Is it a Heat Wave or a BBQ Pit? Fires Add Smoke to the Misery

It was VERY smoky in the Northwest Wednesday unfortunately because of major fires in the Interior US and Canada.

Satellite image of Washington State showing abundant smoke over much of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca Wednesday.
Photo from Seattle’s Lake Washington of the sunset view Wednesday evening through the thick smoke haze produced from Canadian fires. (Photo by NWS Seattle on Twitter)

BELOW were the highs Wednesday for select cities. Southwest WA and Western OR are being particularly hit hard by this heat wave. Interior Western WA and Puget Sound were actually sparred some of the worst of the heat today by the smoke; it was thick enough to act as a cloud to dampen the radiation and limit warming in places such as Seattle. It remains to be seen if that will be the case Thursday. If not, the hottest day if the heat may very well be Thursday for Western WA (and about the same for Western OR). This, along with an Air Quality Alert in effect for much of Western WA/OR means those in the area will need to not only be careful with strenuous activity to avoid heat-related illnesses, but also avoid breathing problems, if sensitive to such smoke particulates.

(record highs in red)

WASHINGTON

Seattle (National Weather Service Office): 88

Seattle (International Airport): 91 – Old Record 89 (2009). Special Note: Seattle also shattered its daily record for warmest minimum temperature with a morning low of 69 (old record was 61 set back in 2015) and it ranks as the 2nd warmest daily minimum temperature on record.

Olympia: 91

Hoquiam: 89 – Old Record 81 (1993)

Vancouver: 102

Quillayute (North WA Coast): 98 – Old Record 89 (1993). Special Note: This was likely caused by easterly downslope winds; easterly surface winds flowing along the higher hilly terrain descends down the slopes resulting in “adiabatic heating” (compression heating from increasing pressure on the air molecules as the flow drops in elevation). This hot air blows into town and shoots the temperature up fast. This process occurs throughout the region and is the reason why it is typically a “dry heat” in Western WA/OR during heat waves. The heated air becomes dry, with little moisture added to it.

OREGON

Astoria: 93 – Old Record 88 (1939)

Portland (International Airport): 103 – Old Record 96 (1986)

Troutdale (East Portland Metro): 105 – Old Record 99 (1995)

Hillsboro: 105 – Old Record 99 (1939)

Salem: 107 – Old Record 102 (1939)

Eugene: 102 – Old Record 99 (1939)

Medford: 112 – Old Record 105 (1993)

Klamath Falls: 99 – Old Record 94 (1977)

As you see, for Oregon, there was a major theme in the records for Wednesday’s climate stations. It was the hottest day many of these locations had seen on this date since 1939.

Please be safe if you live in this region the next couple of days. Drink PLENTY of water, take breaks from the heat as necessary, use fans if you don’t have air conditioning (common problem in this region, I lived there without air conditioning and the summers statistically are generally getting warmer because of anthropogenic climate change…), and again, like me, I have asthma; if you don’t need to do anything strenuous outside DON’T! Just drive instead of walk or just stay inside, cool and relax. The slightly cooler weather (still above normal, however) starts Friday.

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Heat wave hits Pacific NW this week; A look at Climate Change Impacts on Extreme Heat

If you live in Western Washington and like roasting near 100 degree temperatures, you are and will be getting your wish the next 72 hrs. As powerful upper-atmospheric ridge of high pressure is establishing itself over the West Coast of the US, the combination of clear skies and subsiding (downward moving as opposed to upward rising) air under this high pressure system – subsiding air warms as it sinks – is leading to incredible heat over the interior areas of Western WA/OR and Northern CA.

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Forecast surface temperatures at 5 pm PDT Thursday. Upper-90s near Seattle around 100 in Southwest WA, mid-100s in the Willamette Valley and and Medford, OR area. Eastern WA also hit hard with high heat. (Global Forecast System 11 am PDT Tuesday model run).
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Forecast upper-air map showing the atmospheric wave pattern on the 500 millibar pressure surface (approximately 18,000-18,500 ft over the US) on 11 am Thursday. I added text to show the locations of the ridge relative to its influence on the “extreme heat” (where it is producing 20-25 degree above normal temperatures) over the Pacific Northwest. (Global Forecast System computer 11 am Tuesday model run).

