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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Washington is unique for 2012 weather conditions

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

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

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

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

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

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.”


Amusing Monday: Laughing at the snow and cold

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Whether you love or hate the snow, a bit of humor always comes in handy during the recent weather we’ve been having.

The following are some quotes, jokes and a couple videos I gleaned from the Internet. Each item lists a source with more funny stuff. If you have a favorite winter joke, please add it in the comments section below.

“Don’t knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in a while.” — Kin Hubbard (Quote Garden)

“There’s one good thing about snow, it makes your lawn look as nice as your neighbor’s.” — Clyde Moore (Quote Garden)

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” — Carl Reiner (Quote Garden)

“The trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.” — Patrick Young (Quote Garden)

Of winter’s lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one holds summer’s secret
Deep down within its heart.
~Charles G. Stater (Quote Garden)

“Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.” — Earl Wilson (Quote Garden)

“Cats are smarter than dogs. You can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through snow.” — Jeff Valdez (The Quotations Page)

“Winter is nature’s way of saying, ‘Up yours.’” — Robert Byrne (Quote Garden)

Some definitions:

Winter: The age of shivery and shovelry.

Antarctic: Snowman’s land.

Flaky Person: A man who loves to be outside when it snows.

Skiing: A winter sport learned in the fall.

(Source: Daffynitions)

It was so cold …

It was so cold … 
hitchhikers were holding up pictures of thumbs!

It was so cold … 
Starbucks was serving coffee on a stick!

It was so cold … 
we pulled everything out of the freezer and huddled inside it to warm up!

It was so cold … 
Richard Simmons started wearing pants!

It was so cold … 
a flasher rushed up to poor Mrs. Flannigan – and described himself!

It was so cold … we had to chop up the piano for firewood – but we only got two chords.

Source: Jokes 4 Us

It was so cold … that even the kids at the mall were pulling their pants up. (Snow and Mud)

Winter Story

My husband and I purchased an old home in Northern New York State from two elderly sisters. Winter was fast approaching and I was concerned about the house’s lack of insulation. “If they could live here all those years, so can we!” my husband confidently declared.

One November night the temperature plunged to below zero, and we woke up to find interior walls covered with frost. My husband called the sisters to ask how they had kept the house warm.

After a rather brief conversation, he hung up. “For the past 30 years,” he muttered, “they’ve gone to Florida for the winter.”

— Sandee (Comedy Plus)

Bumper Cars

The Slush Man Cometh


Amusing Monday: Baby, the rain must fall

Monday, December 13th, 2010

With the weather we’ve had the past couple days, it’s hard to forget the gusher of water coming down upon our heads and changing the landscape in familiar places.

Kitsap Sun photo

Of course, we can’t live without rain — especially if we wish to remain The Evergreen State — but sometimes a little less of it would do us well.

With our rampaging weather in mind, I’ve selected 20 quotes from a variety of sources who apparently have given some thought to the subject of rain.

1. A visit is like rainwater. You pray for it when it stays away, and it’s a problem when it rains too much. — Hebrew Proverb

2. A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods. — Rachel Carson

3. Rain, rain, go away, come again another day. — Traditional Proverb

4. I’m just waiting for people to start asking me to make the rain disappear. — David Copperfield

5. Sunshine is delicious; rain is refreshing; wind braces us up; snow is exhilarating. There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. — John Ruskin

6. A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning. — James Dickey

7. And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow. — Jerry Chin

8. Into each life some rain must fall. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

9. Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. — Langston Hughes

10. All was silent as before, all silent save the dripping rain. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

11. He who marries on a rainy day will be happy for the rest of his life. — French Proverb

12. A rose must remain with the sun and the rain or its lovely promise won’t come true. — Ray Evans

13. Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain. — Author unknown

14. Those who profess to favour freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. — Frederick Douglass

15. Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots. — Frank A. Clark

16. Giving advice to the ignorant is like the rain falling on muddy ground. — Iranian Proverb

17. A banker is a man who lends you an umbrella when the weather is fair, and takes it away from you when it rains. — Author unknown

18. Remember even though the outside world might be raining, if you keep on smiling the sun will soon show its face and smile back at you. — Anna Lee

19. The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. When I’m inspired, I get excited because I can’t wait to see what I’ll come up with next. Find out who you are and do it on purpose. — Dolly Parton

20. I can see clearly now; the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.
Johnny Nash

Sources:

Inspiration Falls!
Hub Pages
Said What?


Ocean conditions are playing tricks on Hood Canal

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Hood Canal continues to baffle us humans with scenarios that we have never seen before, as I outline in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun. The canal’s latest failing is to forget that, by this time of year, there is supposed to be a layer of dense, oxygenated water lying on the bottom.

I’m being facetious, of course, about how the canal is “supposed to” behave. The fact that researchers are seeing something for the first time in Hood Canal does not mean it has never occurred before. And the fact that natural conditions can be highly variable does not mean that human inputs of nitrogen have no influence over the life or death of sea creatures.

As it has been explained to me, in years when natural conditions push Hood Canal close to the danger zone, human factors can push it over the edge. So limiting nitrogen flowing into the canal can make a real difference, especially in years when natural factors gang up to deplete the oxygen supply.

As I explained in some detail in today’s story, conditions in Hood Canal the past 18 months have been interesting to watch. Early in 2009, the average dissolved oxygen in the canal was near record highs, then the level dropped rapidly to measurements at or below what is normally seen in the fall. Over the winter, the levels never came back up — which is something never observed before. Now the levels are beginning to drop again, and we don’t know how low they will go.

What is encouraging about all the monitoring and studies conducted the past few years is that we can actually measure what is happening in real time, and we are in a better position to explain why the canal is responding as it does. Now if only we could predict the weather and ocean conditions, which seem to have a mind of their own …


Amusing Monday: Just another rainy day

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Today is the first day of summer, and I’m not sure what to expect from the weather. Winter rains just keep coming, crimping Father’s Day activities yesterday and making me wonder what will happen now that summer is officially here.

We are living the stereotype for Western Washington weather. You know the jokes:

  • It only rains twice a year in Seattle: August through April and May through July.
  • What does daylight-saving time mean in Seattle? An extra hour of rain.
  • What’s the definition of a Seattle optimist? A guy with a sun visor on his rain hat.
  • How to predict weather in Seattle: If you can see Mt Rainier, it’s going to rain. If not, it already is.
  • A newcomer to Seattle arrives on a rainy day. He gets up the next day and it’s raining. It also rains the day after that, and the day after that. He goes out to lunch and sees a young kid and asks out of despair, “Hey kid, does it ever stop raining around here?” The kid says, “How do I know? I’m only 6.”

I’m mostly serious when I tell newcomers that you can expect three months of summer in Western Washington — but not all at once, and don’t try to guess when it will come and go.

There’s the joke about the honest weatherman who says, , “Today’s forecast is bright and sunny with an 80% chance that I’m wrong.”

So, with the hope that we’ll get to see some nice weather this year, here are a few riddles, quotes and facts about rain:

Q: What’s the difference between a horse and the weather?
A: One is reined up and the other rains down.

Q:
What do you call it when it rains chickens and ducks?
A: Foul (fowl) weather.

Everybody is talking about the weather but nobody does anything about it. – Mark Twain

Largest rainfall on record: Tropical Cyclone Denise, Jan. 8, 1966, 71.9 inches (6 feet) in 24 hours, La Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean off the East Coast of Africa. (See Wikipedia for other rainfall records.)

Weather the Weather

Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.

Thanks to Julian T. Rubin for compiling most of these rain-related jokes.


Would you believe it was the warmest May on record?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

You wouldn’t know it from recent weather along the West Coast, but the month of May this year was the warmest May ever recorded across the globe, according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

NOAA graphic / Click to enlarge

Worldwide, the average land temperature for May was 1.87 degrees F. higher than May’s long-term average of 52 degrees. That makes it the warmest May ever recorded.

On the ocean, meanwhile, surface temperatures averaged .99 degree F. above the average of 61.3 degrees. That makes it the second warmest May on record, behind only May of 1998.

In Western Washington, we had a cool, wet May — the third coolest in the last 25 years, as Kitsap Sun reporter Ed Friedrich reported at the beginning of the month. That just goes to show again that regional weather may have little bearing on global climate.

According to NCDC, warm temperatures in May were present over most of the world’s land masses — the warmest areas being Eastern North America, Eastern Brazil, Eastern Europe, Southern Asia, Eastern Russia and Equatorial Africa. Numerous locations in Ontario, Canada, had their warmest May on record.

Besides the West Coast, cool areas in May included Northern Argentina, Interior Asia and Western Europe. Germany had its coolest May since 1991 and its 12th coolest May on record.

The period of March through May also brought record highs for the combined land and ocean surface temperatures across the Earth. See the news release for details.

Arctic sea ice was 3.7 percent below the 1979-2000 average and melted 50 percent faster than the average May melting rate, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice was 7.3 percent above the 1979-2000 average, resulting in the fourth largest extent on record for the month of May.


December was shivering cold across much of U.S.

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Climate data show that the month of December was indeed the winter monster that many people across the country believed it to be.

The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. in December was 30.2 degrees F, which is 3.2 degrees below the monthly average, according to a preliminary summary released this morning by NOAA’s National Climate Data Center. (No, this does not negate global warming.)

Precipitation was 2.88 inches, or 0.65 inch above the monthly long-term average (1901 to 2000).

For all of 2009, the contiguous U.S. was .3 degrees warmer than average, and precipitation was 2.33 inches above average. Temperatures were above normal in parts of the South, Southwest and West, while much of the Central Plains and Midwest were below normal.

December 2009 was the 11th wettest December on record. This is the fourth consecutive December that the contiguous U.S. has had above normal precipitation.

Washington was one of only four states with below average precipitation for December. The others were also Northwest states: Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming.

We kept hearing about snow in other regions. Satellite observations showed snow covering 4.1 million square kilometers in December — the largest extent of snow cover for any December since records began in 1966.

Several major cities, including Philadelphia, Washington, and Oklahoma City, had their snowiest Decembers on record.

Drought conditions improved in California and South Texas, but became worse in Arizona.

One can arrange the data on the NCDC site to look at trends in various ways.


Storm in the Olympics creates mist on Hood Canal

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
<small>Photo by Dr. Dale Ireland</small>

Photo by Dr. Dale Ireland (Click to enlarge)

UPDATE: Time lapse of the action posted on YouTube by Dr. Dale.
——————

On an evening as hot as this, it seems odd to have a misty-looking Hood Canal. Dr. Dale Ireland submitted this photo taken this evening from his home, which looks across the canal to the Olympic Mountains. He says the layer of haze possibly resulted from cold air flowing down the Dosewallips River valley. A thunderstorm was under way in the mountains.

Bremerton National Airport reached an all-time temperature record today, when the thermometer topped out at 104 degrees. This was three degrees hotter than the previous all-time high for Bremerton — 101 degrees on Aug. 10, 1981. Read the story prepared by reporter Mandy Simpson for tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun.


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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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