Tag Archives: weather

Amusing Monday: Winter outings are antidotes for the gloom

The gloomy feeling of rainy weather, as experienced by looking out from the inside of your house, can be defeated with a trip to the mountains, where all kinds of winter fun await.

Longmire at Mount Rainier, looking east from Administration Building.
Webcam: Longmire at Mount Rainier, looking southwest from the Administration Building.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding are popular activities at Washington’s ski resorts. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are less-vigorous options, as are sledding and inner-tubing. One of many useful websites is “Pacific Northwest Winter Sports.”

If these activities don’t sound like great fun, you can plan a drive that takes you into wonderful snow conditions and provides an opportunity to build a snowman or enjoy a snowball fight. Lodges and visitor centers offer a retreat from the cold. You might make friends with others who love the winter weather.

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Rainfall records are beginning to fall across the Kitsap Peninsula

Water Year 2017, which began on Oct. 1, got off to a rip-roaring start this month in terms of rainfall, and now records are falling for October rainfall totals across the Kitsap Peninsula.

holly

As shown in the three charts on this page, the graph started climbing steeply above the lines shown — including the green lines, which denote the highest annual precipitation recorded for the past 25 to 33 years.

So far this month, 19.5 inches of rain have fallen at Holly, which has averaged about 7 inches in October for the past 24 years. As you can see in the annual rainfall map at the bottom of this page, Holly lies in the rain zone on the Kitsap Peninsula — the area with the greatest amount of rainfall in most years. With four days left in the month, Holly has about an inch to go to break the record of 20.5 inches going back to 1991.

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It’s been a wet ride through the first half of the 2016 ‘water year’

With half of our “water year” in the record books, 2016 is already being marked down as one of the wettest years in recent history.

Hansvillej

The water year, as measured by hydrologists, runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 each year, so we will be in WY 2016 for nearly six more months. If things keep going as they are, we will see some new lines plotted on the rainfall charts.

Joel LeCuyer, who keeps track of water data for the Kitsap Public Utility District, points out that the district’s two longest-running weather stations are on their way to record-high totals:

  • Bremerton National Airport, with records going back to 1983, accumulated 66.7 inches of rain at the midway point, compared to an average of 56 inches for the full year.
  • Hansville, with records going back to 1982, has accumulated 36.6 inches, compared to a yearly average of 32 inches.

Looking at the charts, you’ll see that both the airport and Hansville stations are slightly ahead of their maximum water year. It will be interesting to watch this chart as we get closer to June, when rainfall traditionally falls off dramatically. Whatever happens over the next two months will likely foretell whether annual precipitation records will be broken.

Airportj

To access the charts, go to the KPUD website. Under the tab “Water” click “Water Resources Data.” At the bottom of the map, click on the tiny bubble “Rain gauges.” The red ones track precipitation almost in real time.

Looking back, some rather dramatic downpours are already written into the record books this year. For example, when considering the top 10 rainfalls in a 24-hour period, nearly every station has at least one rain event from WY 2016 among the top 10.

At Holly, four of the top 10 rain events recorded over the past 25 years occurred during the past six months. That’s interesting, since Holly is one place where the total accumulation of rainfall is still falling short of the record. Holly has already surpassed the average annual rainfall of nearly 70 inches, according to the chart, but it is unlikely to reach the nearly 130 inches of rainfall recorded in 1999.

Hollyj

Above average precipitation was seen across Western Washington for the first half of the water year, according to the National Weather Service. The range was from 26 percent above average in the Olympic Mountains to 40 percent above average in the Puget Sound lowlands. Snowpack in the Olympic and Cascade mountains is about 10 percent above average.

Ted Buehner of the National Weather Service in Seattle reports that the current warm El Niño is expected to weaken through the spring. And there is a 50 percent chance that La Niña will return next winter. That would typically bring cooler and wetter weather, but rains over the coming winter will have a long way to go to match what we’ve seen during this water year.

As for what we might expect from now through the end of summer, the latest forecast from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says temperatures are likely to be warmer than average in the Northwest with slightly higher than even odds that the summer will be drier than average.

For details on a national scale, check out “ENSO: Recent Evolution, Current Status and Predictions” (PDF 3.5 mb).

Rains in North Kitsap falling at record levels, but a shift is coming

Rainfall in much of North Kitsap has been falling at record rates since the beginning of the so-called water year, which begins in October. If you live in Kingston, January’s rainfall is running well above records kept since 1993 by the Kitsap Public Utility District.

