Columbus Day Storm 50th Anniversary Meeting 2 Weeks Away

September 28, 2012

Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and OMSI to host the Pacific Northwest’s premier regional commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Columbus Day Storm. 

Public invited to take a step back in time and “relive the storm” on Saturday, October 13th.        

“The Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) is proud to announce the Pacific Northwest’s premier public commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Columbus Day Storm. Held at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), the commemoration will feature presentations, videos, television broadcasts, audio recordings, historical photographs and memorabilia. Attendees can also enter to win a $300 Davis home weather station raffle. The free event is open to all ages of the general public and will take place in OMSI’s main auditorium beginning at 10 AM on Saturday, October 13th. OMSI is located at: 1945 S.E. Water Avenue in Portland.” 

“The Columbus Day Storm is the benchmark storm for which all other storms are compared to across the Pacific Northwest. The violent and deadly storm struck on October 12th 1962 with winds gusting as high as 130 MPH in the Willamette Valley and 170 MPH along the Oregon coast. Nearly 50 people perished in the storm.” Chapter President Steve Pierce says, “we have gathered together leading experts from across the Pacific Northwest to offer the public an event that will be remembered for years to come. We will take a look deep inside the storm, as seen through the eyes of the public and the Meteorologists who tracked it. We will present rare audio and video recordings from the night of the storm featuring late KGW Meteorologist Jack Capell and those who were present when the 600ft tall KGW transmitter tower fell to the ground. We will also feature several survivor stories and plenty of photographs, some of which have rarely been seen publicly. Finally, we will take a look at the chances of seeing a similar storm in the future. The public is encouraged to attend this event and bring along anyone who may have a harrowing personal story to share or memorabilia item to display. The demographic of folks who are old enough to remember this tragic storm is shrinking with time and it would be great if these folks would attend this event and share a memory with younger generations.”

Formal Commemoration Ceremony Lineup

Welcome & Opening Remarks
Steve Pierce, Oregon AMS President

Headline Technical Presentation
National Weather Service, Portland
“How the storm formed and where it tracked”

Supporting Presentations
Jim Little, Meteorologist – Oregon Department Forestry
“Broadcast media coverage of the storm”

George Miller, Meteorologist Retired – National Weather Service
“Columbus Day-Type Storms: Have They Occurred in the Past? Will They Occur Again?”

Brian MacMillan, Meteorologist / Reporter  – KPTV Ch. 12 Portland
“The damage, the survivor stories (video)”

Wolf Read, Windstorm Expert / PhD Candidate (University of British Columbia)
“A climatological perspective – return cycles of powerful storms to strike the Pacific NW.”

Audience Question/Answer Session with Presenters

Raffle – Davis Weather Station & More

Please note — OMSI’s main auditorium will hold approximately 300 guests. Please arrive early in order to be assured a seat. Once standing room capacity has been met, the only additional viewing area will be from the hallway outside. For complete meeting details, including overnight accommodations in and around Portland, please see the Oregon AMS web site at:

Who is the Oregon AMS? The Oregon chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) was founded in 1947 and is the single largest local chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) in the country, with 170 members. The national headquarters of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) has approximately 130 active local chapters across the country. The Oregon AMS chapter normally hosts eight monthly meetings from September to June that are free and open to all ages of the general public. The Oregon AMS welcomes the public to become chapter members for just $10 per year. The Oregon AMS chapter mission statement reads, “The purpose of this society shall be to advance professional ideals in the science of meteorology and to promote the development, exchange, and application of meteorological knowledge.” Our meetings are always found on our web site:

The Driest 3 Months in Portland’s History

September 27, 2012

It’s been dry, but did you know it’s been THIS dry? 

The 3 month total rainfall, 0.25″ at PDX from July to September, is the driest 3 month period in all of Portland’s history! 

It was the combination of no rain in August, almost no rain this month, and a drier than normal July.  In all other years, we had one or two dry months, but never three.  The next closest was June-August 1951.  That year we had 0.35″.

No sign of rain yet, although some models are hinting at a cold trough later next week that could finally bring us showers.

We are not in drought conditions since typically this is the driest time of year anyway, plus we had tons of Spring rainfall.  Remember June?  4″ rain here in Portland.  That said, our smaller shrubs and trees are probably very stressed since they need at least SOME rain later in the summer.  So keep watering!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen


The Usefulness of Spaghetti…Charts

September 26, 2012

The past few days we’ve seen an unusally high level of uncertainty in the long range forecast.  Models are having major difficulties deciding whether strong upper level ridging will develop over us Sunday/Monday and whether a deep and cold trough will drop in over us beyond that next week.  This is the type of forecast nightmare we don’t want to see in the cold season.  This exact same issue would have us worrying about a major arctic blast vs. sunshine and 50 degrees.   There would be lots of unhappiness as models swing wildly from cold to warm over us with chances for snow too. 

However, it’s early October next week so it’s mainly a matter of whether we’ll be sunny and 85 or partly cloudy/showery and 60 for highs.  Not such a big deal this time of year.

One tool that has been very helpful is the “spaghetti chart”.   It displays one parameter from models out in time on a chart.  But instead of just one model, you see the many different versions (ensemble members).  When all those runs are similar, you have a high level of confidence. When they are all over the chart, like that pasta, reliability is low.  This 2nd situation continues this evening. 

Let’s take the 850mb temperature (5,000′ temp) over Portland (in celsius).  This is the 12z ECMWF model run:

Several obvious issues…look how quickly the solutions diverge Sunday and beyond.  By Tuesday, the 2nd of October, the range is anywhere from -1 to +24!  The “operational” (blue) or main run of this model is +10 at that time and headed downhill quickly.  Then look how the operational run with it’s deep cold trough bottoms out as the coldest of all 51 ensemble members next Thursday, the 4th.  That tells me it’s extremely unlikely that run will verify.  This is where these charts come in useful.  It’s generally safer to stick closer to the red line, that’s the average of all the runs.  That is why I didn’t go crazy warm/hot on the 7 Day forecast Monday and Tuesday.  Also didn’t go with such chilly temps next Wednesday.  This ensemble forecasting is where we are headed the next 10 years when we think of forecast improvement.

How about the fresh 00z GFS:

Some more clues.  About half the members are showing a flatter ridge and quicker cooling late Monday-Wednesday.  Even the operational model says 80 might be a little high both Sunday and Monday.  The trough must drop down out of Canada more quickly on those members.  Then, like the ECMWF, the operational GFS is the coldest or near-coldest run next Thursday and beyond.  Luckily, just about all of that is beyond our 7 Day forecast duties.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Fresh Podcast Posted

September 25, 2012

Hanging out with Nibbler while the duck ladies (in the background) wait for Mark to leave their drake alone.

Just posted, a fresh podcast “live” from Mark Nelsen’s home:

This week, we head up to Corbett to do the show from the Nelsen house.  The guys cover Hurricane Issac, give you a summer recap here in the Northwest, and introduce Steph’s new baby boy!

Tom Skilling Signs New Contract

September 25, 2012

I saw this on the web…Congratulations Tom!

This is my favorite part of this story.  It’s well known in the industry that Tom’s weathercast involves doing just about everything you’re notsupposed to do” in a weathercast.  For example: 30-50 maps/graphics in 3 minutes, labels missing on maps, unexplained stuff on those maps, and time jumps forward and backwards, etc…  Yet he may be the highest paid in the country and apparently his viewers love him!  If you’ve ever seen him he DOES seem very friendly and personable and a true weather geek too…Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Rain or shine, 10-year renewal keeps Skilling at WGN

Posted in Robert Feder | Chicago Media blog by Robert Feder on Sep 19, 2012 at 5:00pm

 Tom Skilling, the undisputed king of Chicago weather, will continue to reign supreme at WGN-Channel 9 and the Chicago Tribune for 10 more years.

In a blockbuster deal that was expected to be signed Wednesday, Skilling, 60, agreed to continue as chief meteorologist for the Tribune Co. flagships here through 2022. Terms were not disclosed, but Skilling is believed to be the highest paid local weatherman in the country, with a million-dollar salary and 12-person staff.

“This is a good deal for Tom and for Tribune because it gives both of them the security of one another for a decade,” said attorney Joel Weisman, Skilling’s longtime agent. “It’s particularly noteworthy in an era when people are uncertain about the future. Most contracts are actually growing shorter.”

Skilling’s last contract was a six-year deal signed in 2006.

Although details were still being finalized earlier this week, major points in the new agreement were negotiated between Weisman and Marty Wilke, who had been vice president and general manager of WGN until last Friday when she resigned to join CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 as president and general manager.

Calling his client “the hardest working journalist in Chicago,” Weisman said Skilling “absolutely loves the work that he does and does it as well as anybody in the world,” adding: ”He’s at the top of his game — and he has been for a long time. He’s a genuine scholar and student of what he does who’s revered by his peers and selfless as a mentor.”

Skilling, who began his broadcasting career at age 14 in his native west suburban Aurora, has been chief meteorologist at WGN since 1978.

GOES Satellite Out of Service…Anyone Have a Spare?

September 24, 2012

North America is served by two weather observing geosynchronous satellites.  That big word means they orbit the earth at the exact same “rate” as the rotation of the earth.  So if you could see them from the ground (you can’t, they are 22,000 miles up!), they would appear to sit in the same spot 24 hours a day.  Thus we get a constant view of cloud cover and other data.  You can see the view from the satellites in the image above.  One is usually located off the West Coast (GOES-WEST or #12) and one along the East Coast (GOES-EAST or #13).  That 2nd one suddenly went out of service this morning and was put into some sort of “safe mode”.  Luckily it didn’t affect us here on the west coast because our satellite is working just fine.  And, luckily, there has been a spare GOES satellite sitting over the middle of the country.  NOAA engineers just announced that it’s now in service.  That little guy has been sitting out in space for a few years waiting for his big moment and it’s here!   Here’s the note I got from our data provider, WSI, this afternoon:


 NESDIS/NOAA Engineers have switched satellite ingest to GOES-14.  GOES-13 (EAST) remains out of service pending more investigation.  GOES-14 is centered at 105 degrees west longitude so satellite coverage will be limited over the central and eastern Atlantic Ocean, but coverage over the CONUS will be complete.  WSI will update this message if/when GOES-13 returns to service.

You can see the location of the standby satellite on the image below:

By the way, GOES-14 (the spare) is not one of the new GOES-R satellites.  Those get launched in 3-4 years.  They have far higher resolution, lightning detectors, and some other new toys.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Thick Fire Smoke Above, Great Air Quality Below

September 24, 2012

Pole Creek fire near Sisters Last Week – Photo by Jonathan Hee, UW

This morning’s sunrise was a reddish, orange color as fire smoke has returned to our sky.  This weekend was much cleaner smoke-wise and we could actually see the mountains; that was a nice change compared to a good part of September when we haven’t seen clear blue skies.

But now the smoke is back, mainly due to an upper-level low pressure system rotating smoke back at us from Washington and Idaho fires.  Take a look at one of the first visible satellite images this morning:

You can see lots of clouds in Eastern Oregon, but only patches of low clouds offshore and if you look closely, a few small patches of fog or clouds west of the Cascades in the valleys.  What’s most obvious is a thick layer of gray covering western Oregon north of Roseburg all the way up to Seattle and east into Central Oregon and eastern Washington.  Take a look at the 18,000′ wind directions from the WRF-GFS model for this morning:

The wind barbs “fly with the wind”, for example over us the upper-level wind is from the north-northeast, more clearly northeast over most of eastern Oregon.  The center of the disturbance is just about over Steen’s Mountain in extreme SE Oregon.   Think of it as an eddy in the atmosphere, just like in a river or stream you see little swirls of water as the flow slows down at the edges.  A tremendous amount of smoke has moved out of Idaho’s big fires and into Eastern Washington, then down over us.  Plus, lots of smoke from the central Washington fires too.  Basically lots of smoke is moving around in circles. 

But there is good news; it’s only in the upper levels of the atmosphere, enough to give us an orange sun.  Below about 8,000′, our wind flow is from the north or northwest.  So our low-level air is still coming from a smoke-free area.  Air Quality Indexes are in the GOOD category all across western Oregon right now and they will stay that way.  Now you can enjoy the yellowish/orange Fall sky and breathe deeply as well.  It probably enhances the yellows and oranges starting to appear in some leaves too; an extra bonus.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen