A Very Wet Weekend Ahead

October 19, 2017

7pm Thursday

It’s been a classic wet Pacific Northwest day.  It’s not like we’ve seen massive downpours, but it rained just about every hour of the day.  Expect the same tomorrow as waves of showers move inland behind today’s cold front.  One difference tomorrow is that we’ll see sunbreaks between the showers; it won’t be such a gloomy day.

But this weekend is a bit different.  All models forecast an “atmospheric river” (another name for a Pineapple Express) aimed somewhere near the Oregon/Washington border from Saturday through midday Sunday.

GFS Water Vapor

GFS Water Vapor2

I’m very confident it’ll be aimed somewhere within 100 miles north or south of that spot, but exact location of the deepest subtropical moisture is critical in determining how much rain any one part of our region gets.  As always the heaviest rain will be in the Coast Range and Cascades.  Models are in pretty good agreement that this is going to be a very wet event.  They have consistently been forecasting 8-10″ (or a little more) in the usual wettest mountain locations.  Here is the morning ECMWF rain forecast:

ECMWF Precipitation Accumulation

Once again (for maybe the 4th-5th day) it’s showing a maximum of 10″ or more in those usual extremely wet spots.  That would include a few of the western Coast Range slopes and SW Washington Cascades.

If we indeed do see 3″ of rain from Saturday morning through Sunday midday, I think we could get some urban & creek flooding.  Especially Saturday night and Sunday morning since precipitation intensity appears to be highest during that time.  So keep a close eye on the forecast this weekend!

By the way, I just noticed snow has begun sticking at 5,000′ on our Skibowl camera.  The snow level drops to Government Camp by morning and stays there through Saturday morning.  By the time the snow has changed to heavy rain late Saturday morning we will have seen another nice dumping on the mountain

Snow MtHood Outlook

Much of that will be washed away later Saturday and Sunday of course so this sure won’t mean an October start to the ski season.  But it’s always nice to see early snow.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Fire Season 2017; Was it Really “Near Normal”?

October 17, 2017

7pm Tuesday

Today, a drizzly & cool day might seem like a strange time to talk fire weather.  But for the past 3-4 weeks we’ve seen little to no fire activity across the Pacific Northwest.  That’s due to the very wet week back in mid-September putting an early end to most of the big fires.

So how “bad” was the fire season?  One would think that half of the Pacific Northwest woods burned up based on the amount of smoky days and issues with big fires near populated areas.  But Fire Season 2017 was near normal;  acreage burned in Oregon and Washington this year was quite close to the 10 year average.

Take a look at the last 8 years…

Fire NW Summer Stats

The 10 year average is somewhere around 700,000 acres per year so in theory this year would be considered somewhat “normal”.  I would argue it was not for several reasons:

  1. The huge acreage in 2012/2014/2015 came from quite a few very large range fire.  I remember one fire that chewed up 200,000 acres in just a few days in SE Oregon one of those years.
  2. The vast majority of big fires this year were in the Siskiyous & Cascades, not Eastern Oregon.  That includes NE & SE Oregon.  There were very few fires in the Blues & Wallowas.  Didn’t seem to be much fire action in the open range country south and east of Burns either.
  3. Those Cascade fires and their thick smoke came during the peak of the mountain lake recreation season.  Lots of us had to change our plans in August due to closed campgrounds, resorts, trails, & highways.  This was up and down the Cascade Range from Breitenbush all the way to the California border.  I remember one evening several Cascade passes were closed at once.  There was abundant news/weather coverage of these fires throughout the month of August and into the first week of September.  This was the first time in my career I’ve seen so many fires going at once over and west of the Cascade crest.
  4. Two huge fires got lots of media attention; for good reason.  The 190,000 acre Chetco Bar fire threatened southern Oregon coastal cities including Brookings at the end of August.  Then the fireworks-caused Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia River Gorge spread east/west along a 30 mile stretch during and after Labor Day Weekend.  Of course that fire dropped ash in the Portland metro area on Labor Day; for most of us that was the first time we’d seen ash fall (from a forest fire) in the metro area.

The net effect?

Burned acreage was near normal, but this fire season WAS far more disruptive for the highly populated areas west of the Cascades than in previous years.  In most years the majority of smoke/ash moves east of the Cascades and we don’t see big fires in the Gorge.  We also typically don’t see so many fires in the Cascades at once.

Once again, location is everything!

We did get lucky on two counts this year:

  • NOT MUCH LIGHTNING  We saw far less lightning than normal for a 2nd consecutive year.  For the weather geeks like me it was a boring summer waiting for thunderstorms.  Of course that’s good news for fire starts.
  • NO BIG “ECLIPSE FIRES”  Remember the huge concern leading up to the middle of August was the possibility of numerous human-caused fire starts due to the massive influx of outsiders into our woods & range lands.  It didn’t happen!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen


A Beautiful Weekend; Showers Return Tuesday

October 15, 2017

9:30pm Sunday

The weekend is pretty much over now but wasn’t that fantastic for October?  Both days were mostly sunny with a chilly start (more so Saturday) and nice afternoons.  By the way, the 36 at PDX Saturday morning was the coldest temperature we have seen in the first half of October in a generation!  October 15th 1992 we hit 33 degrees.  Today was obviously warmer…high temperatures peaked in the mid-upper 60s in the metro area.

High Temp Last 13 Days

It’s always funny how quickly things change from late September to late October.  Just 2-3 weeks ago we were thinking high temperatures in the 60s were chilly, yet I think most of us would agree today was a spectacular day.  We have one more beautiful day tomorrow and then we get into a mild & wetter pattern.  This October has been totally different from last year.  At this point last year we had received 5″ of rain and almost no sunshine.  This year we’re seeing piles more sunshine.  In fact if we were cloudy EVERY DAY after tomorrow the rest of the month, that would just give us our average number of cloudy days…

Mark Cloudy Days Summer


The jet stream is setting up to our north much of this week with Oregon on the mild side of that jet.  That means snow levels will remain high until Friday and we won’t see any heavy rain in most of our viewing area.  Check out RPM forecast of rain the next 2.5 days and you see very little falls south of the Columbia River in the interior of Oregon

RPM Precipitation Accumulation

Yet by the end of the week, a 2nd atmospheric river event will likely trigger some flooding across NW Washington and SW British Columbia just to our north:

ECMWF Precipitation Accumulation

With the warm airmass overhead, we can expect mainly rain in the Cascades until a cold front comes through Thursday night or Friday morning

ECMWF Snow Level From 850mb Temps

Most likely 5-8″ new snow will fall at Timberline and possibly as low as Government Camp Friday and/or early Saturday.  That’s after quite a bit of melting during the workweek.  I think it’s unlikely we’ll see a re-opening of that Pucci chairlift at Timberline again this weekend.  That was amazing to see 27″ snow on the ground down below 6,000′ the past few days.  A nice change from our warmer Octobers.

Enjoy the sunshine Monday!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen



EF-0 Tornado Today In Aurora

October 12, 2017

10:30pm Thursday

Well that was an exciting afternoon!  We started with a steady soaking rain this morning, then went into a sunbreaks/showers pattern the rest of the day.  As expected a few thunderstorms popped up along with the usual hail, downpours, and breezy wind.  Now remember yesterday we had numerous funnel clouds/waterspouts off the coastline and up in Puget Sound.  Today some of that spinning energy decided to touch down in the Willamette Valley.

This was a weak tornado, even by Pacific Northwest standards.  It was weaker than the Lacomb tornado last month.  But it still flipped two planes at the Aurora Airport and damaged a bunch of greenhouses nearby.

This is also the only tornado I’ve seen pass close to an official observing site.  Check out the observations from the ASOS sensor near the southern end of the airport:

A couple of things to notice.  First check out the wind shift.  From gusty southerly just as the twister passed by, yet you can see how localized wind is with tornadoes.  Then notice the peak wind gust was only around 30 mph at the sensor which is maybe 1/2 mile south of the tornado path.

This will rank on the low end of tornadoes around here.

I missed all the excitement because I had the day off.  I was taking a run up the road with no cell service from 3:45 to 4:30.  Came back to a whole bunch of texts and warnings.  But with all this weather fun I had to come in of course.  That’s one benefit of your hobby becoming a career.  It’s all the same to me.

