El Nino Rains: Comparing 2015 so far to other beasts of the past

The fever pitch of El Nino headlines and articles isn’t slowing down. In fact, it’s only growing:

El Nino Fever Pitch

It comes mostly with speculation, preparation, and wonder. Some of the headlines are ridiculous (just go back through photos on my Twitter timeline). Most are reasonable. But it’s news. And it’s clearly a high impact weather phenomenon.

So it begs the question: How’s it doing? Is El Nino behaving like it’s supposed to? Specifically with regard to rainfall. Remember, this El Nino event is a strong one. In fact, it’s the strongest since 1997, and in some respects, it may be the strongest on record. So we have a pretty clear set of analogs to look at and see if this year fits the mold.

Judging by the temperature forecast for the next 10-15 days, the pattern seems to be mostly behaving like a strong El Nino should in December. How about rain? Let’s look back at other actual strong El Nino events and see where 2015-16 is falling relative to those events, specifically in terms of rainfall.

A caveat here: Remember, it’s early. Winter is a marathon, not a sprint. Because something looks one way on December 8th, doesn’t mean one month from now we’re going to be in the same boat. But there are a few interesting nuggets to pull out of this, and I think it’s mostly a good idea to give people some perspective on certain story lines.

Just as a note, my definition for “strong” El Nino events was using a blend from Jan Null’s list post-1950 and Klaus Wolter’s list pre-1950, as well as some “artistic liberty.” Not everyone agrees on the perfect definition of what a strong El Nino is, but hopefully I captured the majority. I’m tracking rain from July 1-June 30.

Southern California

When people think of El Nino, many think of SoCal. You know, mudslides in Malibu, etc. I believe the mayhem of 1997-98 and subsequent personification by Chris Farley has set a level of expectations.

Thus far, 2015 is behaving pretty much about where other strong El Nino events have done in Los Angeles:

Los Angeles Rainfall

Every strong El Nino event back to the 1800s has had normal or above normal rainfall in Los Angeles. Thus far, thanks mostly to a freak wet event in early autumn, Los Angeles is indeed above normal. It is worth noting, that 2015-16 wouldn’t be the only strong El Nino year to see a “freak” early autumn rainfall event followed by a prolonged period of dryness into December. So if people are wondering where the rain is, wait a few more weeks. We are entering the ramp up period. If things don’t start picking up by late month, then we can start to worry.

Northern California

Northern California is a conundrum during strong El Nino events. Historically, San Francisco is split between above and below normal rainfall, so it’s tough to say too much at this early stage. That said, it is worth nothing, that as of right now, this El Nino is on the lower end of the envelope in terms of rainfall in strong El Nino events in the Bay Area:

San Francisco Rainfall

Like Los Angeles, it’s still early. The ramp should start soon if we’re going to go above normal, so again, if things don’t perk up by late December, it might be time to plan on a normal or drier than normal winter at best.

Washington/Oregon

This is where it gets interesting. For the most part, the El Nino signal in the Pacific Northwest is somewhat mixed. You get dry years and you get wet years. Usually, however, you don’t have a super wet year when there’s a strong El Nino.

In Portland (where the data is only available back to the 1957-58 El Nino) no strong El Nino has been wetter than normal. Seattle is mixed from slightly above normal to way below normal. So far in Seattle? It’s the wettest strong El Nino to this point on record, and it’s not even close. This autumn has been incredibly wet so far.

Seattle Rainfall

If we keep up at this rate (and the current forecast implies this), this will quickly become one the wettest, if not the wettest strong El Nino event on record in Seattle.

Great Basin/Rockies

In Denver, the bend is toward a wetter than normal outcome in strong El Nino years, but it is mixed. So far, Denver has been mid-pack for strong El Nino events.

Denver Rainfall.png

Salt Lake City is a bit more mixed, split almost evenly between wetter than normal and drier than normal (82-83 was a beast there). So far, we’re doing middle of the pack there also.

SLC Rainfall

It will be interesting to follow this as we go through the cold season. I’ll likely be tracking this, as it’s good to establish where this El Nino event falls. For everyone, it will probably be different. But thankfully we have a useful sample in a number of places to utilize.

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Catching Up

Been out of town the last few days for a conference, so here’s a rundown of some things I’ve marked of interest. Plus we’ll talk about the weather for the weekend.

 

CIMSS Satellite Blog Capture of Satellite Loop/Lightning From Weekend Midwest Snow Blitz

So the Upper Midwest got absolutely spanked over last weekend. Just a massive snowstorm, even for that part of the country. Here’s some information on that storm.

 

The image on the right is courtesy of the CIMSS Satellite Blog, showing the development and movement of the storm as it lifted through the Midwest, along with lightning strikes. Thundersnow isn’t too rare or uncommon, but it still seems to be surprising when it happens. That usually means though that you’re dealing with a bigtime storm or some very heavy snowfall.  The storm set a few daily records at Minneapolis and Duluth. But the snow was quick to compress…it is still somewhat early in the snow season. Overall, the maximum totals looked to sit around 6-12″ in a band from Duluth back through MSP, Mankato, and down to the Iowa border.

