon the huge amount of environmental information that is flooding them.   It is more important than ever and I expect Jeff has some ideas for the future.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Big Meltdown Followed By A Cool Down

The record breaking temperatures of the past few days and warmer than normal temperatures of this month have resulted in substantial melt of the formidable snowpack we started with on April 1.  And the rivers are responding.

To illustrate the snowmelt, here is the plot of snow water content at Stampede Pass at 4000 ft on the eastern side of the WA Cascades (normal snowpack is the light blue).  We were near normal around April 1, but have lost about 20% since then.

This massive melt of water is causing a number of rivers on the eastern slope of the Cascades  to approach flood stage, with predicted floods on some.  To illustrate, here are the hydrographs, showing the observed and predicted river levels and discharge for the Okanogan, Stehekin, and Naches rivers--all are predicted to flood during the next few days.

Spring flooding from snowmelt is not unusual, but it was generally absent last year because the snowpack was so poor.

During the next day, we are about to transition to a far cooler, wetter pattern as the ridge of high pressure weakens and moves westward.  The upper flow pattern changes substantially.  Here is the 500 hPa (18,000 ft) upper level map for 5 PM today (Wednesday). Big ridge centered over the Rockies, with a weak disturbance (trough) over Oregon--which has brought some thunderstorms to western Oregon and SW Washington.

 72 hours from now (5 PM Saturday), the ridge has weakened and westerly/southwesterly flow has invaded the West Coast.
As a result, over the next 72 h precipitation will return:  light over WA, but substantial to the south over Oregon and CA (see below).  Such precipitation is unusual for CA this late in the season and very welcome.
Want to be impressed?

The forecast total precipitation over the next two weeks by the GFS model is quite wet for the Northwest (see below), with some areas getting 4 inches or more.  Temperatures will return to normal.  I think folks are ready for some normal weather again.