Category Archives: Miscellaneous

The Good Old Days

A friend send me a copy of Grove Gilbert's 1928 USGS report Studies of Basin-Range Structure yesterday. 

Gilbert was scientific giant who did a number of pioneering studies of the geology of Utah and the western U.S.  He named Lake Bonneville, the historical lake of which the Great Salt Lake is a remnant. 

The report appears to have been published posthumously (Gilbert died in 1918).  What caught my attention are the many photos of the undeveloped Wasatch Front, which I've added to the end of this post and which would have been taken probably in the early 20th century.  They are a reminder of how rapidly we have transformed the landscape in the short period of a century (or less). 

What will Utah and our beloved Wasatch Mountains look like in 2050 when we are told the population will be twice what it is today? 

About the Wasatch Weather Weenies

Head Blogger, Jim Steenburgh, Hakuba, Japan
The Wasatch Weather Weenies began on October 1, 2010 as an invitation only blog for discussing the weather and climate of the Wasatch Front and Mountains, western United States, and mountainous regions in general. 

It started out as invitation only because I didn't want discussions to descend to the levels seen, for example, in comments following Salt Lake Tribune articles online.  However, I quickly had so many people asking to read it that I decided to make it publicly viewable and accessible.  Thanks to you, comments have remained substantive and approved for all audiences, and I'm grateful for that.  I'd actually like to see more questions, comments, and suggestions, so feel free to do so liberally. 

I consider the Wasatch Weather Weenies to be an educational blog.  Posts sometimes target a more advanced meteorological audience, others a general audience.  There's plenty of graphs and plots (including meteorological ones like Skew-Ts and time-height sections), not to mention jargon.  If you'd like to learn more, find the subject cloud in the right hand column and click on forecast tools.  There are sometimes pearls of wisdom in there that can be useful for the self-motivated learner (click on older posts when you get to the bottom to delve deeper into the archives).   Alternatively my book, Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth, is a good resource.

Please don't consider the Wasatch Weather Weenies to be a weather forecasting service.  I sometimes provide forecast thoughts in my posts, but for the most part, I use forecasting intermittently as a gateway drug to teach people about weather and the challenges of weather forecasting.  In times of hazardous weather, your best resource is the National Weather Service.  When it comes to watches, warnings, and informing decisions to protect life and property, they should be your go-to source. 

Over the past couple of years, I've been using twitter more and more.  It's a great way to share information during high-impact or simply very interesting weather events without having to write up a long post.  Follow me @ProfessorPowder or just take advantage of the tweet scroll in the right column.

The Wasatch Weather Weenies is a free blog, unencumbered by ads.  If you are a regular reader, consider making a donation to our Mountain Meteorology Fund at the University of Utah.  To do so, go to,  select "make gift", and then "add special instructions" and specify that you would like the gift to go to the mountain meteorology fund.  Donations will then be vectored to the mountain meteorology fund.  The fund is focused on support of student education and research in mountain meteorology and may be used to support international exchanges of students and faculty; to purchase research equipment; to conduct special seminars, workshops or short courses at UU; to fund student travel to national and international conferences, field experiments, workshops and short courses; and to promote other activities or purchases in support of mountain meteorology students. The fund is also used to provide travel funds for scientific visitors who come to the department to present mountain meteorology seminars.

Donation or no donation, thanks for reading.  See you on the skin track, ski lift, or nordic trail.

Best Regards,

Jim Steenburgh
Department of Atmospheric Sciences
University of Utah

This Week’s List of Seven Banned Words and Phrases

Oh, if George Carlin were alive today.  Better yet if he were also a meteorologist.  What a field day he could have revising his bit "The Seven Words You Can't Say on TV" (Youngsters: Google it).

Here's my list of meteorological banned words and phrases for the week:

1. Bomb Cyclone.

OMG, the word "bomb" has been used for decades by meteorologists to describe rapid cyclogenesis in which the central pressure of a cyclone drops at least 1 mb/hour for at least 24 hours.

Source: Sanders and Gyakum (1980)
Somehow, the press got wind of it and in the 24-hour news cycle has gotten entirely out of control.  Bomb cyclone is the new polar vortex, a scientific term that goes viral and takes on new misused meaning.  Put a fork in it!  Even John Gyakum, co-author of the article above, told the Huffington Post that "When I talk about these explosively developing storms, I go through the trouble of mouthing the terms ‘explosively developing,’ and I don’t use ‘bomb.' It’s somewhat inappropriate when you consider other aspects of the world right now."

2. Frozen America.

Hello Weather Channel.  The Continental U.S. extends west of 100º longitude and includes Hawaii and Alaska.  I get that it's cold in the east, but have you visited the western US lately?  Perhaps the plot below will help.  It shows the departure of today's forecast temperatures from average.  Frozen eastern US is more like it.

3. Pattern Change.  

If you keep saying it, eventually it will happen.  Goodness gracious I've heard this in weather broadcasts now for like a month.  It's a really horrible phrase, because it is vague and undefined.  When we get some snow tomorrow, is that a pattern change?   Coming evenutally, "we told you a pattern change was coming."  Yup, if you keep hitting on 16, eventually you'll win a hand. 

4. Hope.  You've seen this word used in forecasts for the Wasatch now for about 8 weeks.  If there's a trough in the 7 day forecast, there's hope.  If there isn't, there's probably one in the 7-14 day forecast.  If there isn't one there, try the sub-seasonal forecasts.  There's always hope

5. Anything related to the conflation of weather and climate.  OK, this isn't a specific phrase, but you can insert any number of them here regarding the role of climate change in cold-air outbreaks, hurricanes, snowstorms, midlatitude cyclogenesis.  The intersection of weather and climate is a complex place, much like the spaghetti bowl interchange in Salt Lake City.  Let's shift the conversation away from "What was the role of climate change in this event" to "How can we build a society that is more resilient to extreme weather and climate events."  

6. Anything related to the conflation of inversion and air pollution.  These are two different things.  Be cautious in their use.  For example, once an inversion has developed, the worsening air quality is not because the inversion is getting stronger, but because of ongoing emissions.  

7. Blocking Ridge.  Nothing fundamentally wrong with this phrase.  I'm just sick of it.  Please put an end to it!

To conclude, I guess there's always hope that after the bomb cyclone, and this weekend's Frozen America episode in the east, that there may be a pattern change, the blocking ridge will disappear, we will see fewer inversions and less air pollution, and that we will get into a weather pattern that locally overwhelms long term trends associated with climate change :-).  

Note: That's not a forecast.  Just humor.  

Posts Written But Not Published

I noticed yesterday that sometime in October, the Wasatch Weather Weenies reached 2500 posts.  Unbelievable.  I've written about 99.99% of those and that is an obscene amount of work!

Our top-10 most viewed posts are popular for a mixture of reasons including Google-search happenstance, popular posts for a moment in time, and content that is timeless.

10. Blast from the Past: Ski Magazine February 1978.  Powder and Alta nostalgia.  Always a winner.

9. Powder Explosion. Photo collage from our snow adventures on the Tug Hill Plateau.  Nice to see the eastern US makes an appearance.

8. El Niño Likely for the 2015-16 Winter.  Seasonal outlooks and posts on El Niño/La Niña get huge readership, despite the fact that I almost always conclude that such information has little value for skiers in Utah.

7. Disastrous Heartbreak Ridge to Develop.  Wow.  This one is only a few days old and it has skyrocketed into the top 10.  If it bleeds, it ledes, and Heartbreak Ridge bleeds.

6. Pound for Pound the Snowiest Place in Utah.  I love Ben Lomond Peak and the north Ogden Valley.  Good to see you do too.

5. The "Official 2017/18 Ski Season Outlook.  Another seasonal outlook, although this one was written with tongue firmly in cheek.  The outlook, republished below, looks to be verifying well in California and Nevada, as well as Hawaii, but the "Better than Colorado" for Utah could be in jeopardy if this ridge hangs around.

4. West To Be Tickled by Fabio.  A good example of gaming the system with a frequently googled name.  In this case, Fabio was a former eastern Pacific hurricane with remnants spreading into the western US.

3. Tour de France Weather.  Weather always affects the tour, and this post continues to get a lot of traffic.

2. Outlook for the 2013–2014 Ski Season.  Another seasonal outlook.  This one was popular, because the outlook we issued was basic and honest.  WE HAVE NO IDEA!

1. Let's Rock.  Sort of a shame that this short post is #1, simply because there are so many people Googling Let's Rock.  There's no other reason to go here.

OK, so that's the top 10 based on page views, but there's another top-10 list (technically a top 7 list) that is more interesting, and that is the list of posts never published.  There aren't many of these because I am stubborn as hell.  Typically when I write a post I get an idea, I think it will take 5 or 10 minutes, I start to write it up, and I realize I'm in over my head.  I polish the turd quickly and hit the "publish" button and move on, hoping for the best.

However, every now I realize that there's no polishing the turd.  This typically occurs with politically controversial topics related to climate change, or more philosophical posts about science and weather forecasting.

With that being said, here are the seven posts never published out of 2500+:

7. Science Is Never Settled

6. Air Quality Irony

5. What Tree Rings Tell Us about Utah Climate

4. Obama's Carbon Reduction Plans

3. Climate Change: "Action is Urgently Needed"

2. Do Climate Scientists Really Ignore Natural Climate Forcings?

1. The Future of the Weather Forecaster

These posts were written with good intentions, but haven't yet made it to blog-worthiness.  However,  there's no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.  Perhaps they will appear in the future.

Veterans Day Reflections

Tomorrow (Saturday) is Veterans Day, but many will observe it today.  Two days instead of one seems appropriate. 

Given the emphasis of this blog on weather, we take a few moments today to reflect on the sacrifice made by Air Force Captain Nathan Nylander. 

Captain Nathan Nylander.  Source:
Captain Nylander was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Weather Observer and Weather Forecaster courses.  He was the 56th Operational Support Squadron Forecaster of the Year in 1999 and 2000.  In 2006, he graduated #1 in his class at Officer Training School.  He was a leader in meteorological services in the Air Force and a friend to Air Force officers who have come to the University of Utah to pursue graduate degrees in atmospheric sciences.

Captain Nylander was killed in Afhanistan on April 27, 2011, when an Afghan colonel opened fire at the Afghan Air Force Headquarters at Kabul International Airport.  During the attack, Captain Nylander evacuated the conference room he and others occupied, returned fire, and, began treating the wounded.  When the attacker began to fire again, Captain Nylander returned fire again, but was ultimately killed.

Captain Nylander received the Silver Star, the third highest honor for combat valor, on September 24, 2011.

On this Veterans Day, take a few moments to learn more about Captain Nylander in this article from the Air Force Air Combat Command web site and this Air Advisor Memorial

National Park Entrance Fees

Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded.

Some things are a shame, others are a damn shame.  The overcrowding, overuse, and underfunded nature of our natural parks fall squarely in the latter category.

Delicate Arch, an icon of the Utah landscape.  Arches National Park.
According to an article published this week in the Salt Lake Tribune, the maintenance backlog in America's National Parks now totals $11.3 billion, including $278 million for Utah's parks.  

To address this backlog, as well as to "improve facilities, infrastructure, and visitor services, the National Park Service is now proposing to raise entrance fees seasonally in 17 national parks to $70 per vehicle, including Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion.  Public comment regarding this proposal is now being accepted at

Chronic underfunding of the National Park Service and controversy over visitor fees appears to be nearly as old as the National Parks themselves, the first of which was established by the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act signed by Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.  In fact, an entire book has been written on the subject, Visitor Fees in the National Park System: A Legislative and Administrative History, by Barry Mackintosh. 

In an ideal world, these National Parks would be adequately funded by Congress.  Park visits would be attainable for all Americans.  A $70 entry fee is unaffordable for some families.  Yes, an annual pass would still be only $80, but not everyone visits multiple parks on multiple days.  For some, a one day visit to a national park is the trip of a lifetime, and a $70 entrance fee is an impediment to such an experience.

Meanwhile,  many parks are under great pressure from visitation.  In 2012, Zion National Park set an all-time record with 2,973,607 visitors.  By 2016, they hit 4,295,127 visitors.  Overcrowding and overuse are further stressing the parks and degrading the park experience.  

I don't have any solutions for these problems.  I haven't sat on my bar stool long enough.  I wish Congress better funded the National Park System.   I could live live with a reservation system for entering some National Park areas.  I hope, however, that park fees are not levied in a way that visits become unaffordable for some American families.  I'm disgusted that such a proposal is being floated.  

Frank Brown: Friend and Mentor

Frank Brown, professor of Geology and Geophysics and Dean Emeritus of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences at the University of Utah died suddenly of a heart attack on Saturday.  It is impossible to put into words the impact that he has had on my college, the University of Utah, and my career, but I'll make an effort here. 

If you are or have been a student in the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, Frank fought tooth and nail to make your education as high quality and cost effective as possible.  I know this first hand because I was chair of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences for six years.  I watched Frank tirelessly fundraise for scholarships, attempt each year to find scholarship support for every student in the college with a GPA of 3.0 or higher (and bemoan the fact he couldn't provide more, as well as something for students below that bar), and question every aspect of my budget to ensure money was being spent effectively. 

In 2001, Frank won the Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence, the highest award for faculty at the University of Utah.  It came with a check for $40,000.  He had every reason to keep that award.  He had worked tirelessly as a professor and dean.  He was probably the lowest paid dean on campus.  He drove a beat-up old pick up (to my knowledge he drove that truck until the day he died).  Instead, he donated every cent of it back to the University to help students. 

When I arrived at the University of Utah, I was as green as grass, 28 years old, and commonly assumed to be the student representative at faculty committee meetings.  Frank provided unwavering support right from my arrival.  Perhaps he was more than glad to have a young faculty member deal with issues he'd rather avoid (computer support and management you know who you are), but it is now clear that he had an agenda.  I distinctly remember him telling me once, when I had only been at the U for a few years, that I would not only be a professor, but also a chair and a dean.  He was right on 2/3, at least so far.   His strategy was one of the self-fulfilling prophecy.  Tell good people very directly what they are capable of achieving and there's a pretty good chance it will happen.  He was also famous for confidence building quips like "you'll do fine" when people enter unknown and stressful circumstances.  It doesn't sound like much, but Frank had a way of saying it that inspired confidence.

The wonderful Continuum cover above calls Frank a "Hominid Extraordinaire."  The tendency when one sees a line like that is to think about professional achievement and in that regard, Frank was a Hominid Extraordinaire.  Indeed, Frank met that bar. How many Deans still taught a full teaching load every year?  Actually, I think he may have taught beyond that.  He was a world-class paleontologist.  He was a passionate and dedicated administrator. 

But those aren't the reasons why Frank was a Hominid Extraordinaire.  The reasons are Frank's generosity and goodness.  He did much to help people who were sick and disadvantaged.  I don't know how he found the time.  I almost always found out about these efforts when we were working late or on a weekend and he'd mention that he has to go and lend someone a hand.  He traveled to Africa every summer for field work and, as discussed in the Continuum article, spoke several native languages.  Our meetings were frequently interrupted by a phone call from Africa.  Frank would pick up and cluck away in some impressive dialect.  When the call was done, he would proceed to tell me with great concern about the personal or regional challenges that the caller was facing.  I have no idea how he juggled so many balls.

Frank Brown was my friend and mentor.  I will miss him, and so will the U.

Weather, Snow, and Ski Related Beers

I became a beer snob when I moved to Seattle in 1989 where there was already an flourishing microbrew scene.  Today, the term "craft beer" might be better since there are many excellent beers brewed by breweries of a variety of sizes. 

Some of these beers (and even some breweries) have weather, snow, and ski-related names.  Let's see if we can get a list together.  Here are a few of my favorite-named beers.  Most I've tried, but not all. 

Inversion IPA, Deschutes Brewing.  I typically drink IPAs in the summer, but this one takes the sting out of Utah's pollution during the winter.

Red Chair NWPA, Deschutes Brewing

Snow Cap, Pyramid.  This has long been one of my favorite winter ales, although it is not currently advertised on the Pyramid web site.  Hopefully it will arrive later this fall.

Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Great Lakes Brewing.  I'm a big Porter fan during the cool season.  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was a true weather catastrophe, made famous by the haunting song from Gordon Lightfoot.

Bombogenesis Double IPA, Chatham Brewing.  I haven't had this one yet, but may need to make a special trip downstate during my next visit to the hometown as this might be the best weather-named beer out there. 

Nor'eastah IPA, Chatham Brewing.  Another great weather-related name.  Designated driver definitely required for that trip.

Blueski Lager, Epic.  Epic brews several great beers without ski, snow, or weather-related themes.  I'm not much of a fan of lagers, but the ski theme gets a nod here.

Lake Effect, Proper Brewing.  A great name for this German-style ale, but sadly only 4.0% ABV.  Lake effect deserves so much more!

Mostly Cloudy, Long Trail Brewing

Sick Day, Long Trail Brewing.  None of you would ever know anything about sick days...

Runoff Red IPA, Odell.  Technically a hydrologic beer, but weather-driven.

Katabatic Brewing Co. Haven't been here yet, but this place gets a nod just for the name, with katabatic being a name for drainage flows and other buoyancy-driven downslope winds. 

Pray for Snow, 10 Barrel Brewing. 'Nuff said!

Add your favorites in the comments below.

Snowbird’s Hidden Peak Cam Is Awesome

Snowbird has done a complete upgrade of their web site and perhaps their web cams because they seem so much better than they were a couple of months ago.  The Hidden Peak Cam is amazing.  You can't do it justice with a screengrab, but this morning's is below showing the dusting of snow, but also the abrupt transition of visibility when one gets to the top of what I think is the smoke layer that moved in with the latest cold surge.

Source: Snowbird
This is a meteorological preference, but I'd like to see a time stamp on these images, but I suspect they don't want to spoil them.  There is an indication of how old the images are on the web site.

BTW, it is a bit convoluted how to find the full size images on Snowbird's web site.  The direct link is here.  High frequency animations would also be appreciated (hint hint).