Passage of a Bowling Ball

Interesting forecast situation through Friday night as a closed upper-level low, which rumbles like a bowling ball across the American southwest, moves along the Utah–Arizona border.

If you look at the 3-h NAM precipitation forecasts above (color fill) you can see that northern Utah misses out on the action initially, but does get some after the low enters Colorado thanks to so-called wrap-around precipitation.  In the NAM forecast above, that precipitation primarily affects northeast Utah, especially the Uinta Mountains.  The Wasatch are at the edge of the action and in fact Alta gets no precipitation from the forecast above (but it is right on the edge of it). 

The strong contrast in precipitation probability from west to east across northern Utah is better illustrated by the probability of more than 0.10 inches of precipitation during the 12-hour period ending at 0600 UTC 21 April (0000 MDT Saturday) based on forecasts by the Short Range Ensemble Forecast System (SREF).  Note the sharp gradient from about Antelope Island to the western Uintas.

Indeed, if we downscale those SREF runs to account for local terrain effects, we see large spread at Alta, with members producing anywhere from 0 to 0.7 inches of water.  This would fall mostly as wet snow above 8000 feet, with snow levels possibly flirting with 8500-9000 feet Friday night should precipitation linger.
My take is that thisI is that we may see a few snow showers Friday and Friday night, but accumulations will likely be 1-4 inches.  A skunking is perhaps more likely than a surprise dump.  The latter would require the wrap around to extend further westward than indicated by most of the models I'm looking at this morning. 

After Friday night, the forecast for the weekend looks warm and pleasant.  If we do get a decent dump Friday or Friday night, it will turn to mank quickly on Saturday if it isn't already mank at sunrise. 

The Carbon Fee Initiative (1631) Has Major Problems: Let’s Try Something Better

This fall, voters in Washington State will consider an initiative (1631) that, if passed, would put a fee on carbon and use the funds to "reduce pollution, promote renewable energy, and address climate change impacts."  Superficially it sounds good, but underneath the hood there are very serious problems.

In this blog, I will analyze Initiative 1631, note some its major deficiencies, and suggest a far better approach (a revenue-neutral carbon tax that would improve Washington's regressive tax structure).

As I described in my previous blog, I am a strong believer in carbon taxes and was an enthusiastic supporter of the defeated Initiative 732.   Mankind is doing too little to slow carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and a well-designed carbon tax or fee can use the free market to effectively respond to the problem.  Economists of all political backgrounds acknowledge the power of taxing what you don't want (in this case emissions of carbon) in encouraging people to make different choices.  Like driving smaller cars or switching to electric vehicles.

But Initiative 1631, whose goal is to initiate a carbon fee in Washington State, is deeply flawed and poorly constructed, and I believe destined for certain and dramatic defeat.

The Essentials

Initiative 1631 would establish a carbon fee that would slowly increase over time.  Unlike Initiative 732, it would not be revenue neutral, but would use the proceeds of the fee to support climate justice, renewable energy, retraining, and other activities related to global warming impacts.  
The Problems

There are so many serious deficiencies with this initiative, one hardly knows where to begin.

1.  How the money will be spent is vague

There are really no clear guidelines on how the money will be spent.  15%  should address the "energy burden" of poor households, 10% goes to the Tribes, 35% to environmental justice, $50 million to help displaced fossil-fuel workers, and the rest to vague goals in supporting renewables and clean energy.

Decision authority on how the money will be spent will be given to a 15-member board appointed by the Governor to four-year terms, and would include one tribal representative, one representative of vulnerable populations/health action areas, and the six co-chairs of a collection of panels.   So basically a group of liberal activists, appointed by a Democratic governor will make the decisions.

There is no strategic plan, no requirements for technical knowledge, and a guarantee the spending will be highly political.  Not only is such a group practically guaranteed to spend the funds unwisely, but such a plan would certainly lose the support of moderates and Republicans. 

Most folks are not willing to spend money when they don't know what they will get.  That is the problem of I-1631.  Can you imagine if the bill had specified real, tangible benefits?   Such as supporting the rapid build out of rail from Seattle to its eastern/northern suburbs?