Looking ahead, we still have a nice and dry weekend, the rain returns Tuesday.  Enjoy the briefly dry weather!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

First Snow in The Passes This Week

October 10, 2017

7:30pm Tuesday

After 5 months of warmer than normal temperatures the month of October has been much different.  We are only 10 days into the month and we’re running well below normal.  In fact with the clouds and rain arriving just after midday, we ended up 7 degrees below average for the date.  A cold front is passing through the region right now, the leading edge of a much cooler airmass.  This begins a 3 day period of showers in the valleys.  Of course just like last month we’ll likely see a few thundershowers at times along with hail too.  But this time the airmass is colder which equals lots of Cascade snow!  That’s one reason I quickly finished up work in my garden the last two days, planted garlic, shallots, & cover crop.  I think we’re done with the warm season!

Take a look at the ECMWF model forecast of snow level over the next 6 days

The snow level (lowest elevation we expect snow to stick) should linger around 4,000′ through Friday night, then quickly rise well above all ski areas Saturday through at least next Monday.  With several disturbances giving us waves of showers, the snow is going to be piling up relatively deep up around 5,000′ and above.  Here’s our forecast for snow totals plus Cascade driving conditions

Yep, I think we could see up to 2 feet of snow at Timberline, and possibly up around 10″ or so down at Government Camp…that’s spread over the next 3 days.  Of course in October snow levels go up and down so most or all of that will melt this weekend and early next week.  But this should be the earliest measurable snow at Govy we’ve seen since October 2009; quite a change after the past few years

There will also be some snow (just a bit) over some parts of the High Desert of central and eastern Oregon…most likely Thursday and/or Friday.  Plus the first snow of the season could fall in the Wallowa Valley…winter is getting closer

Looking farther ahead, a strong “zonal” flow sets up Sunday through much of next week.  That means a Pacific jet stream will consolidated and flow mainly west to east, instead of this north/northwest flow bringing us the chilly showers right now.  Now typically that’s a very wet pattern for us in Fall.  But in this case Sunday and Monday the jet will be to our north, then sag south over us Tuesday through the rest of next week.  The result is a nice dry spell centered right over this weekend…good timing.  Note the ECMWF ensemble 24 hour precip forecast for the next 10 days:

You see not a single ensemble member has rain over us during that period, but they all are quite wet NEXT Wednesday-Friday.  Pretty good agreement the middle/end of next week will be a soaker.

To summarize

  • The next 3 days will be cool & showery in the lowlands and snowy above 4,000′ in the mountains
  • Cascade passes will be snowy at times the next 3 days, although only the summits will be icy since the snow level doesn’t go much below the passes….you’ll run into snow only near the summits
  • Saturday through Monday = dry, with varying amounts of morning fog to afternoon sunshine each day
  • Tuesday & beyond next week = back to wet weather

Enjoy the showers…everything is back to normal in the Pacific Northwest!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen



Eagle Creek Fire Soil Burn Maps

October 5, 2017

I’ll be talking about these maps on the evening newscasts but want to get it online as well.  The Eagle Creek Fire “Burn Area Emergency Response Team” has released a survey of fire impacts to the vegetation & soil in the Gorge.  The results are contained in a large map here:


I’ve zoomed in on several areas so you can take a close look at your favorite hiking destinations or routes.  Of course you would probably like a legend to go with the map…

Fire Eagle Creek Soil Damage Explain

This from the BAER folks:

High burn severity is indicated by the burning of all or nearly all of the ground cover and surface organic matter (leaves, needles, and decaying plant matter), including fine roots. Moderate burn severity has consumption of up to 80% of the ground cover. In areas with low burn severity, much of the organic matter on the surface is not fully burned and roots are generally intact.