Extreme heat warnings have been issued for virtually ALL OF Washington State, Western Oregon, and much of Northern California.

Shown below are the average high temperatures for today (August 1st) for selected cities in Western WA/OR followed by forecast highs for today-Thurs or Fri. The forecast highs in red are highs which would break the record high for that day.

Seattle, WA-

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 77

Forecast Highs (Tues-Fri): 87, 94, 98, 95

Olympia, WA (state capitol)-

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 79

Forecast Highs (Tues-Fri): 92, 98, 103, 95

Portland, OR-

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 82

Forecast High (Tues-Thurs): 99, 105, 105 (All-time record high is 107 from 1965/1981)

Salem, OR (state Capitol)-

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 84

Forecast High (Tues-Thurs): 99, 106, 105 (All-time record high is 108 from ’27, ’41, ’81)

According to the 5 pm PDT observation, Salem has reached 100 degrees, exceeding their forecast temp and tying the daily record of 100 degrees for today.

Eugene, OR-

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 84

Forecast High (Tues-Thurs): 99, 106, 103 (All-time record high is 108 from ’81)

Medford, OR- (edited at 10:40 pm CDT Tuesday to add this city)

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 93

Forecast High (Tues-Thurs): 108, 114, 111 (All-time record high is 115 from ’46)

It’s very possible that for a portion of the Willamette Valley, especially the Central Willamette Valley, Wednesday could be one of the most intense heat days on record!

The worst of the heat for Western WA and Western OR is expected to end after Friday more seasonable to reasonable above normal temperatures this weekend.


One of the most significant impacts of human-induced Global Climate Change are the impact on heat waves. As the average temperature of Earth warms, many local temperature patterns are shifting toward temperatures which are “hot” to “extremely hot” relative to average temperatures in the mid-20th century (typically defined by their standard deviation from the mean temperature for the local area).

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These charts, based on data by NASA climate scientist James Hansen shows the strong deviation in in the bell curve for 2005-2015 local Northern Hemisphere temperatures relative to the same distribution of temperatures in 1951-1980. The trend has been to many more “extremely hot” temperatures and “hot” temperatures have become the new normal in the Northern Hemisphere on average. See full NY Times story HERE

This shift has had implications for impacts on everything from drought to human health such as heat-related illness and vector-borne illnesses. It will continue to do so as carbon dioxide levels continue to climb. The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record in observed human history of ~410 parts per million in May of this year, the highest level in at least several million years (and humanity is pumping it into the atmosphere at a rate unseen in the past 65 million years).

At this time, global warming has reached approximately 1 degree C (nearly 2 degrees F) since the early modern Industrial Era (the 1880s). It is statistically known that heat waves, droughts and also heavy precipitation events (because of additional moisture added to a warmer atmosphere) are being impacted directly by climate change.

Tropical Storm Emily impacting much of Florida Monday

Tropical Storm Emily formed last night over the eastern Gulf of Mexico.  An area of low pressure developed thunderstorm activity which managed to consolidate and organize as it approached the central gulf coast of Florida overnight. Meteorologists began to notice the increasing organization of the system on local radar and at 6 am EDT this morning, the National Hurricane Center in Miami declared the system “Emily”.

Regional radar showing huge rain extent associated with Emily near and south of the center.
Enhanced infrared image showing cloud temperatures of Emily. Coldest temps (reds) near center along central gulf coast.
 

As an upper atmospheric trough of low pressure digs southeastward from the upper-Midwest over the next 2-3 days, this is expected to steer Emily northeastward. It will move out of Florida by overnight tonight/early Tue and head off into the open waters of the Atlantic well-offshore the East Coast. Land interaction today will weaken it but it may regain some strength over the waters of the Gulf Stream mid-week.

Atlantic tropical cyclone statistics thus far this season: 5 named storms, 0 hurricanes, 0 major hurricanes. On July 31st, on average the Atlantic is expected (based on 1966-2009 data) to have observed only 1 named storm, 0 hurricanes, 0 major hurricanes (on Aug 1st, the average named storms increases to 2). As we go deeper into the month of August expect the hurricane numbers to go up thanks to favorable below average wind shear and above normal oceanic heat content currently in existence in the Main Development Region (MDR) of the Tropical Atlantic. 


This area is largely turned off in earlier months but ramps ups later in the season as tropical waves develop from the tropics of West Africa and moves south and west of the Cape Verde Islands. So the Atlantic still has a lot left in the tank as far as heat energy to release.

Hilary and Irwin making plans for a Fujiwhara waltz over the open ocean

Let’s learn something cool about the tropics!

The past couple of weeks, the Eastern Pacific Basin has been quite active with multiple active tropical cyclones churning, dying and new ones forming. All while the North Atlantic Basin has been largely silent. We’ll get into the pattern set up for tropical activity between the two basins in the coming few weeks in a moment. But first, let’s discuss two interest systems in process in the EPac – Hilary and Irwin.

(Intensities are as of 4 pm CDT Thurs)

Hurricane Hilary is currently a Category 1 with max winds of 75 mph moving to the west-northwest. Meanwhile, ~480 nautical miles southwest of Hilary is Tropical Storm Irwin. It has max winds of 60 mph and drifting westward. Neither system is a threat to populated land masses and both are quickly heading for cooler waters north of the subtropical Pacific, where much drier air also exists in the mid-levels of the atmosphere. Both will lead to rapid deterioration of the cyclones this weekend.

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Visible satellite image showing Tropical Storm Irwin and Hurricane Hilary in close proximity at 4 pm CDT July 27, 2017. Cooler waters are noted to the north producing stable air mass near the sea surface, including deep marine stratus clouds and “closed cell” cumulus cloud deck. Stable air mass is non-conducive for thunderstorms hurricanes need to sustain themselves.
wv
Same image at same time as above in the “water vapor” infrared channel, where mid-level water vapor is detected. The circled area is a fairly dry area where air is experiencing sinking motions, coinciding with the cooler surface waters and the lack of thunderstorm activity for deep atmospheric moisture. Deep dry air can disrupt thunderstorm activity in tropical cyclones and weaken them.

Later Sunday and into Monday, an amazing phenomenon is expected to occur. Because of the very close proximity of Hilary and Irwin – only several hundred miles apart – the two cyclones are expected to undergo a Fujiwhara Interaction. This describes when two vortices in close proximity begin to rotate around a common center or one around another if one is more dominant. It is named after the Japanese meteorologist Sakuhei Fujiwhara who first described the interaction scientifically in a 1921 paper.

It does not happen very often, but it is typically more common in the Western Pacific basin where a very large surface area of favorable tropical development and maintenance exists and many cyclones can develop simultaneously and sometimes in close proximity.

Numerical models have shown the possible interaction for days.

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The slideshow above displays the Hurricane Weather Research & Forecasting Model forecast initialized at 11 pm PDT Wednesday with the forecast valid 5 pm PDT Sunday – 11 am PDT Monday. This model is “nested” on Hilary to show its evolution (the colors are surface temperatures in degrees C and wind barbs are in knots). However, you can see Irwin orbiting around it on its south and east sides Sunday evening – Monday morning. Irwin will likely weaken and die (along with Hilary, not long after), or will become absorbed by Hilary.

Nature never ceases to amazes in what it can do with the laws of physics!

 

August 21, 2017 Eclipse is on its way! What to expect?

We’re now less than four weeks away from the historic total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017! This will be the first total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States since February 1979 when a total eclipse swept through northern Oregon, southern Washington, into Idaho, Montana and the Canadian Prairies. Much of the Northwest dealt with clouds in the coastal and western regions as cities such as Portland fell into a post-sunrise darkness.

Well now it’s 2017 and this eclipse is in a much better month…August. While this doesn’t guarantee good weather for any location along the path of totality; convection (thunderstorms) and cloud debris can cause issues on the Plains, while marine clouds can cause problems in the Pacific Northwest for example, generally quieter conditions with the jet stream and the domination of summer time high pressure and upper-air subsidence across the continent during the late summer means more opportunity for less cloud cover and quieter conditions across more parts of the country to view the eclipse in August than, say February.

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Path of umbra (inner lunar shadow) where totality will be observed as well as coverage of penumbra (outer shadow) where ONLY partial eclipse will be observed. The center line of the umbra will reach the Oregon Coast at ~17:16 UTC (1:16 pm EDT) moving at 2,416 mph and exit the South Carolina Coast at ~18:49 UTC (2:49 pm EDT) moving at 1,489 mph. ( map found on Wikipedia)
In order to assess the the most important aspect of observing an eclipse – sky conditions – the University of Idaho School of Natural Resources performed a climate analysis for the United States to determine the probability that a location will have clear skies at 10:30 am local time on August 21st. This time is picked because of the arrival of totality on the West Coast.

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Clear Sky Probability for the contiguous United States for 10:30 am local time August 21st. High probabilities are over portsions of the Western US, minus Western WA/OR and CA valleys where morning low marine clouds can occur. (U of Idaho College of Natural Resources)
While clear skies would be absolutely optimal for an eclipse, ESPECIALLY totality,  few to scattered cloud coverage (25-50%), while less fortunate in terms of direct solar photography and SAFE solar viewing, can still yield interesting observations leading up to and during totality. Because the umbra is quite thin, interesting atmospheric optics can occur. Although the area under totality becomes relatively dark, the light outside of the shadow can still be seen to observers. And the reflected light will appear to be twilight-like in color and glow. You could call it “eclipse twilight”. And with any cloud in the area, they will change colors or change in reflection of light as the darkness rolls over them, great for photographic and video effect. Just before totality, the sun itself will start to appear as if it’s “dying” in the final minute or two and the shadow will start to rapidly advance out of the western sky like a monster storm…except it’s not a storm 😀

In addition, regardless of scattered or no clouds, in the last min or so before (and after) totality, if you look at plain surfaces you may witness wavy motions like those in water known as shadow bands. These form as the focused, but rapidly weakening light of the sun is being distorted by the dense atmosphere of Earth. Those very near the totality path may also witness them.

This YouTube video I found some weeks ago shows both the prominent shadow bands and the “eclipse twilight” with clouds.

Now I’m a meteorologist. So when we talk about having a giant astronomical object blasting a shadow across a continent at 2000 mph and putting regions into nighttime in the middle of the day, a meteorologist is going to ask, how is this going to impact the weather?

For those at 75% percent partial eclipse and higher, the surface temperature will start to become depressed temporarily as the incoming solar radiation is reduced. This will be especially apparent for eclipses during the midday. As totality approaches, any winds may calm as a result of “fair weather convection” weakening as surface heating completely shuts down (this is where upward vertical motions produced by surface heating, leading to local winds die down).

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Here’s an EXCELLENT website using a Google Map layout where you can click on a location for eclipse “contact” times (start of partial, start and end of totality, end of partial) and maximum obscuration of the solar disk (areal coverage by the moon): HERE

In a couple weeks, numerical models will START to give us some distant idea of how the weather patterns may evolve for August 21st. I’m especially interested, because my location (Lincoln, NE) WILL experience totality. Will likely head to the south side of town to experience roughly 1 min 45 seconds of it and some of the very partial eclipse before that. It would be my first total solar eclipse since I was born and raised in Seattle but that event didn’t happen there and happened 5 yrs before I was born anyways.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as weather updates come!

 

The US is burning badly in 2017.

2017 at year-to-date is currently ranking at the 2nd highest acres burned on record! And much of that burning is happening in the forests of Alaska where climate change is having huge effects on both precipitation and warming temperatures.

I have to admit, I was surprised to see this amount of acreage burned. But, in reality it is really not that surprising. A very positive winter in terms of precipitation ended much of the drought in CA and the West. However, this was allowed for abundant vegetation growth for active fuels available. And now that summer long since come, the dry season means numerous fires from human activity and lightning from dry thunderstorms. I’m addition, abnormally dry soil conditions have begun to redevelop over the Four Corners States as well as rapidly deteriorating drought on the high plains of Montana.

National Drought Mitigation Center (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Here’s Alaska’s situation if you were so curious. They have become abnormally dry to moderate drought recently across much of the state.


There are 48 active fires across the Western US as of today (according to the Weather Channel).

If there are positives, it is that for parts of the Desert Southwest, the Monsoon, which can bring potentially fire starting thunderstorms can also bring beneficial rains to moisten soils and fuels, so as long as there isn’t too much falling at once (flash flooding from some storms is a common problem every year).

Wildfires have and are expected to continue to statistically increase in a warming world because of global climate change.