Did You See the Spectacular Sunset? Probably from Chinese Dust

April 17, 2015

9 pm Friday…

Wow, did you get a chance to see the sun this evening?  I took a bike ride through the West Hills just before sunset and couldn’t believe what I was seeing on a “clear” April evening.  It was as orange and vibrant as a late summer “forest-fire” sun.  Here are a few pics, one from Amanda Parson

Another from Kyle Shrake:


That second one clearly shows some sort of smoke or dust layer.

But the air over us is coming from the west…and it’s too early for fires from Canada.  So the next most likely suspect is dust from China/Mongolian dust storms or fires in Eastern Siberia.  I’m obviously no expert in either of these but spring IS the time we see surges of dust move off eastern Asia and some of that makes it to the Pacific Northwest.  The extreme example was in April 1998 during a warm/hot spell at the end of the month when we sat under a milky haze for days…under cloudless skies!  It was really weird.  It turned out that was from the east Asian dust.

So I just took a look at the latest product from the NASA GEOS-5 dust extinction model.  This is from this morning’s run…a 6 hour forecast:


If you look closely you can see some drop in optical thickness (the blockage/scattering of light to aerosols in the atmosphere) just arriving over us with the dying cold front passing overhead.  You can also see swirls of dust upstream over east Asia.  Take a look over Asia itself and you can see windy conditions generating the dust on the model at this morning’s initialization time (unrelated to what’s over us right now):


Google Earth shows the massive sandy/dusty area where the all the gunk first gets airborne:


According to this model, some dust will stick around through this weekend.  In a typical spring high pressure pattern we would see bright blue skies, so it’ll be interesting to see if it’s not quite as blue as normal.

For those of you who have access to WeatherBell, the link to the NASA GEOS-5 model is here:  http://models.weatherbell.com/nasa.php

It’s possible that is in their FREE section…give it a try even if you don’t have an account.

5pm Saturday Update:  It turns out that some of what we saw last night may be from out of control fires in extreme SE Siberia.  Just north of the location on the map above…north of Mongolia and northern China.  The only issue is that these occurred only 4 days ago, which would be a pretty quick transit across a “blocky-looking” north Pacific.  Or it may be a mix of both smoke and dust since it’s from the same general area and both are caused by strong winds.  Here’s the NASA article here:  http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=85707&eocn=home&eoci=nh

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Cool Start to April, plus ECMWF Weekly Maps

April 16, 2015

I’ve been a bit lazy posting the last week or so…partly busy, but also less inspired during the warmer half of the year.

Our upper-level ridge that has dominated the weather quite a bit over the past year or so has been taking a break.  Check out the first two weeks of April compared to February.  APRIL VS FEB In Astoria, Salem, & Eugene it has been COLDER than the same period in February!  That’s quite a change in the general weather pattern for us.   For the first time since November we’ve had a two week spell of chilly weather.

In spite of the current and forecast warm weather we are in, the ECMWF model doesn’t show strong ridging coming back.  That said, the flow may be splitting quite a bit over the next few weeks.  We can see that on the 1-2 week maps and also last night’s run of the ECMWF out to one month.

Here are Weeks 1 & 2:



Cool troughs want to split off and head to our south far more often than we would typically see in late April.   You can see that in the below normal heights over the southern half of the West Coast.

Then Week 3:


About average heights over us.

Week 4 shows nothing of interest…about average:


Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

How Many Of These PDX Weather Personalities Do YOU Remember?

April 13, 2015

I’ve taken on a little project over the past week.  I’m cataloging names & dates of all the different Portland television weather personalities over the years.  My aim was to go back to 1980 or so, but it turns out I learned so much more about folks from the 1970s.  It’s a huge spreadsheet and I want to thank other weather guys/gals around town who responded to my emails.

Below are 4 pictures (make sure you click on each for a large view), one for each main TV station in Portland.









  • The longest-serving weather person of all time is (no surprise) Jack Capell.  He worked at KGW from 1956 through 2000…44 years!
  • Jim Little is the only anchor that has worked on all 4 station’s newscasts as a regular…I think.  He went from KGW > KATU > KOIN and was the 10pm KPDX weather anchor for the period where KOIN produced the FOX49 newscast.
  • I’ve only included regulars that “had/have” a specific show/shows.  There are dozens more who might have done fill-in or free-lance work and I can’t account for that.

Please let me know if you happen to know any dates I wasn’t able to figure out.  A QUESTION MARK MEANS I DON’T KNOW WHEN THE PERSON STARTED OR LEFT A STATION

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Weatherman “Dr. John” Walls Has Died

April 6, 2015


There was a time in Portland TV when there were only just a handful of weather people and it wasn’t all that long ago.  Because there were so few, you got to know those guys very well!  When I was growing up (mid 70s to late 80s) and watching the weathercasts in the evenings, it was usually Jim Bosley at KATU, Jim Little at KGW, and Dr. John Walls at KOIN.  That was it.  David Apple did weather at KPTV from time to time, but I hardly watched because back then there wasn’t much I watched on KPTV other than Star Trek reruns.  If you remember KPTV had no network affiliation until sometime in the 1990s so the programming wasn’t very exciting for a 8-15 year old.

I just found out today Dr. John has died.

His obituary is here:  http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/seattletimes/obituary.aspx?pid=174563746

I did get to meet him just once, in the mid 90s; a few years after I started at KOIN (I was there 1993-2000).  He stopped by to visit some ex-coworkers.  He sounded EXACTLY like I remembered him when growing up…very cool to meet someone you watched EVERY night on TV.  Back then there was no Internet, no cell phones, no texting, no cable (for me), no Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc…  You just plunked down on the couch and watched TV in the evening or you actually talked to other people/kids in person.  Well, maybe a game of Space Invaders on the Atari 2600, but that was it for entertainment.

My best memory of him is the weather maps!  Remember how he’d calmly glide from one to another to another yet his speech never wavered?  He may have even had a thick black pen to highlight stuff, but I don’t remember that.

If you are older than 35-40, you probably remember him…what are YOUR thoughts?

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Final Cascade Snowpack Update: New Records Set

April 2, 2015

7pm Thursday…


A new record low snow depth was reached at Mt. Hood Meadows yesterday.  Even with almost a foot of fresh powder, just 33″ of snow was on the ground.  That’s lower than the previous low record for April 1st…49″ during the other really bad season, 2004-2005.  That year we had a bunch of snow the 2nd half of March as the pattern finally recovered.

Timberline tied a record with just 57″ on the ground.  That was the 1980-1981 season.  Records at both locations (at least online) go back to the early 1970s.

As you see in the graphic, 4 ski areas in the Washington Cascades set record lows as well.  I noticed Paradise up on Mt. Rainier was less than 10″ from its record low; impressive since records there go back to 1926!

Hopefully this was a “once in a generation” snow season.  In every other year since at least 1970 there was a recovery sometime between January and March, this year that didn’t happen.

Here are the April 1st numbers from around the state…pretty bad as expected:



What’s ahead?  More snow!  Looks great for skiing on Saturday and again early next week:


Beyond that time we have some warmer weather (and some melting) the middle and latter part of next week.

The models/maps beyond the middle of next week are in quite a bit of disarray.  Take a look at the 12z ECMWF ensembles showing another cold trough for NEXT weekend, the 12th:


Then by day 15 the ECMWF and GEM (ensembles) both have a return of ridging and warm temps:

ecm_15days gem_15days

meanwhile the 18z GFS has the cold trough just to our south much stronger for more cool & showery weather:


See the difference here?  As a result I don’t have much confidence in a general outlook except it’ll be a bit warmer/dry later next week and then likely another round of cold showers around the 11th-12th.

Here is last night’s ECMWF monthly run…the weekly average 500mb height from its ensembles.

Week 1 & 2, you can see the ridging around 12-15 days out on the 2nd map:



Week 3, looks cooler again


Week 4, not a whole lot to see here.


Interesting that there is no sign of the east Pacific ridge returning, except during the 2nd week or so.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen