Thursday, June 22, 2017

Icelandic Meteorology and Scenery

Greetings from Reykjavik.  I am on a 2-week trip to Iceland involving a week of vacation to drive and hike around the Ring Road, which encircles the island, and attend the International Conference on Alpine Meteorology.  I return to Salt Lake and the blistering heat of the American Southwest on Saturday.  Over the past 12 days, I haven't seen a temperature above 15ºC (59ºF).  Wonderful!

Iceland is a spectacular country and a great place for a meteorologists (and geologists).  Think of it as a larger, lower version of Hawaii, with colder, windier weather, ice caps and glaciers, and bigger rivers and waterfalls.  The island is pretty much entirely volcanic.  There are few trees.  It lies near the Atlantic storm track, at the intersection of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, near the Arctic Ice Cap (for now) and east of Greenland Ice Sheet.  Volcanic eruptions, sometimes violent due to the presence of ice and water, are frequent, as are volcanic dust storms.  What a place for meteorological mischief!
Moisture transport to Iceland is typically strongest and most frequent from the northeast through southwest and least frequent from the northwest.

Source: Crochet et al. (2007)
As a result, precipitation is greatest in higher elevation areas along the south and southeast coast, including the Myrdalsjokull and Vetnajokull ice caps, and in the mountains of the East Fjords.  Lowland areas on the norther side of the island, which lie downstream of high terrain during SW, S, SE, and E flow, are drier.
Source: Icelandic Meteorological Office (site locations annotated by the author)
The Iceland Met Office provides avalanche forecasts for the East Fjords, Trollaskagi (Troll Peninsula), and West Fjords.  Although precipitation is more limited, I found the mountains surrounding the Eyjafjörður Fjord near and north of Akureyri to be alluring.

Mountains along the Ring Road east of Akureyri 
East side of the Troll Peninsula
Snow fences above the town of Siglufjörður
Mountains on the west side of the Troll Peninsula
No skiing was done on this trip, but perhaps in the future.

A cultural highlight of the trip was meeting the President of Iceland Guðni Jóhannesson.

He gave a great speech for all the attendees of our meeting, who he hosted at a residence outside of Reykjavik.  Iceland sets quite an example for the rest of the world in areas such as standard of living, gender equality, and green power.  In the case of the latter, Iceland's electricity comes almost entirely from hydroelectric and geothermal sources. We were told by one of our hosts to "turn up the heat as much as we want because energy is cheap in Iceland."  

Iceland is a great place to visit for cultural reasons as the people here are remarkably friendly.  Given the massive surge in tourism over the past few years, one could understand if the locals were somewhat jaded toward tourists, but we've detected nothing of the sort.  The sole negative of a visit is that Icleand very expensive.  Peanut butter and jelly and stops at coffee shops with all you can eat fish soup and bread have proven to be essential for dietary sustenance.  Avoiding hotels and staying in less expensive guest houses has allowed us to make new friends and learn a lot about Icelandic culture.

A visual tour of a few highlights is provided below, courtesy of my cheap point-and-shoot camera.



Black sand beach

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon
No idea what the name of this one is.  These things are everywhere.
Icelandic glacier scene

Beautiful basalt columns are common in Iceland
Ski area near Neskaupstadur in the East Fjords.  Too foggy for a real photo!

Approaching Hengifoss 
Drier region on northern half of Iceland east of Lake Myvatn

Dettifoss from the east side.  You can practically put your toe in on this side (I didn't).
Dettifoss from the west
Kayakers below Godafoss
Below Godafoss (not me)

Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Iceland slot canyon

A rare "white" sand beach

Beer brewed with whale testicles at the Stedji Brewery.  When in Rome....

Friday, June 9, 2017

Blog Break

Blogging will be light to non existent for the next couple of weeks as I think deep thoughts and ponder winter weather.  Þangað til ég kem aftur, bestu óskir.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Relief Is in Sight!

As far as the first week of June goes, there's never been a hotter one in Salt Lake City based on data from the National Weather Service.  The mean temperature for the period this year is 77.4ºF, topping last year by 0.8ºF.  Both years are out there on the long-skinny tail of the distribution as the next warmest year, 2006, was 74.3ºF.

Source: NOAA Regional Climate Centers
Relief is in sight, however, in the form of a pocket of cold air, presently over the North Pacific, that will move in here over the next several days.

GFS 700-mb temperature analyses and forecasts valid 1200 UTC 6 June – 1200 UTC 13 June
Relief, however, looks to come in spits and spurts as the system pivots its way in here.  Yesterday looks to have been the peak of the heat.  Today will be a couple degrees cooler and tomorrow a bit more.  After some ups and downs, the cold air looks to be here in earnest early next week.  Right now it looks like a total decline in temperatures of about 18ºC at 700 mb (10,000 feet) from yesterday through early next week over northern Utah.  

Yesterday's high at the Salt Lake Airport was 98. is calling for 63 on Monday.

While we may flirt with some mountain snow showers here, there might be some real accumulations at upper elevations of the Tetons and and the mountains of Idaho and Southwest Montana.  It's too soon to be talking specifics, but for "entertainment purposes" let's take a look at the downscaled NAEFS snowfall product, which give decent odds of > 6 inches total accumulation for the next 7 days in some areas.  Most of this snow comes in a few days.

Here's the plume for Big Sky.

And if you must, Alta-Collins.

Most members are calling for zilch to flurries, but hey, it's really damn hot out, so I find it soothing to look at the possibility of a few inches, event if it is a low to modest probability.

You should too.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Climatology Favors Wind Farms in Red States

An article in today's New York Times highlights how the five states that get the largest percentage of their power from wind are red states (Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and North Dakota).

Source: New York Times
The reasons for this are multifaceted, but one that is not discussed explicitly in the article is climatology.

On a regional scale, the highest average annual wind speeds at 80 meters above ground (roughly turbine height) are found in the upper Great Plains.  This so-called "wind corridor" includes large portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota. All of these states were "red" in the last Presidential election.
Source: AWS Truepower/NREL
There are pockets of good wind power potential elsewhere, but if Arizona is the Saudi Arabia of solar, then the upper Great Plains are the Saudi Arabia of wind.  And, to no surprise, a great deal of wind power development and production can be found in those states.

Source: New York Times
In fact, the state with the largest installed wind power capacity, by a fairly wide margin is Texas.  

Source: By Aflafla1 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Iowa also stands out and, according to the New York Times article, had the highest fraction of power generated by the wind of any state in 2016.  

And now you know why.  The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Intricacies of Late Season Snowpack Statistics

The snowpack in the central Wasatch is going fast as temperatures sit well above average for this time of year, offering up a good opportunity for lessons in the intricacies of snowpack statistics.  

The graph below shows the snowpack water equivalent at the Snowbird SNOTEL site for this season (green line) compared to last season (red line), average (blue), and median (magenta).  I have added a dashed line during a period of missing data in late May and early June this season.  

Source CBRFC (My dashed line).  
Let's take a closer look at the graph from May through July.  As of midnight today (June 5), the snowpack water equivalent was 22 inches, which is 140% of median.  That sounds remarkably fat.  However, snowpack statistics can be very deceptive in the spring when the melt rates are fast.  Another way to look at it is that 22 inches is only 2 days behind the median.  Basically, we sit at the median for June 3rd, which doesn't sound anywhere near as impressive.  

Also evident in the plot above are important differences between median and average that arise late in the snow season.  The median is the point in the middle of the distribution of past observations.  For example, the median snowpack water equivalent for today is 15.8 inches.  Half of the seasons on record on this date were above that amount, half were below.  Starting yesterday, however, the average exceeds the median and the difference between the two grows with time.  "Average" may represent the mathematical mean, but it does not represent a typical snowpack.  

This is because there are a small number of years with fat snowpacks and many years with scant or non-existent snowpacks in late June.  As a result, the average strongly weighted by a small number of fat years (94/95, 04/05, 10/11 you know who you are).  June 18 represents the date at this site on which at least half of the years have no snow, but July 11 is the first day that the average is zero (no snow in any season at this site).  Saying that July 11 is the "average" date that the snowpack is gone is misleading.  Probably all but one year had no snow on that day. 

Real estate suffers from similar statistical oddities.   The average sale price in a neighborhood can be highly skewed by a small number of homes being sold at very high or very low values.  The median is in the middle of the distribution.  Trends in "average" home sales can be highly deceptive for this reason, especially in smaller neighborhoods that features a wide range of home types and sizes.  

The Snowbird SNOTEL has been losing about 2 inches of water equivalent a day for the past 5 days.  At that rate the site will lose almost half of its remaining snowpack by next Saturday morning.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Storm Track Is Too Far North

The forecast for the next several days is ugly.  During the first couple of weeks of the month of June, the climatological storm track position is such that we can sometimes have a cooler pattern or at least the occasional push of colder air into northern Utah.  I always hope that's the case to reduce the length of "summer", but we're getting the shaft this year.

The somewhat persistent nature of the warmth of the next several days is reflected in the forecast time series for Mt. Baldy (11,000 ft), which shows temperatures hovering around 50ºF through Friday.  That's pleasant up there, but equates primarily to highs in the 90s.

And that's reflected in the forecast below from  Six out of the next seven days (including today) with highs in the 90s.

Not looking forward to it.  Hopefully something cooler can drop into our area after June 10th.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Solar Update, Post #Climexit

I've been really impressed with the solar system we had installed and hooked up in December and each month, as the skies clear and the sun rises, the production continues to grow.

Last month, we produced nearly 1.2 megawatt hours of power, or about 38 kilowatt hours a day.

Those numbers are very satisfying today.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Yesterday's Paris Pullout

Yesterday was a dark day for me professionally.  The Paris Agreement isn't perfect, and I knew what was coming, yet I took the President's announcement like a blow to the stomach.  Adding insult to injury was the BS being thrown around about climate change.

The Paris Agreement is freely available here, so feel free to peruse it.  The summary of key agreements begins at the end of page 21 and continues onto page 22 and includes "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5ºC above preindustrial levels."

A variety of reasons were given by President Trump for the pullout, but I'll focus here on arguments that the Paris Agreement will have little impact on reducing global temperatures.  During his speech, President Trump claimed that "even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100."

There are two ways one could interpret that statement.

One is that it is patently false.  Based on current understanding, holding globally average temperature to 2ºC above preindustrial levels requires emissions reductions, carbon capture and sequestration, and/or other endeavors to limit peak greenhouse gas concentrations to about 450 ppm by about mid century.  Under that scenario, global average temperatures stabilize in the latter half of the century (dark blue below, note that the warming on the y-axis is relative to the 1985–2005 average, not preindustrial).
Source: Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth.  Adapted from Knutti and Sedláček (2012)
Other scenarios, with greater growth in greenhouse gas concentrations, feature much larger temperature increases.  If the goals of the Paris Agreement were met, global temperatures would be reduced considerably compared to those other scenarios, including "business as usual" (red line above).

The other way one might interpret that statement is that President Trump is using something else for the baseline, although I'm not sure what.  If that's the case, it was at minimum misleading.  

Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah did something a little different.  He did some cherry picking.  
As summarized in today's Salt Lake Tribune, he "cited predictions that 15 years of compliance by all participating nations would only slow the rise of global temperatures 'by a mere .07 degree Fahrenheit.'"

I don't know what predictions he is referring to specifically, but the key aspect of his statement is that he's focusing on 15 years of compliance, which presumably means the year 2035 since the Paris Agreement enters into force in 2020.  In that case, his statement is reasonably accurate, but misleading.  Nothing that happens as a result of the Paris agreement is going to have a significant impact on global warming over the next couple of decades.  The warming over the next couple of decades is due almost entirely to prior human activity because of the inertia in the climate system and our energy system.  No credible scientists dispute this.  

However, he's overlooked the fact that the primary impacts of the Paris Agreement occur in the latter half of the 21st century, as clearly indicated by the graph above.  The whole point of the Paris Agreement is to manage the risk posed by climate change, including sea level rise, by limiting the total increase in global average temperature.  Because of prior greenhouse gas emissions, and the fact that the Earth's climate system is still responding to those emissions, we can't have much of an impact on global warming over the next couple of decades.  We can, however, have a major impact in the latter half of the 21st century, and beyond.  This is what the Paris Agreement seeks to do.  

In general, I am not enamored with International agreements, but what strikes me as significant about Paris is that it is signed by nearly every country and there seems to be tremendous support for it, not only in other countries, but amongst many companies and business leaders.  It also is devoid of detail, leaving it to individual countries to set goals and policies (note: this could also be viewed as a weakness).  

By pulling out, we've stuck a hot poker in the eye of the International community.  On the other hand, progress is being made and participation in the Paris Agreement is not essential for the U.S. to further "bend the curve" on carbon emissions.  Just Wednesday, California's Senate passed a bill to receive all of its power from renewable energy by 2045 (it still needs to pass their assembly).  Many cities have ongoing plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The migration to clean power in the U.S. continues.  Let's do this.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Prediction: Snowbird Will Not Be Open for Skiing in July

Many people are wondering if Snowbird will be open for skiing in July.  The cryospheric and meteorological evidence suggests that the answer is no.

Data from the Snowbird SNOTEL hasn't come in since May 26th, so we'll lay the groundwork for this analysis with a little guesswork.  On May 26th, the Snowbird SNOTEL had 42.1 inches of water in the snowpack, but during the previous 3 days, they lost an average of about 2 inches a day.  That's a typical melt rate at that elevation on warm spring days.   Assuming continued melt rates of 2 inches per day, the station would probably be sitting near 30 inches today (steep thick green line that I've annotated).  It was, however, a bit cooler over Memorial Day weekend, so maybe melt rates wouldn't be so high, so instead perhaps they are around 37 inches (less steep green line).  

Source: CBRFC
In either case, that's still an above average snowpack, but at typical late spring melt rates, which are likely given medium-range forecasts, that location is probably looking at melt out by mid June.  Of course that's only mid mountain, so maybe we should dig a bit further.

The last season Snowbird was open until July was 10/11.  You get an idea of just how anomalous that year was from the graph above.  In 10/11, the snowpack at the Snowbird SNOTEL was still at its maximum water content on June 1st.  On that date, the snowpack water equivalent was 75.1 inches, basically double what we have currently.

Here's another way to "look" at it.  The photo below is from the Hidden Peak web cam at Snowbird today.

Source: Snowbird
And here's one from a Youtube video taken by toxxmaster on July 2, 2011.

They aren't a perfect match, but they are actually pretty similar, although there's probably a bit less coverage on July 2, 2011.  That is roughly consistent with the SNOTEL data.  If we sit between 30 and 37 inches of water equivalent today, that's about where we were on June 25–27, 2011.

Snowbird has been open on the 4th of July in two other seasons, 94/95 and 04/05.  Both of those years also had a fatter snowpack on this date than this year.

Source: CBRFC
So, I think the odds of lift-served skiing on the 4th of July are quite low.  Then again, one only needs a patch of snow and some economic and marketing will.  After all, there were people waiting in line in Vermont for first tracks at Killington this morning.

Source: Killington
Plus, wouldn't you love Snowbird to prove me wrong?