Kingston

For the month of January, 9.4 inches has fallen in Kingston so far. That is more rainfall this January than during any January in the 23-year record. The previous high in Kingston for the month of January was 8.3 inches in 2006.

As you can see from the chart, this year’s rainfall in Kingston (blue line) was tracking slightly above the record until early December, when it took off at a higher rate. January burst forth at an even higher rate.

Hansville

The pattern was similar for Hansville to the north, where rains have been falling hard. Extremely high rainfall in November of 2010 established a record for that year that will be difficult to beat in our northernmost community.

So far this year, Poulsbo (KPUD office) has been tracking the maximum water year fairly closely since October. January 2016 is the wettest recorded at this site. So far in January, it has recorded 11.6 inches. The previous high, 11.2 inches, was recorded in 1998. Thanks to Mark Morgan at the PUD for this analysis.

Poulsbo

Central Kitsap near Bremerton caught up with the maximum water year this past week. And Holly lags behind the maximum water year of 1999 but well above the 26-year average.

If you haven’t noticed, the Kitsap Peninsula is a rather strange place for measuring the rain. Historically the northern tip gets about half the annual rainfall as the southwest part.

Central Kitsap

For the Pacific region as a whole. the well-publicized El Niño effect has grown stronger, becoming one of the strongest El Niño years since at least the 1950s. But that is about to change. Based on sea surface temperatures, we have just passed the peak of the El Niño, and most models suggest that ocean conditions will transition to a neutral pattern by summer. See El Niño forecast graph and the narrative by the Climate Prediction Center (PDF 707 kb).

Holly

According to the CPC report, “El Niño has already produced significant global impacts and is expected to affect temperature and precipitation patterns across the United States during the upcoming months.”

According to predictions, temperatures should remain above average for at least the next three months. Meanwhile, precipitation is expected to continue above average for the next week or so, decline to average in about a month, then remain below average until at least the first part of May. For a quick look at this graphically, check out the interactive display.

Meanwhile, as the Northwest and Great Lakes regions experience drier than average conditions over the next few months, California and the Southwest states, along with Florida and the Gulf states, will see above-average rainfall.

As observed by the Climate Prediction Center:

“Since we are now past the peak of the El Niño event in terms of SST anomalies, the relevant questions relate to how quickly the event decays and whether we see a transition to La Niña, which frequently follows on the heels of El Niño event, the CPC SST consolidation forecasts a return to neutral conditions by May-June-July and a 79 percent chance of La Niña by next winter.”

The following video describes the current El Niño conditions.

Washington state breaks heat record during 2015

Last year was the warmest year on record for Washington state, as well as Oregon, Montana and Florida, according to climatologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Temps

For the entire contiguous United States, 2015 was the second-warmest in 121 years of temperature records going back to 1895. The average temperature last year was 54.4 degrees, some 2.4 degrees above the long-term average, according to NOAA. Only the year 2012 was hotter.

Those extreme U.S. temperatures will contribute to what is expected to be the highest worldwide temperature average on record. Findings are to be completed later this month.

If 2.4 degrees above average does not seem like much, think about raising your home’s thermostat by 2.4 degrees and leaving it there for the entire year, said Deke Arndt, chief of the NOAA’s Climate Monitoring Branch.

“You would feel the difference,” Arndt said during a telephone briefing this morning, when scientists reported an increasing number of extreme weather events across the United States — from severe winter storms on the East Coast last February to wildfires in the West during the summer to tornadoes across Texas and the Midwest in December.

Changes in temperatures and precipitation are changing ecosystems for plants and animals across the United States and throughout the world.

For the year 2015, every state in the nation was warmer than the long-term average, although various regions of the country acted quite differently. In the West, the year started out warm but ended up cool. In the East, residents began the year with record cold temperatures but ended with unseasonable warm conditions.

In terms of precipitation, 2015 was the third-wettest year on record in the contiguous United States, with a total average of 34.47 inches. That’s 4.5 inches above the long-term average. It was the wettest year on record for Texas and Oklahoma, but Washington was close to average for annual rainfall.

Precip

Washington state and the entire West returned to normal temperatures for the month of December, but 29 states across the East, Midwest and South recorded all-time-record highs for the month.

Twenty-three states — including Washington, Oregon and Idaho — were much wetter than average in December, which ranked as not only the warmest December on record across the U.S. but also the wettest.