2.   The Initiative Would Make Washington State's Regressive Tax Structure Even Worse

Whether the money comes from a tax or "fee", the effect is the same... to make the cost of carbon fuels more expensive. Money people will have to pay out.  Unlike I-732, the proposed initiative will not return the funds to taxpayers, but use the funds for a wide range of unspecified activities that are somewhat connected to climate change in the minds of the oversight board.   

The financial impacts of I1631 are clear:  this is essentially a new tax that is not based on income.   It will substantially raise the tax burden on everyone, including low-income folks, who are just as dependent on cars and trucks as anyone.  Thus, just like the sales tax,  it will be highly regressive, with the poor paying a higher percentage than their richer neighbors.  The media has headlined our regressive tax structure in Washington State.  I-1631 will make it much worse.

3.  I-1631 is Highly Partisan

To pass in Washington State and to serve as a blueprint for action for other states, any carbon tax or fee must have bipartisan support.  A revenue-neutral carbon tax could garner support from both sides of the aisle, as was true for for I-732.  For example, ast year, major Republican figures came out in support of a national revenue-neutral carbon tax.

Unfortunately, it would be hard to design an approach more likely to turn off Republican and independent voters than I-1631.  Not only is it not revenue neutral, but the funds are hardwired in the direction of Democratic supporters (labor, the tribes, minority and low-income "climate justice" groups).   Even worse, the control of the funds is put in the hands of an oversight committee selected by a Democratic governor.

I-1631 is designed to reject the moderate and conservative electorate (e.g., nearly all of eastern Washington and Vancouver, WA) and will not be suitable to serve as an example to the nation.

4.  I-1631 Gives Too Many Exemptions and to the Wrong Groups

To garner support, I-1631 gives exemptions to many business groups.  For example, it exempts local power companies (e.g., PSE), which is a total mistake since it represents a major user of fossil fuels.  The initiative also exempts coal-burning facilities (e.g., the Centralia coal plant), that offering perverse incentives to burn more coal, one of the dirtiest fuels.  And there a dozens more exemptions that I won't list.   I-732 did not do the exemption thing, but removed the B & O taxes to help businesses.

5.  I-1631 Starts Off With Too Little Impact

This initiative begin with a fee of $15 per ton, which would increase gas prices  by about 14 cents a gallon.   Not enough to make folks alter their lifestyle or the vehicles they purchase. Everything we know about climate change tells us that a large and immediate reduction is needed.  I-1631 starts weak, particularly compared to I-732, which began at $ 25 a ton of carbon emissions.

I could go further about the problems with I-1631, but you get the point:  this is a hopelessly flawed initiative that not only won't effectively address climate change in our state and would waste huge sums of money, but it will needlessly politicize what should be a bipartisan effort.   I should note that the key supporters of I-1631, The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, the labor unions, and the Sierra Club actively opposed the revenue-neutral carbon tax (I-732).  

Why?  Clearly, because they did not gain access to the money.  With I-1691 they would.

A Revenue-Neutral Approach:  Far Superior By Any Measure

Now imagine a different approach, one in which a sufficiently large carbon tax is applied to encourage folks to reduce their carbon emissions.  An approach that would refund ALL the money back to the people so they are not taking a financial hit.  A revenue-neutral approach.

But it could be better than that, we can refund the carbon tax in a way that provides preferential relief to low-income people.  There are many ways to do this.  We might reduce the State sales tax by 1-2%, lessening the most regressive tax we have.   Or we could give everyone back the same carbon tax dividend, which would preferentially help low income folks that can't afford the carbon rich lifestyle of the wealthy.   Some funds could go into a low-income tax credit, as done in I-732.   

Our state has the most regressive tax structure in the nation.  The proper use of a carbon tax could help improve this dismal situation.

But it is even better than that.  The carbon tax could be bipartisan, bringing the State together to begin to address the threat of anthropogenic global warming.  And such a carbon tax could have legs, with the ability to spred to red and blue states around the union.

The question is not whether I-1631 will pass.    It won't.  Can you image folks taxing themselves to contribute to such a poorly designed and vague plan?  Will low-income people willingly tax themselves hundreds of dollars a year to support the vague goals of some environmental activists?  You know the answer.

The real question is what happens after I-1631 fails.  Will the environmental left that killed I-732 decide to drop their financial demands and join in a bipartisan effort to deal with carbon emissions without social engineering and giveaways to their constituencies?    We will see.  

Climate change forced by increasing greenhouse gases is too serious an issue to waste time and effort, which is exactly what 1631 will do.


Announcement:  The Northwest Weather Workshop is on April 27-28

The NW Weather Workshop is the big annual meeting for those interested in Northwest meteorology.  This year we will have a major session on the meteorology of NW wildfires and others on other aspects of our regional weather.  The gathering takes place at the NOAA facility in Seattle.  To view the agenda and to register, go to the meeting website.  The workshop is open to everyone, but registration is required.

Grass fires continue to burn in the southern Plains

GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly plots of surface reports [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly plots of surface reports [click to play MP4 animation]

1-minute Mesoscale Sector GOES-16 (GOES-East) Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above) showed a number of “hot spot” signatures (dark black to red pixels) associated with grass fires that began burning in southeastern Colorado, southwest Kansas and the Oklahoma/Texas Panhandles on 17 April 2018. In addition, hot pixels from the ongoing Rhea Fire in northwest Oklahoma were evident.

During the nighttime hours a strong cold front plunged southeastward across the region (surface analyses) — and on a closer view of GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared images, 2 different behaviors were seen for 2 different fires (below). As the cold front moved over the Badger Hole Fire that was burning along the Colorado/Kansas border, a decreasing trend in hot spot intensity and coverage was noted. Farther to the southeast, when the cold front moved over the Rhea Fire in northwest Oklahoma a flare-up in hot spot intensity and coverage was apparent.

GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly plots of surface reports [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly plots of surface reports [click to play MP4 animation]

===== 18 April Update =====

A nighttime comparison of (Preliminary, Non-Operational) NOAA-20 VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm), I-Band Shortwave Infrared (3.75 µm), M-Band Shortwave Infrared (4.05 µm), and M-Band Near-Infrared (1.61 µm and 2.25 µm) images (below; courtesy of William Straka, CIMSS) showed a variety of fire detection signatures associated with the Rhea Fire (283,095 acres, 3% contained) in northwest Oklahoma.

NOAA-20 Day/Night Band (0.7 µm), I-Band Shortwave Infrared (3.75 µm), M-Band Shortwave Infrared (4.05 µm), M-Band Near-Infrared (1.61 µm and 2.25 µm) images [click to enlarge]

NOAA-20 VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm), I-Band Shortwave Infrared (3.75 µm), M-Band Shortwave Infrared (4.05 µm), M-Band Near-Infrared (1.61 µm and 2.25 µm) images [click to enlarge]

The early afternoon 1-km resolution Aqua MODIS Land Surface Temperature product (below) indicated that LST values within the Rhea burn scar (which covered much of Dewey County in Oklahoma) were as high as 100 to 105 ºF (darker red enhancement) — about 10 to 15 ºF warmer than adjacent unburned vegetated surfaces.

Aqua MODIS Land Surface Temperature product [click to enlarge]

Aqua MODIS Land Surface Temperature product [click to enlarge]

Tax Day Lake Effect Graupelfest

The tax man cometh and hath taken away your spring.

Following a high of 75˚F yesterday, it makes perfect sense to wake up to a coating of snow this morning.  After all, this is spring in the Intermountain West.

Most of that snow was produced by the passage of the frontal band overnight.  However, early this morning, lake effect got going and trained off into the Salt Lake Valley eventually shifting eastward into my neighborhood, namely the Avenues and University of Utah at around 1340 UTC/0740 MDT.

Most of the precipitation falling from then through 0800 MDT was in the form of graupel, which is basically a small ice pellet formed as supercooled liquid water droplets freeze on contact with ice crystals.  The graupel was relatively warm and cohesive and clung together just enough for demonstrations of the viscoelastic nature of snow.

The ski cognoscenti know that graupel is wonderful to ski on.  I would take a good, prolonged graupel storm over the cold smoke any day of the week.   The first thing that came to mind when the graupel started falling as I walked to the bus was, "I wish I was skiing!"

A couple of additional factoids about graupel.  Because of it's higher density and fall speed, and in some cases large size, it can often penetrate farther below the freezing level than regular snowflakes before melting.  Second, it is one of the ingredients for getting charge separation and thunderstorm development.  I haven't seen any lightning detections so far in this storm, but it happened in our lake-effect event last Friday.

Looking for Ski Crampons

I'm looking for some Dynafit ski crampons.  110 mm or 100 mm width.  If you have a used pair to sell, drop me a note at jim.steenburgh at

Where Today’s Dust Is Really Coming From (Not Sevier Lake)

The Wasatch Front has long had episodes of poor air quality related to elevated PM2.5 concentrations during our dreaded wintertime inversions.  We have also seen episodes of elevated and sometimes unhealthy PM2.5 concentrations due to blowing dust.  There are multiple dust sources in southern and western Utah, but this winter, the Cedar Valley west of Utah Lake has been especially productive.

One of our post-docs, Derik Malia, first brought this source region to my attention in December.  In my blog post on December 21, we discuss two major dust plume events that clearly originated from the Cedar Valley on 3 December and 19-20 December.  Below are MODIS imagers of those two events clearly showing the plume extending from the Cedar Valley to the Salt Lake Valley.

Today?  Same story.  The latest MODIS shows the Cedar Valley is the primary source for the dust impacting the Salt Lake valley.  Look at the clear plume that begins just to the west of Utah Lake.

Sadly, media reports, such as the one below in the Deseret News (available in full here), are stating that the dust is coming from the Sevier Lake Bed.

This is also being suggested in the tweet below from the Utah DEQ.

The Sevier Lake Bed can be an important source for dust, but in the MODIS image for this afternoon, that dust is going northward into the West Desert (look closely).  Our dust today, and in the December events, is coming primarily from the Cedar Valley.

These plumes are repeatedly impacting over 1 million people in the Salt Lake County and portions of Utah County.   Dust from these plumes, once deposited on the Wasatch snowpack, result in an accelerated snowmelt due to greater absorption of solar radiation.  

Reducing emissions from the Cedar Valley won't eliminate wind-blown dust events, but it would certainly reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of these episodes in the Salt Lake Valley.

Nearly Another Tax Day Storm

Strong cold fronts and associated mayhem are pretty common in northern Utah around Tax Day.  The all-time classic is the 15 April 2002 Tax Day Storm, which produced the 2nd lowest sea level pressure observed in Utah since record keeping began in 1892, temperature falls of 7˚C in 10 seconds and 19˚C in 2 hours, and wind gusts of more than 60 knots.  Others include the 2015 Tax Day Storm, described by Judy Fahys in this KUER article

We would have another today, if not for an oddity in the calendar.  Chances are you've noticed the nuking southerly flow, and the NWS has wind advisories or warning's up for much of weatern and southern Utah.

The view from my office is starting to look dusty.  What a shame it will be if we put down a layer of brown goo on the wonderful white snow we have right now. 

The culprit in this case is a strong front and surface trough to our west.  These features are forecast by the HRRR to extend across far NW Utah at 2000 UTC (1400 MDT) this afternoon. 

Frontal passage is expected late this afternoon (the HRRR pegs it at around 5 PM MDT for the northern Salt Lake Valley).  Sadly, the surface frontal passage will be a dry one, although precipitation will develop in it's wake tonight.  It's a quick hitter event, but don't be surprised if you wake up to some white stuff on cold surfaces tomorrow depending on the elevation of your home.  As usual, monitor official forecasts. 

Now, getting back to Tax Day, what is so special about it?  Basically, its a noteworthy day in the heart of the peak season for strong cold-frontal passages in the Intermountain West. 

Source: Shafer and Steenburgh (2008)
Today's frontal passage almost qualifies as a Tax Day Storm.  Normally, April 15 is Tax Day, but April 15 fell on a Sunday.  While that should shift Tax Day to today, Washington D.C. observes Emancipation Day on April 16, which pushes Tax Day to April 17, tomorrow.

However, if you want to call this a Tax Day Storm, I'm good with it.

Heavy rainfall over the Hawaiian island of Kauai

GOES-15 Water Vapor (6.5 µm, left) and Infrared Window (10.7 µm, right) images, with hourly plots of surface reports [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-15 Water Vapor (6.5 µm, left) and Infrared Window (10.7 µm, right) images, with hourly plots of surface reports [click to play MP4 animation]

A series of back-building thunderstorms produced very heavy rainfall and flash flooding (Public Information Statement | Local Storm Reports) over the northern and eastern portion of Kauai on 14-15 April 2018. GOES-15 (GOES-West) Water Vapor (6.5 µm) and Infrared Window (10.7 µm) images (above) showed these deep convective storms, which exhibited cloud-top infrared brightness temperatures in the -60 to -70 ºC range (red to black enhancement).

Even though the JMA Himawari-8 AHI instrument provides more frequent Water Vapor and Infrared Window images (every 10 minutes, compared to every 15-30 minutes with GOES-15) at a higher spatial resolution (2-km at satellite sub-point, vs 4-km with GOES-15),  Hawai’i is located near the limb of the Himawari-8 view — so parallax was playing a major role in the apparent location of the important convective features. Note how the primary thunderstorms were displayed to the east of Kauai on the Himawari-8 images, in contrast to directly over the island on GOES-15 images.

Himawari-8 Water Vapor (6.9 µm, left) and Infrared Window (10.4 µm, right) images, with hourly plots of surface reports [click to play MP4 animation]

Himawari-8 Water Vapor (6.9 µm, left) and Infrared Window (10.4 µm, right) images, with hourly plots of surface reports [click to play MP4 animation]

The MIMIC Total Precipitable Water product (below) showed that high amounts of tropical moisture were drawn northward across Hawai’i by the circulation of an upper-level trough that was situated west of the islands.

MIMIC Total Precipitable Water product [click to play animation]

MIMIC Total Precipitable Water product [click to play animation]

Localized Deluge

News flash:  It is 9 AM on Sunday and it should be generally dry for the next 4-5 hours.  Immediate response necessary (e.g., go outside).    There are a few residual showers, some of which are producing rainbows (see 9AM Seattle SpaceNeedle panocam).  Note the blue skies.

Yesterday was an amazingly wet day for April, and a "highlight" of one of the wettest Aprils on record.   A number of locations (like Seattle) had their wettest April 14th on record and April is now the 4th wettest on record and WE ARE ONLY THROUGH HALF THE MONTH.

The rain distribution yesterday was interesting, with the heaviest precipitation found in a southwest-northeast band from SW Washington across Seattle and into the central Cascades. 

Here are the 24h totals ending 11 PM Saturday (only showing the locations with at least 1.5 inches).   1-5-2 inches over Seattle, but 3-5 inches over SW Washington and nearly 5 inches on the western side of the Cascades NE of Seattle.  8 inches near Mt. Rainier.

The heaviest rain was during the late afternoon and early evening when local streets started to flood.

A radar-based estimate of 48-h rainfall ending 11 PM Saturday show the band of heavy precipitation across central Puget Sound, with 2-4 inches being prevalent.  And you will also notice the rainshadow over NW Washington--those lucky folks from Sequim and Port Townsend to Bellingham.

What was going on?   A relatively narrow atmospheric river of moisture that sat over us for over 12 hours.    You can see the culprit in an infrared satellite picture at 11 AM Saturday (below).

A plot of the moisture content of the atmosphere at 11 AM yesterday shows the feature, with the orange and red colors indicating high values of total moisture in the atmosphere.  Heading right towards us.

Another very useful tool can be created by multiplying the moisture content by the wind...something called Integrated Vapor Transport (IVT).   That is what really controls how much rain we get on our mountains.  IVT at the same time (11 AM) as above  shows significant values moving off the Pacific, with an configuration matching the heavy rainfall.

The forecast for the next 24 hours?  Good news for sodden Washington, bad news for Oregon.  The accumulation from 5 AM Sunday to 5 AM Monday indicates lots of rain in Oregon and northern CA, which is excellent--they need more water down there.  Washington has enough.  More than enough. Our snowpack is above normal.  Our reservoirs are full.  Our rivers are running high.  Our soil moisture is high.

I am heading outside for a run with my dog while I have a chance.

Mother Nature Takes Pity on Wasatch Skiers

It's been a lousy ski season, but if you've given up on it, you are missing out on some great skiing.

Mother Nature took pity on Wasatch skiers and delivered some great skiing.  Most of the Steenburgh group headed to the Wasatch backcountry on Friday for a Mountain Meteorology field day.  No bad luck on Friday the 13th for us.  Note the smiles.

I woke up this morning with an itch to ski some groomers, which I haven't done in about two months.  Conditions at Alta were really fantastic.  The groomers were highly carveable and I even got some freshies in the Castle shortly after the rope drop.  A few clouds did nothing to spoil the day.  The sun can spoil the snow quickly in April, but before the snow softens, it's wonderful to ski with every aspect well lit, something that does not happen during the winter months.

The forecast "closing day" and the Frank is looking warm and springlike, with some mid and upper-level clouds around and a breeze from the south picking up late during the day.  None of this will deter the debauchery.

The forecast for next week shows quite a roller coaster with a strong front coming in Late Monday/Monday night and another system advertised for the latter half of the week.  Right now, neither of these looks like it will produce a huge dump, but things can change.  Please Mother Nature, continue the pity party.

Is this an unusually poor spring in the Pacific Northwest?

The complaints are coming in. 

I can't tell you how many people have told me that this spring is unusually bad.  My son, a Northwest native, is threatening to move to southern California because of the weather.

Green slime is spreading on my deck.

So have we really been cooler and wetter than normal?  How bad is it really?

Ok, let's check the facts.    We can start by look at the difference from normal of the average temperatures over Washington State for roughly the last month.  Most of the Washington State is green, blue, or purple--the colors indicating below normal temperatures.  The above normal temperatures at Yakima I would ignore, there is something wrong with  thesensor.  Slightly warmer than normal east of the Olympics.

  So yes, the state has been a few degrees below normal.  Looking at Seattle's temperatures for the last four weeks (red lines), compared to the normal highs and lows  (purple and cyan lines), we can see that  things weren't that unusual, with temperatures rising above and below normal. 
Yakima temperatures look pretty normal to me.
Spokane does appear to be significantly below normal for the past month.
Bottom line:  the complainers probably have a point about it being cooler than normal, something that is typical of springs during La Nina years.  But around Seattle, just a little below normal.

What about precipitation?

A much more complex story.  Here is the difference of observed precipitation from normal for approximately the last four weeks.  Wetter than normal along the western slopes of the Cascades and much of eastern Washington, but way drier than normal to the east of the Olympics and in locations just to the east of the Cascade crest.

I bet I know what is going on. During the last month we had an unusual number of days with westerly winds (from the west), which resulted in a strong rain shadow to the lee (east) of the Olympics as the air descends down towards Puget Sound.  And persistent westerly flow explains the heavier rain on the windward (west facing) side of the Cascades. 

Here is the cumulative precipitation at Sea-Tac compared to normal for the past month... the observed (purple) was a bit more than normal  (cyan).
Yakima and Spokane?  Considerably more than normal, at least percentage wise (they don't get that much there).
What you really want to know is the future, right?   Well, there is plenty of cool, showery weather through the weekend.

The next week will make ducks very, very happy.   Here is the forecast accumulated precipitation through next Thursday at 5 PM.  Large amounts (5-10 inches in the Olympics and Cascades) and  even substantial precipitation down into California.  And freezing levels will be low enough for substantial snow from BC to the Sierra Nevada. 

I think I will see if my son can get a ticket for California for me as well.