Tuesday, November 23, 2010

That was easy, now it gets hard

Hats off to the weather enterprise, including NCEP, NWS/Salt Lake Weather Forecast Office, TV broadcasters, etc., for a really great forecast.  This is a watershed event for the weather prediction in Utah.  Our own mini-version of the 1993 Superstorm.  It is often said that life in Utah is about 20 years behind the rest of America (don't believe me, spend a weekend in Provo...) and metaphorically that is where we are with forecast skill in part because many of our storm systems are very small in scale and not usually driven by strong synoptic forcing.  As a result, model skill here lags the rest of the country.  I was shocked at how difficult it was to forecast here when I moved from Seattle in 1995.

Since then, however, the observing system has improved substantially (e.g., MesoWest), the models have improved substantially, and forecasters have learned a lot about Intermountain weather.  We still lag, but now we can seize opportunities such as we had today when the system is strongly forced, well captured by our much improved observing system, and well simulated by the models.  The forecasters really went after it, spread the word (the web and social media revolution have helped here too), and spared the Wasatch Front a very difficult rush hour.

Unfortunately, it gets much harder from here.  Tonight and tomorrow we are once again dealing with the Dreaded Lake Effect, which is highly nonlinear, poorly resolved by NWP, very sensitive to small changes in the upstream flow (especially given the small lake size), etc.  It appears that lake-effect will happen, but where, when, and how much?  We don't have tools to reliably answer these questions yet (even probabalistic ones), which makes this a great research challenge for you students out there.

Like a good meteorologist, I'm hoping we get pounded.  It will be unbelievably cold in the mountains tomorrow (probably below -10F above 9000 ft) so I'd like to go skiing in the foothills behind my house where it will be a more tolerable 10F.

1 comment:

  1. I know it's early, but the radar loop is encouraging to me (I think).

    I've noticed that sometimes with these fronts we have a period where the dominant snowfall type is somewhat of a hybrid between frontal and lake-effect as it transitions to pure lake-effect. Looking at reflectivities building back over the lake, maybe we can make this transition without a lull in the action.