Northwest Weather Workshop

March 3, 2008

SnapshotI spent a fun Saturday (at least fun for a  meteorologist), at the Pacific Northwest Weather Workshop up at the NOAA facility in NE Seattle.  It’s sponsored by the UofW, NOAA, and Puget Sound Chapter of AMS.  I enjoyed the presentations last year and this year was just as good.  I highly recommend the conference to any amateur or professional weather junkie. 

Since the weather is pretty quiet with just a warming trend the next few days, I’ll give you the highlights of the conference.  I only went to the 2nd day so I probably missed some good stuff on Friday.

1.  Wolf Read gave a wrap up of the December 2007 windstorm.  He didn’t have nearly enough time to cover his material (like my weathercast), but that’s how a conference goes.  Luckily you can get all his info on his website The Storm King

2.  Mike Gilroy of Puget Sound Clean Air Agency announced that they’ve bought 2 profilers that show temperature structure of the atmosphere up to around 3,000′.  At $150,000 each, that’s pretty cheap.  It can be moved and set up at a site within one hour.  The Portland NWS could sure use one to put at the mouth of the Gorge each winter and at the Coast each summer.

3. Jay Albrecht – NWS Seattle has updated his Historical Weather Viewer program (it’s now 2.0).  He gave away about 90 DVDs that have the program.  I made a beeline for him during break time.  It is a complete collection of upper-air maps and surface observations (including all coop sites).  The interface allows you to pick a date and then it plots any surface parameters on any NWS forecast area map such as Northwest Oregon.  Then the 250/500/850mb maps are contoured nicely in a separate window.  You can just hit the next day or previous day (or month or year) and cruise through a bunch of historical maps.  I installed it at home and was able to zoom through every January 1950 weather map in about 5 minutes.  Neat to see what upper level pattern brought such extreme cold.

4.  Cliff Mass from the University of Washington (one of my favorite professors), gave an update on the MM5 forecasting system that most of us use regularly.  The big news is that the MM5-GFS is going away, to be replaced (short and extended runs) by the currently running WRF-GFS.  So by the end of this month, we’ll look at WRF-GFS and MM5-NAM only.  The WRF is basically a slightly better model all around…time to move on apparently.

5.  Lynn McMurdie from UofW and Garret Wedam both gave talks about model accuracy in the Northwest.  TONS of numbers and information boils down to this…the NAM doesn’t do nearly as well on the West Coast as the GFS, ECMWF, and GEM models.  Not a big surprise there.

6.  Vancouver Tornado.  A bunch of folks from the Portland NWS did a talk on this one.  I don’t have 5 paragraphs of writing strength left, so hopefully they will put their presentation online somewhere.  Here’s the TV version:  Warmer than expected temps gave us higher CAPE, lower Lifted Index in a post-frontal environment.  Then a shortwave passing overhead was able to act on the instability already present in the airmass.  The storm descending off the Tualatin Mountains suddenly turned into a meso-cyclone as it did so.

7.  Snowpack Wars:  Looks like we have agreement…sort of.  Remember that last year media seized on the information that Phil Mote (Washington State Climatologist) put out.  The idea that the snowpack in the Cascades of Washington and Northern Oregon has decreased 50% since 1950.  So several folks up at the UW decided they should go back to 1930, using streamflow data as a proxy.  Turns out that they estimate about a 22% loss since 1930.  BUT, the confidence puts that as low as 0% change…the higher number is a best estimate.  Phil raised his hand for the first comment and exclaimed "I agree!".  So no hugs, but snowpack probably has dropped some in 80 years…just not a dramatic change.

8.  Rain Wars:  Are extreme rain events becoming more frequent?  Phil Mote and Valerie Duliere did a study on rainfall across the region, showing that rainfall intensity does appear to have increased some in the last 50? years.  Using long range climate models, they estimated that we will see more of that in the  next 50 years.  There was some debate as to whether that was a valid conclusion based on the amount of data…hmm.

That’s it…hope to see you there next year.  Maybe a Weather Blog Caravan?  Steve Pierce could drive the First Live Local Motorhome?  Mark Nelsen