The higher the burn severity is, the less likely the soil is able to absorb water from rainfall and snow melt. Severely damaged soils will produce more and faster water runoff. They are also more prone to erosion and landslides


Fire Eagle Creek Soil Damage Maps

Fire Eagle Creek Soil Damage Maps2

Fire Eagle Creek Soil Damage Maps3

Fire Eagle Creek Soil Damage Maps4

I notice a few things…real intense burn around Franklin Ridge & Oneonta Gorge.  But much of the far western edge of the fire was in the low to very low category otherwise.  But check out the red throughout the Tanner & Eagle Creek canyons.  That’s pretty bad and in that area the fire moved many miles south of the Gorge.  Once you get to the eastern end of the fire from Herman Creek to Mt. Defiance the intensity was lower again.  This may be because this area burned last, just before the heavy rain finished off the fire.  Temperatures were a bit cooler and westerly wind generally brings a bit higher humidity; that can possibly reduce fire intensity.

I took a drive through the Gorge (as far as Cascade Locks) last weekend and again yesterday.  After seeing video of the fire on the 4th and 5th one would think there would be almost nothing left.  That is most definitely not the case.  It looks the same as it did before; just a little…different.  I’ve got 3 observations for you:

1) Lots of burned brush below mainly green fir trees…this is a common sight.  Some of that tree bark is black a good 20 feet up.  That will be a reminder of the fire for a few decades to come.  In these areas new greenery will pop up by next April/May.

2) On many of the high ridges you can see burned trees without the needles so the forest up there looks a little “thin”.

3) Nowhere did I see a totally bare landscape, except the upper part of Angel’s Rest with just a few “toothpick” trees sticking up.  Remember that’s one spot that burned over in the 1991 Falls Fire too.  Once the trail opens up there will be even more views to appreciate.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

A Beautiful Start to October

October 3, 2017

6pm Tuesday

It’s only the 3rd of October, but we’ve already seen more sunny days than ALL OF LAST OCTOBER.  Today is considered a “clear” day and last year we didn’t have a single clear day.  Remember October 2016?  The rainy season began a month early last year.  Lots of clouds…

And of course it was a big soaker as the jet stream ramped up early.  Last October was the 2nd wettest on record in Portland

In a typical October here, the first half (or more) of the month is reasonable; occasional weak weather systems mix with sunny/dry periods.  But last year the rainy pattern began in earnest immediately.  My neighbor told me it was the last straw…he sold his house and moved to the Desert Southwest this past summer.  He should have stayed one more year because the first 10 days of this month still look fantastic.  That’s due to high pressure in the upper-atmosphere wanting to linger nearby or just to our west.  You see the current IR satellite image with the stable “high over low” pattern along the West Coast.  That means the jet stream is going well north, then swinging south around the high and then low. This pattern also gives us a nice & warm offshore flow regime at the surface.


That gave us the warm temperatures in the lower 70s this afternoon.  Expect a few degrees warming the next 3 days.  Now Saturday and Sunday (sorry about the weekend timing) the high breaks down with a strong WNW jet stream just to our north.  That pattern will bring in a very thick marine layer plus lifting.  TranslationExpect a very gray and cool day Saturday with a good chance of drizzle or light showers.  That will linger in the mountains through SundayResultThis weekend will NOT be warm & sunny.

But then high pressure develops right over us again for a quick return to offshore flow and sunshine next Monday.  This shows up nicely in the ECMWF relative humidity cross-section.  I’ve circled the weekend.  Thick saturated airmass up to Timberline Lodge or so = gray days.

The 2nd period of warm and mainly sunny weather may last a good chunk of the 2nd week of October.  Yes, it’s possible most of the first half of October will dry and pleasant!

The ECMWF ensemble 24-hr precipitation chart shows that 2nd dry period, then quite a bit of “noise” from the 13th onward.  That’s because the basic pattern appears to change after the first two weeks of the month.  The ECMWF/GEM/GFS models all show upper-level troughing (low pressure) developing in the Eastern Pacific for the 3rd week of October

And here is the corresponding weekly precipitation anomaly (drier than normal is brownish) for NEXT WEEK

Then the 3rd week of the month…looks like wetter westerly flow may come back after this two-week period of mainly dry weather.

By the way, we will be close to the frost point in only the coldest outlying areas west of the Cascades tonight.  I think 99% of us westside will remain frost-free for at least the next week though, and that’s not unusual.  Most areas west of the Cascades don’t get a first frost until the 2nd half of the month or even early November.

Enjoy the sunshine!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen