Friday, November 30, 2012

Weekend Storm Update

Riverton WFO has put together an excellent discussion of this weekends storm system for western Wyoming including the Star Valley region.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stormy Weekend Ahead

Over the Thanksgiving weekend the storm that crossed Wyoming resulted in some snow in Star Valley and more in the higher elevations.  However there was a swath of around a foot of new snow that tracked across the Tetons and the Absaroka Ranges with upward to a foot and a half in parts of the Tetons.

So far High pressure has dominated through Tuesday of this week and one more day of dry and relatively mild weather is on tap for Wednesday.  As can be seen on this Tuesday evenings satellite photos, the Northeastern Pacific Ocean is dominated by very active storms.

Water Vapor Imagery

Infrared Imagery with surface analysis Tuesday Evening

The following series of 500mb forecast charts over the next 6 days shows the progression of the deep trough now off the west coast.

Tue Evening

Thursday Evening
Saturday Evening
Monday Evening

The sequence is every two days showing the steady progression of the large trough to a position east of Wyoming over the central states by Monday evening.

This pattern supports an extended period of precipitation across western Wyoming including Star Valley.  It should begin by later Thursday/Thursday night and continue through the weekend.  The snow level will fluctuate through Saturday with rain and snow in  Star Valley and potentially heavy amounts of snow in the higher mountains. By Sunday it should be all snow in the valley as the cold trough moves inland.  The following graphic shows the model forecast total precipitation from Wednesday through Monday.  While amounts range upward to 1-2 inches in the higher mountains of Northwest Wyoming, note the very large totals in parts of Northern California.

Total Precipitation forecast from Wednesday through Monday December 3rd.

 Between 10-15 inches of rain are indicated which if verifying could result in a serious flood threat.

Eureka  CA WFO has addressed this threat with the following graphic.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Warm Octobers Continue

It was an unseasonably mild October 2012 in Star Valley, but now that the data is in it is clear much of the earth also experienced anomalously warm conditions.

With the exception of western Canada down into the Central U.S. and eastern Asia above normal temperatures were the rule over land and sea.

In fact warm Octobers have been the rule world wide for much of the past 30 years!

A possible indicator of the warm temperatures  is the extent of sea ice observed over the polar regions in October.

The first graph shows the loss of sea ice over the north polar areas in recent years as measured in October.

While the record is relatively short, the warmth appears to have taken its toll since 2000.

On the other hand the south polar sea ice has actually shown some increase in recent years

With the polar opposite signals, the cause and effect is in question although it appears that the warmth  is well correlated to sea ice loss in the north pole region.

Comparing the daily high/low temperatures with normal and record readings for Jackson WY in October  2012 there were no record setting periods. There was a particularly cold period actually in the first part of October and then ending up well above normal

So far in November after a very warm start, there was a period of below normal temperatures during the second week of the month.  However since then it has been generally mild with above normal temperatures

It now appears after a quick moving system drops a couple inches of snow on Sunday, the remainder of November should be dry and seasonably mild.   The CPC forecast for the coming weekend suggest the mild conditions should extend into the first of December.

Much of the country should experience above normal temperatures through the weekend!

Additionally a moist air mass will spread inland on the West Coast in advance of a major Pacific low pressure trough bringing above normal precipitation into Northern/Central California and Oregon.

Affects from the moist flow could reach into Star Valley over the weekend.

The extended model precipitation forecast covering the period from midnight Wednesday through midnight Sunday shows the potential for a major heavy rain event over Northern California.

Monday, November 19, 2012


While recent weather records are typically quite accurate given the modern day instrumentation and GIS capabilities, errors are being found in some of the older ones.  A couple of  examples that have been noted recently in this blog are the Worlds highest temperature

and the location of the historic Teton Tornado in 1987

Another record that has been questioned recently is the Wyoming all-time coldest temperature.  There is a blog that addresses this and other very interesting global record cold sites.

For many years there has been confusion surrounding the actual location of the Riverside Ranger Station that recorded a temperature of -66°F on Feb. 9, 1933. This figure has long been erroneously reported as the coldest temperature ever measured in Wyoming (See NCDC site for instance). The problem is that this (no longer existing) ranger station was actually located in the Montana section of Yellowstone National Park. It was situated where the town of West Yellowstone, Montana now resides.

The reason for this confusion originates from the fact that the Climatological Data by Sections USWB report for February 1933 includes Yellowstone National Park in its Wyoming section even though portions of the park, including the site of Riverside R.S., are in Montana and Idaho. If one looks at the station I.D. number (248857) on the Western Regional Climate Center’s station summaries lists we see that the site was established in 1924 (when the ranger station was established) and then continues at the same location in later years as “West Yellowstone, Montana”.

Also, I have personally(Christopher Burt the blogger) visited this area and investigated the location of the ranger station and can confirm that the site was in Montana when it was built in 1924 (by only 200 yards!). The actual record low for the state of Wyoming is -63°F at Moran on that same night of Feb. 9, 1933.

This map from 1929 shows the exact location of the Riverside Ranger Station. It is just sandwiched between the border of the national park (the large green border) and the border between Wyoming and Montana (the small dashed border). The name of the ranger station is not given, it just says "ranger station" but this is, in fact, the Riverside Ranger Station (named 'Riverside') because it is by the Madison River. One can understand the confusion of the location so far as being in Wyoming or Montana.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Good Start

After 7 days of clouds and snow,  brilliant blue skies have returned to Star Valley

At Star Valley Ranch(location of above photo), snow depth Thursday morning was 7 inches, with a total of 19 inches falling in the past week.  This brings the water year total since Oct. 1 2012 to 31 inches of snow with 3.28 inches water content. At the CoCoRaHS  site located 5 mi. S of Smoot, since Oct 1st precipitation totals 3.11 inches.

After such a dry summer and low snow pack last winter, it is an encouraging beginning to this year's snow season.

The SNOTEL sites in the Salt River Range are showing a good start to the snow pack.

The following table provides more detailed data of the snow pack from the surrounding area including the Tetons.

Looking ahead the  flow pattern  will lead to a large trough off the West Coast and  milder southwesterly flow into western Wyoming.

Thursday morning's 500mb analysis

500mb analysis Thursday am 11/15/12
 indicates high pressure ridging over much of the west which transition to an intense trough off the West Coast by the weekend as a weaker upper low off the California coast moves inland.

500mb forecast Saturday morning 11/17/12

Thursday a.m. Water Vapor Imagery shows a large area of clouds associated with the upper low off  California and a developing strong system in the Gulf of Alaska.

WV Imagery Thursday am 11/15/12

Model forecast precipitation through Saturday morning is confined to the coastal states with mostly  dry conditions in Wyoming. The clouds from the weakening upper low moving into California will spread into western Wyoming with the possibility of some light precipitation.
Model forecast precipitation  48 hours through Saturday am 11/17/12

Over the weekend the mild southwest flow continues across Star Valley, with most of the precipitation remaining to the west and north of Star Valley.

Model forecast precipitation 48 hours through Monday am 11/19/12

The low pressure trough moves inland across the Northern Rockies by Monday a.m.

500mb forecast Monday am 11/19/12
and will lead to some precipitation into Star Valley.  Mountain snows and valley rain/snow showers will be likely Sunday and Monday.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Departing Storm with a Quiet Weather Week Ahead

The cold winter storm that engulfed Star Valley and the surrounding region Friday will be heading on to the east Sunday.  While snow flurries will be possible again Sunday, the substantial snow from this storm will be essentially over.  Here is a list of snow reports in Lincoln County from the storm through Saturday afternoon.

 3 SE BEDFORD...                     14 INCHES.
 WILLOW CREEK SNOTEL...              12 INCHES.
 AFTON...                           8.5 INCHES.
 1 W SMOOT...                         8 INCHES.
 2 SE THAYNE...                       7 INCHES.
 FAIRVIEW...                          7 INCHES.
 AFTON...                             6 INCHES.
 5 SSE SMOOT...                       6 INCHES.
 BLIND BULL SUMMIT...                 5 INCHES.
 INDIAN CREEK SNOTEL...               4 INCHES.
 ALPINE...                            3 INCHES.
 HAMS FORK SNOTEL...                  3 INCHES.
 BOX Y RANCH...                       2 INCHES.
 KEMMERER...                          1 INCH.
Wintry Sunset at Star Valley Ranch Saturday 11/10/12

The heaviest snow occurred along the east side of the valley from
Etna to Afton, with Bedford/Turnerville measuring over a foot. 
Riverton WFO has provided a comprehensive summary of the Storm across Western Wyoming

The 500mb analysis with satellite imagery for Saturday evening shows the coldest portion of the system is moving across Star Valley.
Saturday Evening 500mb analysis

While the snow is over, except for lingering flurries, the cold air will be the weather story through Monday.  Temperatures which remained below freezing Saturday afternoon, will fall to the coldest levels since early last March on Sunday and Monday mornings.  There is the potential of the first subzero readings in the coldest valley locations.  Only if the clouds linger will temperatures not drop to, or below zero.

Beginning Monday afternoon, the weather pattern will transition into one that has been common much of the Fall.  A westerly flow along with mild temperatures will return.

By mid week much of the U.S. will be under a westerly flow with little significant storm activity.

Wednesday evening 500mb forecast 11/14/12

While still almost two weeks away, the Climate Prediction Center indicates both a mild and dry weather regime over much of the U.S. through the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Temperature forecast Nov 18-24 2012

Precipitation forecast Nov 18-24 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

One More Day

The advertised arrival of Winter weather to Star Valley is on schedule.  While the winds will be up this Thursday afternoon, temperatures will remain relatively balmy. However the mornings satellite infra-red photo clearly shows the major upper low pressure trough and associated cold air that is now moving into the western states.

9am Thursday 11/8/12

The following sequence of 700mb charts(around 10,000 feet MSL) graphically shows the cold air spreading eastward across much of the western states  through the weekend.

Thursday am 11/8/12
Friday am 11/9/12
Saturday am 11/10/12

Sunday am  11//11/12

The model forecast temperatures through the weekend have readings dropping below freezing later this Thursday night  and remaining cold through Sunday.

Model forecast temperatures for Star Valley in degrees F  

While the confidence is high on the  cold air arriving  by Friday morning,  the amount of snowfall is still somewhat uncertain.  Initially the system does not contain much moisture,  however as it develops east across the mountain west and is lifted by the terrain, snow will fall.  It now appears that the more significant area of snow will occur across Montana and the higher elevations of Utah and Wyoming.  Here in Star Valley, a few inches are likely to fall over the two day period of Friday and Saturday.

Again the model forecast precipitation  for the 72 hour period ending Sunday am

Model precipitation  Thu am through Sun am

Monday, November 5, 2012

Winter Weather On The Way for Wyoming

Mild late Fall weather will continue through mid-week across Star Valley and the surrounding areas.  However all the models now agree that a major change is coming.  A strong cold front will move across western Wyoming by Thursday night ushering in the coldest temperatures since early last March.

While snow is expected with and behind the cold front across the area, it is the dramatic temperature change that will have the greatest impact. Forecast model soundings for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening over Star Valley provide a visual display of the arrival of cold air.

Thursday Evening
Friday Evening

Saturday Evening

The potential for significant snow will decrease on Saturday as colder and drier air spreads across Star Valley.  Several inches of snow are possible in the valley by Saturday morning with greater amounts in the higher mountains, particularly the Tetons.  At this time it does not appear to be a particularly wet storm system, but mountains could receive upwards of a foot by late Saturday.

Riverton WFO has provided a good summary of the big changes:

Star Valley temperatures will struggle to reach freezing  Saturday with the potential for near zero readings in coldest locations by Sunday morning provided skies clear sufficiently.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

New Capabilities of the Weather Camera link

 The initial post on this blog was a description of the Weather Camera link on the site.  This was posted on 10/11/11.  John has since improved the site archiving capability and thus a re-posting  of the original description with the added info about the improvements follows.  The additional discussion is underlined at the end.

The Weather Camera is a link to the site that was developed by John Hales as a Christmas Gift to me(his father) in 2008.  While John provides any technical needs, I am the site manager and maintain quality control of the Cams on the site.

At any given time there could be as many as 130 web cams displayed.  The criteria used to determine the display of a camera are:

1. Quality of the image.(StarDot Cameras much preferred).

2. Frequency of updates. (ideally every minute)

3. Proximity to Star Valley WY

4. View of the sky.

5. Reliability

Current Features

Left click on the image will provide a  larger current image

The cursor at the top of each cam will open up the control menu for that particular cam.

Left click on the minutes option(30 60 120 180 300) will build a loop of that length in time.

Left click on the info (i) button and it will bring up a google map centered on the webcam location.  Additionally it will display the latest weather observation and identifying the location of the observation.

There is also a radar option which when turned on will display the current composite reflectivity product from the NWS 

Clicking on the + will open up a looping option.  At least 3 days are available in the archive for all cams.  Selecting the date/time and looping length in minutes will rebuild a loop.

There are two options when building a loop.  The Load Loop option will rebuild a requested  time period  and display it.  A much more powerful option is the Create Video.  This will build the requested time period and then display the Download mp4 Video which will then produce a url  that can be copied/sent or saved as a video file.

As an example using this command a video was made of the Star Valley Ranch snow gauge on March 2 2012 when the snow depth was at its deepest point during the past winter.  This video was created on November 3 2012 as the number of archived days for this particular cam extended back that far.

While all cams have at least the most recent 3 days archived, additional days can be added to a particular cam upon request.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

One of the most damaging and costliest weather events in United States history  occurred along the east coast on October 28-30 2012.  There are already many experts pontificating on where this storm stands in historic terms and what can be implied by its occurrence with regards to the future of the planet.

However,  for me, the piece in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 1 from Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. provided the most reasonable assessment of Sandy.  Following is the article, with my highlights of the  important points he brings out.

Roger Pielke: Hurricanes and Human Choice

Hurricane Sandy left in its path some impressive statistics. Its central pressure was the lowest ever recorded for a storm north of North Carolina, breaking a record set by the devastating "Long Island Express" hurricane of 1938. Along the East Coast, Sandy led to more than 50 deaths, left millions without power and caused an estimated $20 billion or more in damage.

But to call Sandy a harbinger of a "new normal," in which unprecedented weather events cause unprecedented destruction, would be wrong. This historic storm should remind us that planet Earth is a dangerous place, where extreme events are commonplace and disasters are to be expected. In the proper context, Sandy is less an example of how bad things can get than a reminder that they could be much worse.

In studying hurricanes, we can make rough comparisons over time by adjusting past losses to account for inflation and the growth of coastal communities. If Sandy causes $20 billion in damage (in 2012 dollars), it would rank as the 17th most damaging hurricane or tropical storm (out of 242) to hit the U.S. since 1900—a significant event, but not close to the top 10. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 tops the list (according to estimates by the catastrophe-insurance provider ICAT), as it would cause $180 billion in damage if it were to strike today. Hurricane Katrina ranks fourth at $85 billion.image

A worker pushes water toward a storm drain on Wall Street as the city tries to recover from the effects of Hurricane Sandy in New York on Wednesday.

To put things into even starker perspective, consider that from August 1954 through August 1955, the East Coast saw three different storms make landfall—Carol, Hazel and Diane—that in 2012 each would have caused about twice as much damage as Sandy.

While it's hardly mentioned in the media, the U.S. is currently in an extended and intense hurricane "drought." The last Category 3 or stronger storm to make landfall was Wilma in 2005. The more than seven years since then is the longest such span in over a century.

Flood damage has decreased as a proportion of the economy since reliable records were first kept by the National Weather Service in the 1930s, and there is no evidence of increasing extreme river floods. Historic tornado damage (adjusted for changing levels of development) has decreased since 1950, paralleling a dramatic reduction in casualties. Although the tragic impacts of tornadoes in 2011 (including 553 confirmed deaths) were comparable only to those of 1953 and 1964, such tornado impacts were far more common in the first half of the 20th century.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that drought in America's central plains has decreased in recent decades. And even when extensive drought occurs, we fare better. For example, the widespread 2012 drought was about 10% as costly to the U.S. economy as the multiyear 1988-89 drought, indicating greater resiliency of American agriculture.

There is therefore reason to believe we are living in an extended period of relatively good fortune with respect to disasters. A recurrence of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake today, for example, could cause more than $300 billion in damage and thousands of lives, according to a study I co-published in 2009.

So how can today's disasters, even if less physically powerful than previous ones, have such staggering financial costs? One reason: There are more people and more wealth in harm's way. Partly this is due to local land-use policies, partly to incentives such as government-subsidized insurance, but mostly to the simple fact that people like being on the coast and near rivers.

Even so, with respect to disasters we really do make our own luck. The relatively low number of casualties caused by Sandy is a testament to the success story that is the U.S. National Weather Service and parallel efforts of those who emphasize preparedness and emergency response in the public and private sectors. Everyone in the disaster-management community deserves thanks; the mitigation of the impacts from natural disasters has been a true national success story of the past century.

But continued success isn't guaranteed. The bungled response and tragic consequences associated with Hurricane Katrina tell us what can happen when we let our guard down.

And there are indications that we are setting the stage for making future disasters worse. For instance, a U.S. polar-satellite program crucial to weather forecasting has been described by the administrator of the federal agency that oversees it—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—as a "dysfunctional program that had become a national embarrassment due to chronic management problems." The lack of effective presidential and congressional oversight of this program over more than a decade can be blamed on both Republicans and Democrats. The program's mishandling may mean a gap in satellite coverage and a possible degradation in forecasts.

Another danger: Public discussion of disasters risks being taken over by the climate lobby and its allies, who exploit every extreme event to argue for action on energy policy. In New York this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared: "I think at this point it is undeniable but that we have a higher frequency of these extreme weather situations and we're going to have to deal with it." New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke similarly.

Humans do affect the climate system, and it is indeed important to take action on energy policy—but to connect energy policy and disasters makes little scientific or policy sense. There are no signs that human-caused climate change has increased the toll of recent disasters, as even the most recent extreme-event report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds. And even under the assumptions of the IPCC, changes to energy policies wouldn't have a discernible impact on future disasters for the better part of a century or more.

The only strategies that will help us effectively prepare for future disasters are those that have succeeded in the past: strategic land use, structural protection, and effective forecasts, warnings and evacuations. That is the real lesson of Sandy. 

Mr. Pielke is a professor of environmental studies and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado.