A Sierra Special!

Map of NWS Watches/Warnings/Advisories as of 5 PM Pacific, 11/19/10

Wanted to discuss what’s about to unfold in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains of California over the next couple of days. Now, the Sierra get rocked every winter…and sometimes they get mind boggling snow amounts. But for some reason, every time it happens, I’m always floored by the numbers and the forecast. The map at the left shows the mess in the West…winter storm warnings for the entire Sierra Crest, mountains around Los Angeles, as well as northern California, Lake Tahoe, Carson City, and Reno. I’d classify this storm as “fun.” Let’s discuss how some of this will unfold.

Here’s one of the best forecasts ever…for the High Sierra (~ 12,000′) , just northwest of Mammoth. That’s 64-88″ of snow. The NAM model has been especially aggressive with this system, bringing extremely high amounts of precip to the Sierra Crest during this event. Here are a few maps..

Saturday Morning

Sunday Morning

Monday Morning

The first wave/cold front pushes through tonight and Saturday morning, dropping a fairly heavy amount of precip (liquid) on the Sierra. The second wave/front swings through Sunday morning, with probably an equal or greater punch. Wave #3 moves through Monday morning and should just be the “insult to injury” system. You have to remember how California is geographically set up. You basically have an 11-13,000′ wall sitting in the middle of the state and this soaks up any moisture on  a westerly wind component, which just allows them to wring everything out in those mountains.

The NAM model is admittedly ridiculously aggressive with QPF totals over 6″ on the northern crest by Monday evening. Using a standard 10:1 ratio of liquid to snow, that’s 60″ or 5 feet. But you would assume the ratios would be much higher so…yeah, you do the math. The GFS is a little more tepid, spitting out 4″ at max over the northern crest and “only” about 2.5-3.5″ liquid in the rest of the Sierra. That still comes out to close to 60″ when you factor in higher ratios. So the Sierra, Tahoe, etc. will get pummeled in this one, with 2-4 feet of snow on average above 8,000′ or so and lesser amounts in the lower high terrain.

We’re not quite done yet, as that Monday storm may be a sneaky one for the Northwest and deliver snow to Seattle or the area around it…and with cold air locked it, snow levels will get awfully low! Then that storm will move into the Rockies and places like Salt Lake City may get pummeled on Tuesday. An interesting start to holiday travel week!

Hitting the Links

Today is the one year anniversary of the debacle known as “Climategate.” Dr. Judith Curry examines if the climate science community has learned anything from it. There are a few good links to some other articles on the issue. Andy Revkin of the New York Times has a recap of what the last year has been like. While I don’t necessarily agree with how this was done, I think Climategate has done more good than bad for the long-term state of the science. It’s put things in perspective and helped curb the “science is settled” crowd to allow us to look at this with a wider focus before making economically destructive decisions. It’s re-opened a two sided debate and brought skeptics to the table. And that’s important for science.

Related: A departing Republican congressman from South Carolina fires a warning shot about dismissing climate change.

Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano that messed up travel this summer, is the focus of a new paper in Nature that examines more about what was known about the volcano and what happened.

Today’s edition of the CIMSS Satellite blog shows ice and cold around Hudson Bay.

The Capital Weather Gang examines if the flood control plan being developed for a Flood Wall in Washington, DC is enough to do its job.

And from the photography side, time lapser Tom Lowe is putting together some truly beautiful and amazing scenes from the Southwest into a movie. Check out the site and some previews here. It really is some incredibly beautiful work.

The Missile Launch Edition

An interesting 24 hours here in SoCal. This story about the “missile” is fascinating.  If you haven’t seen the video, here’s the report from a San Diego CBS affiliate (they do a lot of cross-work/outsourcing to their sister station in LA):

So you be the judge. Is that a missile? At first, I was flat sold on it. And to some extent I’m still skeptical it isn’t. What appears to be a rapid movement of whatever it is has me still curious. Time for the obligatory: BUT. But…sunset can do some mighty weird tricks to your eyes. I’ve seen high level clouds at sunset that were at least 100 miles offshore before. And as explained in this blog entry (based on a similar event from several months ago), it’s entirely possible, if not likely, that what was witnessed off the coast of LA was not a missile, but a contrail from a commercial jet. In fact, the author of that blog has pinned down what flight they suspect it was. The government subscribes to that theory…for what it’s worth I suppose. The chopper pilot who caught whatever it was seems to be convinced otherwise. I’m going to cautiously side with the government’s explanation for now. Like I said, weird optical tricks can be played on you at sunset, and the theory about the flight, the timing, and the flight path makes sense. Yesterday was a decent day for contrails as well, so that explanation doesn’t come off as a cop out…it seems rather legitimate. We’ll see what we find out down the line.


Damage from Mt. Merapi's Eruption in Indonesia from videographer James Reynolds: http://yfrog.com/0wcnprj

Indonesia continues to be active. Mt. Merapi is so much of an issue right now that President Obama is having to cut short his visit to the country because of concerns about ash from the volcano. Ash and aircraft do not mix at all, so this is probably a prudent move. The image to the left is damage from Merapi as seen by James Reynolds, a videographer of all things natural disaster. Like the volcano in Iceland earlier this year, there is a webcam set up near the mountain. Unfortunately this seems to be very hot and cold, so you may want to bookmark it and periodically check it. According to the Eruptions volcano blog, the estimate is that Merapi has had a VEI (Volcano Explosivity Index) of between 3 and 4 so far. Just to put this in perspective, Mt. Redoubt in Alaska, which erupted in the spring of 2009 was around a VEI3. Our Icelandic volcano this past year (Eyjafjallajökull) was probably similar, if not a little less than Redoubt. So there isn’t anything substantially noteworthy about this from a large scale perspective at this point. For Merapi, this is a pretty typical eruption for it, where historically they’ve had VEI3-4 eruptions.

Lastly, here’s some Associate Press footage of the ash cloud from Merapi. Certainly an impressive scene:

Hitting the Links

Snow fell in Denver finally today, marking the first for them this winter season as well. Those of you snow hounds will enjoy some of the videos in that link, shot by storm chaser Tony Laubach.

A weather enthusiast in Seattle has been analyzing the satisfaction or misery of the summer and winter seasons by doing a statistical analysis. Well, it turns out the summer of 2010 was the 6th worst summer in Seattle since 1948. Summers and autumns in Seattle can be phenomenal, so this is ashame, especially since we’re in a La Nina, which climatologically favors greater than normal precipitation in the Northwest in winter.

Additional work is underway to try and secure New Orleans and surrounding areas from storm surge impacts during a hurricane.

Lastly, a fascinating blog entry…warning: long read about the scientific method and its applications in the current climate science debate. The author is a sociologist of science (awesome title), which basically means he’s studying the philosophy of science. It’s well worth a read (in fact, I am going to re-read it), as the argument about adhering to the principles of the scientific method has been a point of contention, especially since Climategate.

Wrapping Up the Nor’Easter, Some Other Things

At the left is a satellite image from NOAA depicting the massive nor’easter hitting New England yesterday. This was a very impressive storm, and it continues to impact with strong winds (as evidenced by watching the Rutgers/Army game at the Meadowlands Stadium). Gusts have generally been in the 35-55 mph range. Though I did see a 69 mph gust in Bennington County, VT (Woodford), that I assume was at a high elevation. Mount Washington in New Hampshire looks to have done just over 72 mph in the last 24 hours.

In terms of snowfall, it appears that an average of 6-12″ fell at some of the higher peaks of the Adirondacks and Green Mountains. I’ve seen 8″ reported at Little Whiteface Mountain, 7″ as of yesterday at Mt. Mansfield, VT, and 14″ at Killington. All in all a fairly impressive event!

Typhoon Megi

As the tropics in the Atlantic slowly wind down, the incredibly quiet Western Pacific is finally seeing some interesting activity. Typhoon Megi is a 120 mph storm, which will likely become a supertyphoon and appears headed for the northern part of Luzon (main island of the Philippines). The current forecast has it making landfall early morning (US Time) on Monday

Typhoon Megi East of the Philippines

. You can track Megi here. Also, Crownweather.com has a nice website with images and information on Megi. After the Philippines, it looks to head toward Hainan Island in southern China.



Arizona Tornado Outbreak

The National Weather Service in Flagstaff has put up a tremendous website with lots of images, graphics, pictures, and information on the tornado outbreak that struck parts of Arizona earlier this month. This event will go down as the largest single day tornado outbreak in Arizona history. Of course, we can assume that, but Arizona has become more densely populated in recent years, so there are probably a number of weather events that have gone unnoticed in that state in years past. That said, this was an incredible outbreak for anywhere west of the Continental Divide. I happened to be at work that morning monitoring some rain here in SoCal, but fixed on the radar in Central and Northern Arizona. Some of those radar signatures were as good as you’d see anywhere in the country. Some good stuff on that website from above.

Scientists and Programming

An interesting final topic for today. I found a link to an article from the Journal Nature’s website. The article discusses how in the wake of Climategate, there was a somewhat undiscussed issue that involved scientists and their ability to write code. One of the emails had a comment from a CRU scientists claiming his programming skills were “awful.” This is somewhat disturbing in the sense that a lot of what is being done in the climate arena (and other areas too) is being programmed and written now by scientists. The bottom line is that the skills of a lot of people has not caught up to the pace of technological development. It’s a good read, and it brings up some interesting points that you wouldn’t normally think about that I think illustrates a larger problem in our field, as well as other science fields. But I think with the discussion and the realization that what some of these scientist programmers do is so important to the field and research, this should help bring some additional awareness to the topic at hand. Hopefully at least in our field of meteorology, some of the graduate programs that exist more rigorously emphasize programming in their curriculum going forward.