Not So Ideal Weather Using ‘Ideal’ High School Chemistry

I hope my reference to High School Chemistry didn’t conjure up painful memories from your past; a la exploding graduated cylinders, or brutal Bunsen burner burns.

If not, please read on with an open mind.chemistry_book

Very basic chemistry explains why the Willamette Valley has been cold, foggy, gloomy and literally unhealthy for those with certain respiratory conditions.

So here comes the ‘hard’ part. Take a deep breath as I now present to you a very simple equation fundamental to science. Does the Ideal Gas Law ring a bell? All of the gasses we deal with in our atmosphere can be described using this handy equation.

P = ρRT

The simple relationship says. The pressure of any gas (P) is equal to the density of the gas (ρ) times the gas constant (R) times the temperature of the gas (T)

Okay, if you’ve made it this far the rest is easy.

Using simple algebra we can easily  rewrite this equation as such:

ρ=P/RT

Since the gas constant (R) doesn’t change – (duh it’s a constant) we can easily rearrange this to read:

ρ ≈P/T

This is an elegant little expression. It can be read like this: The density (basically the weight) of a gas (our air) is inversely proportionate to it’s temperature. Since our air pressure hasn’t changed much, it’s easy to see that the colder our air is (T), the denser it is as well (ρ). 

This relationship represents  the cornerstone of our weather lately.

The cold dense air is heavy and is resting right on top of us  in the lowest parts of the Valley. Since there are no buoyant forces to make this air rise, all of the dust, ash and other particles are trapped in this shallow dense air. We call this stagnant air. The longer this stagnant air sticks around, the more pollutants it adds. It’s kind of like adding a bit more salt to your soup day after day.

It’s unfortunate, because we have a giant ridge of high pressure aloft which would ordinarily give us unseasonably warm, sunny weather. Look at the temperatures on the mountain lately. 53 at Mt. Hood meadows today, 60s in the Coast Range. The low January sun angle isn’t strong enough to warm this layer up so it becomes less dense and lifts away. There is also little evidence of a major pressure change (AKA wind) to help move the gloom.

So here’s the real kicker: we may have to wait for rain to make us sunny again. How the heck can rain make it sunny you may ask?

Well, rain would mean an area of low pressure would move above us, it would also cool the atmosphere from above thus restoring the atmosphere back to equilibrium. A state where the temperature decreases with height, or the exact opposite of an inversion.

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Snow, Snizzle, What Is it Falling From The Sky Today?

A lot of people across the region are reporting some light snow on their lawns  this morning. A very cold and damp air mass is changing drizzle into ‘snizzle’.
Monday 'snizzle' covers the side of the road in SE Portland.
Typically in a setup like this, we get an inversion – meaning that the air aloft (above the ground) is warmer. This allows the cold air to sink to the lowest elevations. Cold air actually weighs more than warm air. We call this stable air.

An airmass is considered unstable, when lifted air continues to rise on its own because it’s warmer than the air above. Think about the old adage: warm air rises.

Since the air today above the surface is cooler, the surface air is rising, cooling and condensing out this moisture in the form of snizzle and sometimes light snow.

Science aside, as we make our way through the later half of today and especially all week-long, the air above will warm-up. This means that we return to a ‘typical’ set-up where the coldest air will remain along the valley floors with a lot of fog.

Air in the mountains and along the coast will be warmer and much sunnier.

Another shot – albeit a slight one for Valley snow

If you are a snow lover and hoping to see some more Valley snow, I have some good news and some bad news.

It’s been feeling very springlike lately with highs in the mid 50s. Now that’s warm for January standards; but enough of that, if one thing is certain, it’s that much colder air is moving in.

Rain will get going late tonight and through much of Wednesday. As the rain moves through a potent cold front also moves through. But as every north-westerner knows, how much moisture is available as the coldest air moves-in?

So here’s the good news: any precipitation that falls overnight on Wednesday and into Thursday should be in the form of snow. This means that all of us have a chance to see snow flying.

The bad news: it appears as though the brunt of the precipitation is in the form of rain when temperatures are too warm, so sticking snows are unlikely along the Valley floor.

Here is the latest 72 hour forecast from our in house RPM model.SnowCast_72hr

So it doesn’t look too promising for Valley snow to accumulate. But keep in mind, if any moisture hangs on for a longer period of time and the cold air (which can be pulled down quickly by intense precipitation rates) sets in, we may have to adjust our forecasts.

Right now I’d say anyone, even along the Valley floor, could see at least a dusting.

First Snow, Now Floods

After a snowy, cold start to our work-week mother nature has delivered a fire hose of moisture. Heavy rains and massive snow melt due to warmer temperatures have rivers and streams on the rise.
Here are some areas flooding right now:
South Yamhill River at McMinnville Pudding River at Aurora Clackamas River at Estacada Clackamas River at Oregon City Johnson Creek at Sycamore
Meanwhile the central Willamette Valley has seen the worst flooding from Salem and Turner.
As always, turn around if you see flooded intersections and roadways.
The other story over the past couple of days is the tremendous amount of snowfall in the Cascades. Here are some 48 hour snow totals:
Ski Bowl 25″ Timberline Lodge 21″ Mt. Hood Meadows 44″
a warm front slowly lifts through the region today, the heaviest rains will taper off by late afternoon. This will give the smaller rivers and creeks some time to subside, however, another storm will move through the region Friday with more rain expected.
Stay with us here at KOIN Local 6 for updates.
Matt Brode

Are you ready? I’m not…

The world watched in horror as the tragedy unfolded in Japan on March 11, 2011. Thanks to the amazing technological prowess of Japan, we were able to see, from our living rooms, the walls of water – higher than many buildings, literally washing away entire towns. Waves tossed around cars, homes and people like they were minor inconveniences on its path of unimaginable destruction. Images that will be ingrained in my mind forever.

Without sounding arrogant, it takes a lot to impress me. I have watched crippling blizzards paralyze towns and pile-up cars on the interstate for days. I lived through the most active hurricane season in recorded history, I personally witnessed the wrath of Hurricane Katrina and Wilma as they pass directly over my house. I’ve walked through the debris of merciless tornadoes. But nothing in my entire life has amazed me more than what I watched afar, from a bleeding land many thousands of miles away.

It is my duty to protect lives. My job description requires me to warn people of damaging weather. The beauty of my profession, as a Meteorologist, is that I have the ability to see tornadoes, hurricane’s, blizzards and ice-storms coming – usually well ahead of the danger. Sure, tornadoes are less predictable, but we know if certain ingredients for such a storm exist, and hence have the ability to warn. We know that the ingredients for a magnitude 9.0 megathrust earthquake also exist. We just don’t know when. It could be tomorrow or it could be 300 years from now (leading experts say we have better than a 1 in 3 chance in the next 50 years). The devastation we all watched from our television sets will happen again, and the next time it occurs we may instead be watching it from our living rooms as we hold on for our dear lives. Unlike a severe thunderstorm warning, however, there will be no warning at all. An imminent earthquake of this type could make Katrina look like a bad hair day. The kicker is that many of us simply are not ready, I am the first to admit that even I am not ready.

I have lived in 10 states from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the desert to the tundra, from the tropics to the northwest, and in the 39 years of my life I have never experienced an earthquake. I’m a Meteorologist not a geophysicist, but I bet that similar laws governing what happens below the earth are akin to the equations of motions we use to describe the atmosphere above. I trust what the cutting edge scientists in the field of geology say. In the past 2 weeks I have read, listened to and reached out to many of these scientists, and there is no fuzzy math governing the physics.

The exact same situation we all witnessed in Japan will happen right here in the Pacific Northwest. Portland, Seattle and Vancouver are ticking time bombs. The only difference we face is that we are much less prepared than our counterparts across the Pacific.

I believe that studying history is important for many reasons. Perhaps the most obvious is to learn not only from historic failures but also from its successes. I posit the following question to you: Do you know what to do or where to go when the Cascadia Subduction Zone erupts? I don’t. I work and live downtown in high-rise buildings. Leading experts say that many of these buildings will be severely destroyed at best, and possibly subjected to complete collapse. And these buildings are the modern ones such as “Big Pink”  A quick youtube search yields shocking video of Tokyo skyscrapers swaying from side-to-side – and Tokyo is probably the best equipped city with the highest seismic construction standards in the entire world.

So where do I go and what do I do when the 9.0 hits? I don’t know, do you? In all fairness to structural engineers; it wasn’t until the 1980s that our precious corner of the continent was labeled as “high risk” with the serendipitous findings of an active subduction zone just miles offshore from California to Canada. But I think it is imperative to immediately address this dangerous situation and identify and retrofit potentially at-risk buildings, schools, bridges and essential emergency epicenters such as hospitals and fire departments. Do you have a weeks supply of non-perishable food and water? Do you have a plan to meet-up with loved ones in a particular spot? I don’t.

The same type of earthquake and subsequent tsunami is coming to a town near you people, and we are decades behind the cities in Japan not only in planning but with solid infrastructure. I implore you to learn as much as you can about this ominous situation, devise a survival plan, demand from your political leaders some reassurance, but more importantly some action. Tell your family, friends and neighbors to do the same. We are simply running out of time. I recently heard one politician’s mumblings that “tensions are high right now in lieu of the Japanese tsunami and that emotions will quiet soon.” He also said that there is a real monetary issue at hand,  that we simply cannot afford to do what is necessary to bring our seismic standards up to par. I find this sentiment reprehensible and say that we cannot afford to not beef up our standards and procedures. The cost to rebuild will be far greater than the cost to upgrade.

Here is a link to a web page providing a wealth of knowledge on the situation we all face. We are all in this together. http://www.crew.org/

An excellent description of what a 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake means to the Pacific Northwest, what to do,  and the likely impacts to our region can be found here.

I must also give credit for the image I used in this post to National Geographic. They have a new documentary “Countdown to Catastrophe” which I highly suggest watching.

I plan on learning more, becoming better prepared and making calls to our leaders. Do you?

Leaf Peepers

It’s mid October: and this native New Englander had no idea that the great Northwest could have such a fantastic display of fall-colors. In my forecast last night I gave a fall foliage forecast update. Many think that beautiful fall colors  are due to the cooler temperatures. While this is in part true, the primary reason leaves change color is from the shorter days – more simply put; less sunlight.

Green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves. As the bright green fades away, we begin to see yellow and orange colors. Small amounts of these colors have been in the leaves all along. We just can’t see them in the summer, because they are covered up by the green chlorophyll.

The bright reds and purples we see in leaves are made mostly in the fall. In some trees, like maples, glucose is trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn cause the leaves turn this glucose into a red color. The brown color of trees like oaks is made from wastes left in the leaves.

It is the combination of all these things that make the beautiful fall foliage colors we enjoy each year.

California Dreaming?

The only thing I might have been dreaming about is Frosty the Snowman if I had the displeasure of being in Los Angeles yesterday.

The Valley’s and Desert’s of SoCal are know to heat-up while LA typically enjoys the smoggy marine layer (sometimes you can even see the actual sun). But typically – even when the Santa Ana’s blow- the actual city of LA – I’m talking civic center, doesn’t get out of control hot.

 113 degrees in Los Angeles not only breaks the record for the day, but it breaks the all-time record for any day since records have been kept (1877).

Santa Ana 101 (Not the freeway):  Portlanders were indirectly affected by the California Santa Ana winds. Santa Ana winds are created when a strong area of high-pressure builds in the western states, and the clock-wise flow around this cell of high pressure blows easterly winds. That is the wind blows from the east. (east to west). The air blows up the mountains of SoCal and has to go somewhere. Four-hundred years ago Newton described gravity and it’s no wonder that this air, without any other force, has to go down the mountain. As air rushes down the mountains it accelerates, compresses and warms. Many other dynamic factors are at play, but this is the essence of how and why SoCal can get so hot.

Not limited to SoCal:

Even though Meteorologists classify such winds as a mesoscale phenomenon (on a medium scale), the broader circulation also brought very warm temperatures to Oregon yesterday. So while many Oregonians were complaining about the heat, please remember that it could be a lot worse.

On Stephen Hawking’s God Comments

“Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” – Albert Einstein

Stephen Hawking has defied odds in many ways. Bound to a wheelchair and a voice box synthesizer – he cannot speak and is now virtually paralyzed. Hawking has managed to emerge as arguably the most prominent face and force in modern physics since Albert Einstein introduced the world to relativity. ALS  has plagued Hawking since he was 21 (1963) and doctors said he wouldn’t survive more than two to three years upon diagnosis. Hawking acclaimed pop-fame in 1988 when “A Brief History of Time” was first published. The text is a user-friendly guide which dumbs down complex esoteric topics such as space-time, and black holes for the average non-science reader.

Up until last week, Hawking has used the term God metaphorically. While never proclaiming to be religious, he identified that God could be used as a catalyst to make the necessary conditions for the creation of the universe – aka the big bang. In his latest work, “The Grand Design”, Hawking states

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

Media Blitzkrieg

Hawking merely asserts that physics can account for the creation of the universe without God. He doesn’t say that God doesn’t exist or that God couldn’t have played a role in the origins of the cosmos. I see nothing wrong with accepting his premise: that mathematics, the calculus or general science alone could account for the big-bang singularity. Yet many religious leaders are in an uproar. Had Hawking proclaimed that God positively had nothing to do with the creation of the universe, well then I think Hawking would be acting like God. In all fairness he didn’t make such a statement. I truly believe that the media is making a mountain out of a mole hill – trying to sensationalize a simple nonthreatening comment and taking it out of context. Hawking clearly has few days left on this planet, and I believe the media is doing nothing shy of trying to glean any “new” news before one of our most prominent minds of the last century passes on.

Further Reading

The head of the Human Genome Project and director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, also a staff member at the University of Michigan (Go Blue),  published a wonderful book titled “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidience for Belief.” I read his work, and the implications, if nothing else, are very thought provoking.

Stay Tuned

I had the privilege of going to the Albert Einstein exhibit at OMSI a couple of weeks back and highly recommend it to anyone interested in modern physics. Einstein as a scientist, a Zionist, a father and his political prowess has amazed me since I was a young boy. I will publish my thoughts on him and the exhibit in a later blog entry. As always, thanks for stopping by.

Dodging a Bullet

Recon has confirmed that Earl is weakening and the Carolina’s have dodged a bullet. Earl is moving to the North and as I thought earlier, New England is its target. Fortunately Earl will encounter cooler SST’s and continue to weaken. The Cape and Islands will likely see tropical force winds and maybe some hurricane force gusts.

Many people know that Hurricane’s require warm ocean waters to sustain vitality, but they also need little wind shear from top to bottom. Wind shear is the change of wind speed and/or direction with height. As the cane’s move into the mid-latitudes, they typically run into a much more hostile wind shear environment.

Peak season is just underway and I’m watching Fiona. Fiona will stay at sea and become as we say a “fish” storm – bothers no one but fish.