Record flooding was reported along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, with floods coming several months earlier than normal.

“Record crests and overtopped levees were observed along parts of the Mississippi River and its tributaries; deadly tornadoes ripped through the Southern Plains and Mid-South; and heavy snow/ice was observed from the Southern Rockies to Midwest and New England,” state’s a summary report released by NOAA. “This storm system resulted in at least 50 fatalities across the country — the deadliest weather event of 2015 — and caused over $1 billion in losses, according to preliminary estimates.”

Across the country last year, 10 separate weather-related events caused more than $1 billion each in damages — specifically, a major drought, two major floods, five severe storms, a series of wildfires and a major winter storm, each defined by NOAA based on their timing and location.

Across the West, more than 10 million acres of forestland burned, the greatest extent of fire since record keeping began in 1960.

“We live in a warming world, bringing more big heat events and more big rain events,” Arndt said, adding that the pattern is expected to continue in the coming years.

The extremes seen in the U.S. are being experienced across the globe, he added. The U.S., which takes up 2 percent of the Earth’s surface, experienced its second-warmest year on record. Worldwide, however, it appears that 2015 will go down as the warmest year so far. Global findings are due out in about two weeks.

Olympic Mountains deliver huge rainstorm on cue for researchers

Atmospheric scientists with NASA and the University of Washington chose a doozy of a week on the Olympic Peninsula to launch their four-month effort to measure precipitation and calibrate the super-sophisticated Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) system.

The heart of the GPM system is an advanced satellite called the GPM Core Observatory, designed to measure rainfall and snowfall from space. If the system can be perfected, meteorologists and climatologists will have a fantastic tool for measuring precipitation where no ground-based instruments are located.

When the Doppler-on-wheels radar system arrived at Lake Quinault, skies were clear and the ground was dry.
When the Doppler-on-wheels radar system arrived at Lake Quinault, skies were clear and the ground was dry. // Photo: UW Atmospheric Sciences

To improve the satellite system, ground-based radar and other equipment were moved to remote areas of the Olympic Peninsula to take measurements (see video below). Meanwhile, aircraft flying above, below and inside the clouds were taking their own readings.

The program, called Olympex for Olympic Mountains Experiment, is impressive. Researchers chose the west side of the Olympics because that’s where storms arrive from the Pacific Ocean, laying down between 100 and 180 inches of rainfall each year. Sure, these folks were looking for rain, but did they really know what they were getting into?

Heavy rains arrived, raising the waters of Lake Quinault and nearly flooding the equipment.
Heavy rains arrived, raising the waters of Lake Quinault and nearly flooding the equipment on Friday. // Photo: UW Atmospheric Sciences

On Friday, a Doppler-on-wheels radar system was nearly flooded when between 4 and 14 inches of rain fell in various portions of the Quinault Valley, raising Lake Quinault by about six inches per hour over a period of several hours. For details, check out science summary for the day, which describes some of the measurements that were taken.

“We’re not just checking the satellite’s observations, the way you might double-check a simple distance measurement,” said project manager Lynn McMurdie in a news release from the University of Washington.

“We’re checking the connection between what the satellite sees from space, what’s happening in the middle of the storm system and what reaches the ground, which is what most people ultimately want to know,” McMurdle said. “So we’re not just improving the satellite’s performance — we’re learning how storm systems work.”

NASA’s “Precipitation Education” website explains how weather systems from the Pacific Ocean are experienced on land and how Olympex will sort things out:

“Large weather systems arrive in the Pacific Northwest from the ocean, and not all parts of the system are equal. The leading edge, called the pre-frontal sector, tends to be warmer and have steady rainfall. Next, the frontal sector marks the transition from the warmer air to the colder air and processes that produce rainfall are often most intense in this region. Finally the post-frontal sector, characterized by colder temperatures, will often bring showery rain and snow, and can produce large snowfall accumulations at higher elevations.

“The (Olympex) field campaign will be looking inside these storm clouds with ground radar and aircraft instruments to determine the accuracy of the GPM satellite constellation in detecting the unique precipitation characteristics in these different storm sectors.

“One of the aircraft will be flying through the clouds to make detailed measurements of raindrops, ice particles, and snowflakes as they are falling to Earth’s surface. Combined with data from the ground radars and the total amounts caught by the rain gauges and other instruments on the ground, scientists will be able to improve the computer models of precipitating clouds – the same types of computer models used to forecast the weather and project future climate.”

If you’d like to learn more about Olympex, check out these sources:

Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory NASA graphic
Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory // NASA graphic

Amusing Monday: Snow dogs and snow cats with winter now behind us

Each winter, I look for an opportunity to share amusing photos and videos of household pets encountering a fluffy white blanket and playing in the snow.

Guess what. Spring has arrived, and the Puget Sound region did not experience a heavy snow this past winter. I know that many people — especially those who dread driving in the ice and snow — are rejoicing how they managed to escape what they consider an annual nightmare.

For the skiers among us, the shortage of snow in the mountains has been heartbreaking. We can all hope this is not the beginning of the end for our incredible winter sports in Washington state.

Meanwhile, most of us have friends on the eastern side of the United States who have no sympathy for the snowless conditions in the West. They have seen one snowfall after another build up layers of snow that they must dig through. They received our share of snow and much more.

In honor of those living in the East and coming through one of the harshest winters in history, I’m pulling up some amusing images of snow dogs and snow cats. For those sick of snow, I hope this can be a humorous glance at the season in the rearview mirror. For the rest of us, we can take a moment to consider what we missed.

In the first video, Tiger Productions has put together a nice compilation of clips of animals playing in the snow, including some of my favorites. Another video by Official Dogs focuses on the canines. A new video by Ann Got shows us why a cat won’t be stopped by a little snow.

Also amusing are some still photos of dogs, cats and other animals in the snow. Check out:

Washington is unique for 2012 weather conditions

While much of the country suffered through record heat and extreme drought in 2012, Washington state was doing its own thing up in the corner of the map, according to an annual report from the National Climatic Data Center.

Source: National Climatic Data Center
Source: National Climatic Data Center

Across the contiguous United States, the average temperature last year was the highest ever recorded, with records going back to 1895. The yearly average of 55.3 degrees was 3.3 degrees above the 20th-Century average and 1 degree warmer than the previous high record set in 1998.

A map issued by NCDA, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows 19 states with all-time high temperatures for the year and 28 states with temperatures far above normal. Only Washington state came through the year with an average temperature “above normal,” as shown on the map.

Specifically, only 29 of the past 118 years were warmer than 2012 in this state, so conditions were by no means cool from a historical perspective. Check out historical temperature data for each state on the NCDA website.

When it came to rainfall, things were a little more mixed across the country, but again Washington — along with Oregon — stand out as anomalies, having some of the wettest conditions ever experienced.

Source: National Climatic Data Center
Source: National Climatic Data Center

Across the contiguous United States, precipitation averaged 26.57 inches, some 2.57 inches below the 20th-Century average. Overall, 2012 is considered the 15th driest year on record.

Nebraska and Wyoming broke their all-time record for lowest precipitation. Nebraska’s annual precipitation of 13.04 inches in 2012 was nearly 10 inches below average. Eight states experienced drought that placed 2012 among the ten driest years on record.

Overall, the footprint of summer drought across the midsection of the country was on par with the drought of the 1950s, in which 60 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in moderate to exceptionally dry conditions, according to the new report. As in the 1950s, farmers living in the Midwest, Plains and Mountain West states experienced severe problems, including crop failures.

On the other hand, Washington state nearly broke the record for heavy precipitation during the calendar year, according to the report. Only four out of the past 118 years were wetter. The statewide precipitation of 47.24 inches was 10.40 inches above average. For the spring season (March-May), only two years in recorded history were wetter.

Oregon also experienced precipitation well above average, with only 11 wetter years in the record book. Meanwhile, surrounding states — California, Nevada and Idaho — came in close to their annual average.

The full annual report, with lots of links to additional data, can be viewed on the page called “State of the Climate National Overview Annual 2012.”

Be alert for tidal flooding and King Tide photos

Some of the highest tides of the year, combined with a strong low-pressure system, could provide “King Tide” observers with ideal conditions tomorrow (Monday) for taking pictures of near-flood conditions or even flooding in some places.

This is the third year the Washington Department of Ecology has put out a call for photos of high-tide conditions.

Photo of Poulsbo waterfront taken during “King Tides” Dec. 28, 2011.
Photo by James Groh, Poulsbo

“Documenting how very high tides affect the natural environment and our coastal infrastructure will help us visualize what sea level rise might look like in the future,” states Ecology’s “Climate Change” blog.

The King Tide photo initiative began in Australia in January 2009. Washington and British Columbia joined in 2010, followed by Oregon and California in 2011.

Tide tables predict that tides in Bremerton and Port Orchard will reach 13.4 feet at 8:28 a.m. tomorrow. Check on other locations and other days in Washington state at Saltwater Tides.

The National Weather Service has issued a coastal flood advisory for Western Washington because of low-pressure conditions, which could add 1.5 feet to the tide table prediction. That would put the Bremerton area at 14.9 feet. Check out the Weather Service advisory and the Kitsap Sun story.

While it looks like we’ll have a very high tide, it probably won’t be a record. I was unable to find historical data for Bremerton, but the record high tide for Seattle is 22.4 feet on Jan. 27, 1983. The tide tables predict that Seattle will reach 12.5 feet tomorrow, or 14 feet with the added 1.5 feet because of the low pressure.

Historical data can be found on NOAA’s “Tides and Currents” webpage after selecting a station.

Shortly after I posted this, Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant sent me an email to point out that NOAA’s numbers need to be corrected by subtracting 7.94, because NOAA uses a different baseline than we commonly use in this area. That would place the record in Seattle at 14.5 feet, much closer to what we may see tomorrow. I should have known that something was amiss with that data. For more on this point, check out Jeff’s blog, Sea Life. 

King Tides will continue through this week, declining slightly each day, then will return on Jan. 14.

I’m certainly not hoping for high water levels, but where they occur it would be great to have some photos. Feel free to send them to me at cdunagan, as well as uploading to the Flickr page called “Washington King Tide Photo Initiative.”

A clean boundary between clouds and sunny skies

UPDATE, Aug. 4
Gary Peterson got back to me with detailed observations, which I’ve added in a block quote below.
—–

Photo by Gary Peterson

Gary Peterson of Seattle was headed north Saturday in his sailboat Windswept, a Perry Custom 47, when he spotted this abrupt break in the clouds off Seattle’s Alki Point.

One of the two ferries in the distance was half in sun and half in shade.

I was able to get some meteorological ideas about what caused this phenomenon, but first these observations from Gary:

“I noticed up ahead the sky looked like it was starting to clear a little, which was a welcome sight after a couple hours of motoring due to the lack of winds. As I approached the Alki Lighthouse, the separation of clouds from the clearing sky was so distinctive that it was borderline eerie. I couldn’t help but have the theme tune from the old TV program ‘Twilight Zone’ run through my head.

“The seas were dead calm with not a whisper of wind in the air… As the skies were turning blue and the sun was burning off, the remaining clouds to my starboard, it seemed the front was headed for the hills (Olympics), creating the seemingly black and white to color experience I took in the photo.

“It was a beautiful, yet eerie, experience with the warming feeling of the sun as I entered the brighter side of my voyage slowly pealing off my sweatshirt to feel the warmth of the sun. The waters were still glassy, but the skies were blue, the sun was out and the seagulls were flying around and singing their nautical tunes. Life was good.”

To see if we could come up with a scientific explanation, I contacted Nick Bond, a researcher with the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean.

“It is rare to see such a clean break in the clouds,” Nick told me, adding that such a boundary was probably the result of two air masses coming together from different directions.

Consulting weather records for July 28 at 11:22 a.m. (when the photo was taken), Nick said it appears that moist marine air, accompanied by clouds, was pushing in from the south, coming through the lowlands between the Olympic and Cascade mountains. Meanwhile, another air mass coming over the Olympic Mountains lost its clouds as it dropped downslope and pushed in from the north.

“When we have two convergent zones coming together, you can often see the effect of winds on water,” he said. “But in this picture there is no obvious change in that. You see the shadow of the clouds on the water, but not much more than ripples. Perhaps the winds were really subtle.”

According to the weather records, conditions were changing slowly Saturday, which is confirmed by the photo. When the clouds bumped up against the clear air, they probably went vertical, thus the reason for the distinct edge.

By 3 p.m., nearly four hours after the photo was taken, records show that the air from the north had cleared out the clouds over Central Puget Sound, while farther south the clouds persisted.

“This is a good example of how the terrain conspires to produce these very dramatic changes in the winds, cloud properties, precipitation distributions and sometimes temperature,” Nick said.

Areas socked in by clouds tend to remain cool, he noted, while areas under clear skies may warm up rapidly.

“These kind of conditions make it hard to forecast in the Puget Sound region, because it all depends on where the boundary sets up,” he added.

This photo was originally published on the blog “Three Sheets Northwest.”