The NWS in Minneapolis has a fantastic write up on the storm.

Another solid write up from the NWS in Duluth for Northeast Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin.

Also a good write up from Minnesota Public Radio on some of the more unique aspects of this storm…particular the convective aspect, as well as the fact that temperatures were in a prime range for good accumulations.

Keeping on the topic of winter weather and convection: Big Sky Convection’s Dann Cianca has a good write up and very nice pictures from catching some convective snow in Denver on Tuesday.

Congrats to the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang for having the phrase “Snowmageddon” make the list of the top words of 2010. They were likely the original ones to coin this term. I’m not sure who coined “Snowpacalypse,” but while it was clever and useful for last winter, I hope this trend of coming up with clever catch phrases for every snowstorm stops. I’m still comfortable with “Super Bowl Snow” or “President’s Day Storm.” But in rare instances (and last winter was very rare), it’s manageable.

Shifting gears to climate stuff. Here’s the statement from Judith Curry for today’s Rational Discussion of Climate Change. The word is that the hearing was relatively uneventful, save for a few occasional heated discussions here and there. Setting the tone for the next couple years perhaps. More details and links for the testimony from the Dot Earth blog at the NY Times. So check that out if you have some interest.

A lot of times you’d think supercells were strictly an American thing. But you’d be mistaken. Check out some photos from this beauty off the French coast. The article is written in French, so if you don’t know French, oh well..the pictures tell the story.

As hurricane season winds down, Greg Nordstrom has a look at how the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) stacks up compared to some other hyperactive years. This year isn’t in the top 5, despite I think being there for actual *number* of storms. There was some pretty pathetic named storms this year (Nicole and Bonnie come to mind). Now, ACE is a decent gauge of a season or storm’s intensity, but it only factors in wind velocity and duration. We’ve learned in recent years especially that there is a LOT more to a hurricane than wind speed, pressure, surge, etc. Not all 125 mph storms are alike. So while this season may go down with the perception of sort of a bust (since the US was spared) and even ACE to some extent, this season was definitely hyperactive and worth the insane forecasts put out prior to the start of the season. I think we just simply dodged a bullet this year. It doesn’t make anyone more overdue or less overdue or anything…it just is what it is.

Here’s just a pretty simple overview as to why this may have been…sort of explaining how the pattern from last winter translated into what occurred this summer/autumn.

In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic this morning, what a mess. Some crazy gusty winds, as well as tornadoes. A friend of mine had some family in and crazy pictures from the Town of Ghent in Upstate NY, which was hit by an EF-1 tornado. Wind gusts seemed to be widespread in the 35-55 mph range from Virginia up through New England. The wind did a lot of damage to an inn under construction in New Canaan, CT. The Trenton-Mercer Airport in Ewing, NJ was especially hard hit with a number of small planes that got flipped over. A link to The Trentonian here. This sort of thing is more common earlier in autumn, but still wicked, but I don’t think too unprecedented. And lastly, the CIMSS Satellite Blog with some mountain wave captures…never fun if you’re flying.

Lastly, in what could be the coolest minor league sports move ever, the Omaha Royals have changed their name to the “Storm Chasers!” I don’t know if the Royals “brand” has been tarnished in recent years, which prompted the change, but it’s really cool regardless. The article does point out that things have changed in recent years (see: Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Richmond Flying Squirrels, etc.). I’m all for cool minor league team names.

PSU E-Wall GFS Model Map for Saturday Evening

Just a quick synopsis here on what’s coming. The image to the left shows the GFS model’s depiction of weather on the West Coast come Saturday evening. This is a MUCH different look than we’ve seen of late out here, with almost 60-70% of days I would suspect having offshore flow, dry weather, and oodles of sunshine…a nice respite after an awful summer. Well, the storm door has officially opened. And it starts this weekend. Strong low pressure off the British Columbia coast is driving a series of cold fronts, rain, and snow into the Northwest and eventually down the coast. By Saturday evening, that low pressure parks along the Oregon coast. As we go through the next few days, each one of the cold fronts swinging through is going to reinforce and strengthen cold air over the Northwest, driving down snow levels to around 2,000′ initially, then below 1,000′, and then perhaps down to “ground level” by the time we get to late in the weekend, so places like Seattle and Portland may not be exempt from snowfall. And this could set the stage for a White Thanksgiving for a lot of places in the Northwest.

Down here in California, it’s going to get colder as well, with Sierra snowfall likely, and even snow in the SoCal mountains. Just assuming from the maps, without specifically forecasting, that snow levels will approach or dip below 5,000′ in the San Gabriel and/or San Bernardino Mountains early next week. The question I guess becomes whether or not we see any precipitation at that time. This is a very interesting and cold pattern for the West Coast though, so the next few days definitely should be fun to watch.

This cold air should also work its way to the east during Thanksgiving week, bringing a  pretty strong cold shot to the East cities just after Thanksgiving. Stay tuned!

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.

Volcano

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.