25 Years Forecasting On Portland Television

November 11, 2018

6pm Sunday Evening…

25 years ago this week I started my television career in Portland.  It was my first real TV job and I was lucky to start (and still be in) my home television market.  I figured at the time that I’d do it for 5 or 10 years and then “get a real job”.  Well…I just kept signing one contract after another and here it is 25 years later; somehow I’ve survived in this tough business.  Yes, I have aged.  Check out a collection of pics during that time with the dates on the bottom.  Actually the first one is from my internship tape at KIRO-TV while at the UW in 1990.  I call that the “I’m scared…help me mommy” look.  I was 21 years old.

 

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I had wanted to be a “weatherman” since about 7th grade, the other choice was farming.  I grew up mainly near Monitor (Mt. Angel) in Marion County, but then moved to Chehalis, WA for 8th grade.  Since I lived in Chehalis, Washington in high school the UW Atmospheric Sciences program was an obvious choice for a degree.  To save A TON of money, I went to Centralia Community College the first two years to get the physics and math done, then transferred to the UW.  While in college, I just assumed I would go into the National Weather Service or work for some private weather company.  Then during my senior year up there, I saw that KIRO-TV had an internship for their weather department.  I thought it might be fun so I applied and was accepted (there probably weren’t any other applicants).  I found I liked the TV stuff, making graphics and the buzz of the newsroom.  So after making an “audition tape” which is the first part of the video above, I started applying for jobs in small television markets where the weather was exciting.  Fargo, North Platte, Wichita, Iowa, Mississippi etc…

That was a problem…

No one would hire me because I looked like, well, a little kid, and I gulped and looked scared on the tape, as you see in that first pic above.  As a result I ended up taking a job at Micro-Forecasts, a private company that forecast wind conditions in the Gorge.  I really liked that job, we moved the office to Hood River (even better!), and I hoped I would just stay with them for a long time.  The 2nd pic above was a brief stint at Columbia Cable in Vancouver doing a couple of hours a day while working at Micro Forecasts. Here’s a pic from 1992.  Was it ever okay to wear shorts like that with a shirt tucked in???

Mark MicroForecasts 1992

Then one day the boss asked me something like “how much of this month’s paycheck do you really need?“.  Wow.  Not a good sign.  Things went downhill after that and the company fell apart.  Lucky for me, at the same time both Heidi Sonnen and Bob Shaw (morning and weekend weather) were leaving KOIN-TV; thus KOIN was desperate.  I remember coming in for an interview, and Randy Querin, who had been working 6-7 day weeks said “I don’t care if we hire a monkey, I’m tired of this and I hope you get the job”.  Apparently I was just barely good enough;  I had a real TV job and I was only 24!  I don’t have video of my very first day, but anchor Ken Boddie just before the first hit said “don’t worry dude, there are only about 70,000 people watching” , then laughed.  Wasn’t funny at that time.  By the way, working weekends for about 4 years with Ken Boddie was the best, he showed me what I should and should NOT wear.  I was a small town kid with no fashion sense.  And, Saturday nights the weather center had the only real nice TV for watching Star Trek The Next Generation…good times.  Ken was one of MANY coworkers I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with over this quarter century.

I worked at KOIN-TV for 7 years, then late in summer 2000 I left to be the first meteorologist at KPDX-TV’s 10pm newscast.  KOIN had produced that newscast for 8-10 years, then KPDX built the building we are currently in and started their own news department.  It was a good time to leave KOIN because soon after things changed.  Many owners in the following 15 years included all sorts of layoffs, downsizing etc.  I’ve been in the right place with great managers.

Then in the summer of 2002, KPDX’s corporation (Meredith) bought/swapped KPTV for another station in Orlando, so both stations were now (and continue to be) owned by Meredith.  Lots of layoffs that time too, but somehow I survived. Rod Hill and I were briefly co-chief meteorologists for about 9 months before he left to take a job at KATU when Rob Marciano left.  That was good, because we both figured at some point one of us wouldn’t be needed.

So how do you survive 25 years in this business?

It sure isn’t because I’m beautiful!

Part luck, part timing.  Being in the right position/place at the right time…many factors play into it.  I have seen LOTS of on-air anchors and meteorologists come and go for many different reasons.

There are several factors I feel do help out and probably apply to many jobs.  Listen up kids!

1. Be FLEXIBLE.  Don’t let yourself get steamrolled, but choose your battles carefully!  Remember, it’s not brain-surgery, it’s television.  Is it really worth ruining a career just because you don’t want to put labels on the high temp map???  Just a real-world example.

2. Treat others well.  I’m no angel, but I try to treat others fairly.  Don’t make enemies for absolutely no reason.  If you’re cranky or unhappy, there is no need to drag everyone else into it.

3. Be willing to learn and adapt.  I’m pretty sure I would have been dumped at one specific point if I wouldn’t have simplified my presentation a bit.  That doesn’t mean dumb it down (well, maybe a little), but be willing to give a little when a boss comes to you with a new idea.  A few times I’ve been approached with what I think is the dumbest new concept.  Most of the time I’ve played along.  Within a short period of time others discover it’s ridiculous and it goes away.  No reason to immediately freak out.

4. Don’t burn bridges!  It’s tempting to do that if you leave a job, but don’t.  A coworker who produced weekend newscasts at KOIN ended up as my current boss!  Glad I didn’t act like a jerk back then.  Although she is aware I should never get on a sugar-low and then come in for a meeting…

The big questions

  1. Do I still like my job?
  2. How long will I keep doing it?

Yes, most of the time I like my job.  I get tired of the late evening shift (to bed at 1am), it’s always been obvious to me that I’m a morning person.  My kids (now 17 & 18) grew up without seeing me 4 days a week, but I tried to make up for that by never doing things on my own weekends and avoiding work commitments on my days off.

I still come in most days and stare that the maps/models just like I did 10, 15, or 20 years ago.  Each day is new in this business (both TV news & meteorology).

Busy winters (like two years back) are very stressful in this business, but anticipating our slow summers with vacation time gets me through those years.  That’s what I always tell my wife when I run out of the house an hour after waking up…because 2″ of snow is about to fall on Portland.

I’ve had a lot of fun and it’s paid the bills.  Plus I get paid to do my hobby…what’s better than that?

So I have no plans to leave this odd television news business or FOX12 for that matter.  Will it be 30 years?  Or 35?  We’ll see!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen


Veterans Weekend Sunshine & Strong Gorge Wind Ahead

November 8, 2018

7pm Thursday…

Today was another nice early November day; fog to sunshine and comfortable temps.  Much of the metro area did see frosty conditions early.  The 37 at PDX was the coldest so far this season, but many areas dropped into the upper 20s

PDX Observed Low Today

Tonight should be similar under mainly clear skies.  The light offshore (easterly) wind flow overhead did push our afternoon temperatures into the comfortable mid 50s.  I doubt we get frost at PDX tonight, nothing unusual since the average first frost is November 15th at that location.  Each year is different with a first frost here in the city typically ranging from late October to sometime in December!

Mark First Frost Last Few Years

Today is our 3rd dry day; looks like we’ll make it to 7 or 8 days before showers return later Tuesday or Wednesday.

2017 Rainfall at PDX Last 10 Days

After a weak weather system drops by tomorrow evening and Saturday morning, a strong area of cool high pressure settles in east of the Cascades for a while at the surface.  By Saturday afternoon we’re into easterly flow which clears out skies nicely.  The result is a mainly sunny 3 day weekend!  Pretty tough to do in November.  Check out the surface map for Sunday morning at 7am:

wrf_7amSunday

Then Monday at 7am:

wrf_7amMonday

That’s a typical cold-season east wind event for our area; 6 millibars easterly flow through the Gorge Sunday ramps up to 9 millibars Monday.  We’ll be in an inversion with that cool air flowing in from Eastern OR/WA near sea level.  Up above, 850mb temps reach over +10 C.  That much gradient squished down low under the inversion will easily give us gusts 55-70 mph in the western Gorge and 75-85 mph up at Crown Point for the first time this season.  Have you been missing the wind since February?  Well, the Monday holiday should deliver perfect conditions to reconnect your nostrils/eyeballs with that stinging cold wind.

In this setup the east wind won’t make it very far into the metro area, mainly just east of I-5/I-205.  But it’ll be enough to keep fog away Sunday-Tuesday.  Easterly flow dies down later Tuesday through the end of next week as another weak system (like tomorrow’s) tries to crash the ridge party.  That won’t give us much rain or mountain snow.

To sum up the next week:  Mainly dry with lots of Gorge wind Sunday through early Tuesday.  No signficant mountain snow for at least another week either.  The 10 day snow forecast for our area from both the ECMWF/GFS models show less than a foot up there in the next 10 days

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Now beyond the 10 day period there are HINTS that we might see a change.  The ECMWF 46 day run last night shows a bit cooler/wetter conditions for Thanksgiving Week.  That’s because ridging seems to want to develop much farther offshore.  I noticed the GEM model keeps the ridging overhead though.  The result is low confidence right now beyond NEXT weekend.

500za_week2_bg_NA

Just for kicks, here’s the week 3 forecast

500za_week3_bg_NA

Interesting and definitely cool.  But not a wet pattern.  By the way, about two years ago I stopped showing these charts beyond the 2nd week.  That’s after a great talk by Cliff Mass, pointing out how poorly the weekly forecasts had been doing.  Beyond week #2 the accuracy definitely takes a nosedive!

Enjoy the sunshine this weekend, and don’t bother raking your leaves if you live near/in the western Gorge.  The wind should blow them westward and out of your yard by early next week.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen


Calm Weather; So Get Out & Vote Tomorrow!

November 5, 2018

10:30pm Monday…

Today’s showers were a bit more, let’s say…vigorous than I expected.  Quite a cluster of downpours and even one thunderstorm moved through the metro area between 2-3:30pm.

Other than a few light showers here and there Tuesday I don’t see any significant rain in the next 7-10 days.  This first half of November appears to be unusually quiet weather-wise as mentioned in last week’s post.

The reason is a persistent area of upper-level high pressure either in the eastern Pacific or right over us.  The location and intensity of that ridge is different each day.  The general result is very weak weather systems with an absence of a powerful wet season jet stream.    The ECMWF, GEM, & GFS forecast for 10 days from now (NEXT Thursday the 15th) shows that ridge is still in place nearby.  We won’t get into a stormy weather pattern, regardless of warm or cold, until that disappears.

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I think I’m going to use this unusual November dry spell to hang Christmas lights this weekend.  Most years I do it with fingers freezing or cold & wet.  No, don’t worry, I won’t turn them on until after Thanksgiving… #OneHolidayAtATime

Here’s the ECMWF forecast precipitation the next 10 days.  Most of that is tonight/tomorrow and again the middle of next week.  Pretty dry for November!

ecmwf_tprecip_portland_41

To summarize, there is no sign of an arctic blast or significant Cascade snow through the middle of next week.  Forget windstorms or heavy rain too.

There’s no excuse weather-wise to skip voting tomorrow in Oregon or Washington.  Survival of our democracy depends on public input in the form of voting for candidates and measures/initiatives.  I don’t think I’ve missed a single election since I turned 18 just in time for the 1988 presidential election; it’s so easy to do.  The past 18 years many national elections have been quite close; proving each vote does matter and elections clearly do have consequences.  It doesn’t matter who/what you vote for, just vote.  And enjoy the off/on sunshine the next few days too!  Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

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Happy Halloween! First Week of November = Calm Weather

October 31, 2018

7:30pm Wednesday…

Right now little kids are running out and about, collecting large bags of candy.  Lots of fun, but my kids are all grown up so I like to work Halloween.  Plus coworkers brought in treats!  Radar shows just about all the rain is up against the Cascade foothills and in the Cascades.  Whew…a mainly dry Halloween for lowland kids.

November arrives in just a few hours!  Typically November-February is the core of our “storm season” in the Pacific Northwest.  By that I mean that most of our windy systems, heavy rains, & all-around “busy weather days” happen during this period.  But for at least the first 10 days of this November that won’t be the case.  Why?  Take a look at the 500 millibar map for right now…an upper-level ridge just offshore.

Jet Stream Forecast 2017a

This weakens systems, allowing just lots of clouds and occasional rain into the Pacific Northwest.  The general pattern continues for at least the next week.  Here’s NEXT Wednesday

Jet Stream Forecast 2017.png

So for weather geeks like me it appears this first part of our stormy season will be a bit slow.  Interesting to note that the El Nino year of 2002-2003 was very similar.  A weak ridge kept popping up off/on through the winter.

The ECMWF ensemble forecast for rainfall the next 15 days shows a slow accumulation. Those are 24 hour totals.  A system comes through Friday morning and again Sunday.  Then maybe something more organized about a week later.

KPDX_2018103112_eps24_precip_360

Snow has changed to rain in the Cascades as well today, Timberline and Meadows have picked up at least 1.50-2.00″ rainfall already.  I don’t see any sign of significant snow accumulation the first 10 days of the month either under this mild pattern.  October ended up snow-free at Government Camp, but that’s not unusual at all

Snow October Govt Camp 2017

To summarize:

  1. The next week will be wet at times, but plenty of dry periods too
  2. Temperatures remain near to above normal during the first week of November
  3. No sign of a stormy Pacific jet stream sending bigger weather action our way, pretty quiet weatherwise
  4. There won’t be an early opening of Cascade ski resorts this year.  At least not in the first 10 days of November

If you are a skier or snowboarder, there’s no reason to freak out.  I’ve seen LOTS of years where nothing happens early in November.  Then suddenly we get feet of snow for a week which opens up the resorts.  We’ll see how things go.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen


More Tornadoes Today; It IS “Tornado Season”

October 29, 2018

9:30pm Monday…

We had a bit less instability in the atmosphere overhead today, leading to the theory that the weather would be a bit calmer.  That more or less happened…until one, or more likely two, tornadoes briefly touched down west of the Cascades.  Once again these were very weak.  The first prompted a tornado warning about 3:40pm for far southern Marion County around Jefferson/Marion/Scio areas.  The tornado was seen on the ground briefly and we received a couple videos of the rotating funnel cloud too.  The NWS just happened to have a storm spotter class in Scio tonight, how convenient!  It turns out one sign was damaged and there was some tree damage as well.

The 2nd event was about one hour earlier.  A farmer a few miles north of Forest Grove saw a (likely) tornado’s wind touch down over his pond, pulling up water.  Then it damaged/destroyed several greenhouse structures; at that point he headed inside.  Here are some pics of that damage, the sky view is after it had moved off to the east.  Thanks to Jim Roofener for the pics:

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It was too dark for the NWS to conduct a storm survey on this one so we’ll find out if it was officially a tornado tomorrow.  UPDATE:  NWS confirmed on the morning of October 30th that it was an EF-0 tornado.

One question people ask me is why we typically don’t see these on radar?  Two reasons, one is that these “storms” are very weak.  Rotation and updrafts are nothing like we get with real tornadoes.  The other is distance from the radar site.  For example that Marion County tornado is about 70 miles from the radar site, so the lowest beam is at least 8,000′ overhead.  Much of the rotation could be below the beam and not able to be seen from that far away.

Tornado Why We Cant See Eugene

Of course the (likely but not confirmed) Forest Grove tornado was quite close to the Dixie Mountain radar site.  That said, I still didn’t see anything that stuck out.  That tells me it was very weak and even the bulk of that one may have been below the 2-3,000′ high radar beam.

Wayne Garcia came up to me and asked if this is a typical time for a tornado around here.  I’ve always know that the spring/fall seasons seem to be best.  So I pulled out the storm reports and started counting…

I checked all tornado reports in Western Oregon and 5 SW Washington counties (including Lewis County) from 1950 to this year.   I count 88 tornadoes, including the three (likely) this week.  Now check out the monthly breakdown

Tornado Season Stats

Yes, there sure is a tornado season, or maybe we should say “seasons”.  Spring and Fall.  They are rare in mid-summer and mid-winter.  October is sure a favored month isn’t it?  These are the seasons when we have the most vigorous “cold” showers and lots of mixing/instability. Interesting eh?

Now I call it “tornado season”, but those tornadoes often come in batches.  For example in Oregon, here are the last few years when we had a tornado in October:

2018, 2017, 2016, 2010, 2009, 2000.  So we can go numerous years without an October tornado; it’s not a yearly event.  But far less unusual than many of you think!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen


One Strange Tornado: EF-0 In North Portland Today

October 28, 2018

10pm Sunday…

An EF-0 tornado today brought mainly minor damage along a 1 mile or so path at 3pm.

Tornado Ground Track

Here’s the weirdest part…with every other tornado (even when out in rural areas) we get a bunch of emails/calls or social media posts to the newsroom.  This time it was only ONE.  That’s it.  Apparently no one else noticed a tornado passing overhead.  I didn’t see any media tweets or social media postings until the NWS put out the storm report just before 8pm.

First damage was observed near Portland Meadows and last damage was found along the Columbia River at Marine Drive & 6th. A viewer also sent us video of the funnel cloud still rotating over south Vancouver after crossing the Columbia River.

Tornado Today Stats

Here’s one of the semi trailers tipped over.  This is just behind the Jubitz Truck Stop area.

tipper_semitrailers

Thanks to Larry Miller for the pic (not the Larry that lives in Cove)

Here’s a bit more detail on the damage from the Portland National Weather Service

44949351_1979617962084358_896258231842635776_n

This is the one and only tornado in Oregon OR Washington this year.

2017 saw 5 tornadoes in the two states.  That was Bend, Aurora, and Lacomb Oregon.

2016 saw 7, including 4 in Oregon.  Those were in Wheeler & Wallowa counties, Manzanita, & Oceanside.

Other than the tornado, today’s forecast turned out just like expected.  Lots of downpours, then hail, thunder, and sunshine.  Sometimes all of them within a 5 minute period too!

Tomorrow should be a bit tamer, although we’ll still have some downpours.

Up in the mountains it’s snowing for the first time in 3 weeks.  It appears about 2″ has fallen at Timberline.  There could be another 3-6″ before it dries out tomorrow night up there.  Passes will remain clear though.

Snow MtHood Outlook

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

 


Thunderstorms In Metro Area

October 28, 2018

1pm Sunday…

As expected it’s turning into a wild weather day for some.  An unstable atmosphere overhead with plenty of morning sunbreaks and “heating” has allowed a few thunderstorms to pop up.  Generally they are moving from southwest to northeast.   This IS the type of pattern where we can get a funnel cloud so keep an eye to the sky…otherwise enjoy the downpours and show!

web_metroradar (1)

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen