Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Let's Not Lose Our Minds

Over the past several days, the extended range models have been suggesting that we will see a switch to cooler weather later this weekend or early next week.  The latest (0600 UTC) GFS forecast for 1200 UTC (0600 MDT) Monday morning is unlike anything we've seen in some time with a deep upper-level trough centered over the interior west and Utah.  

700-mb temperatures on Monday are as low as about -4˚C, certainly cold enough for snow down to about 7000 or 7500 feet. 

If you must ask, here's a peak at our downscaled NAEFS product.  Most members generate 0-3" of snow, but there are a few that are a bit more enthusiastic.  

A lot can happen in the next 5 days.  I wouldn't read too much into detailed scenarios like lake-effect potential at this time.  It's going to get colder, but let's see how forecasts evolve over the next few days before worrying about fine-scale details.  

Also, no need to panic about persistent weak layers from this storm.  Usually September snow melts out nearly everywhere if not everywhere and that will certainly be the case if we only get a couple of inches.  


  1. Good morning Jim, I'll take any snow, moisture, etc. we can get to keep from falling further in drought and anything to throw a wet blanket on the fires. I'll try to not lose my mind, but I rejoice a little bit any time water falls from the sky these days and any day that I can't fry an egg on back deck.

    I do have another question. Right now Europe seems to be in the midst of a serious energy crunch due to low natural gas supplies and reduced wind generation in the North Sea. Germany's electric grid is now being supported more by coal than wind, and the UK is restarting at least one mothballed coal plant after being coal free for the country's electric grid. Is there something seriously anomalous happening with large scale wind patterns in the EU right now and how can these events be better predicted to assist with generation planning? Energy prices are through the roof, carbon emissions are up, and there are street protests due to scarcity and prices. If this happened in the winter it would be really dangerous as well. Any insights on what's going on atmosphere wise would be appreciated in a new post. I could have plenty to say on the generation and planning side, but would love to understand the weather causing this havoc and whether this weather is truly anomalous or not.

    1. Not really my area. I understand that Germany has been reducing nuclear pretty dramatically, and this may be a contributor to greater coal use during low wind periods. I haven't been following the weather in that region at all recently to know if the situation is highly anomalous or just a calmer period that should have been anticipated. Typically these things are more complicated than just "weather."

    2. It's absolutely more complicated than weather. I certainly understand the energy markets and poor planning decisions that lead up to the current situation from energy system perspective. That includes the fact that Germany shut down all nuclear power before COVID (I can only remember time as before COVID and after COVID anymore) as part of a longer term plan post Fukushima. I guess what I'm really getting at is whether there is the capability to make wind and solar forecasts over large regions across North America in the future. It seems that areas affected are Spain to UK to Germany, which is a huge area, and that such a widespread calm was to some degree unexpected. I'd really appreciate any thoughts of yours regarding large scale wind and cloud forecasting. I know that you have written in the past about the importance and difficulty of cloud cover forecasting. Accurate cloud and wind forecasting are necessary to adequately design appropriate energy storage, and I'm on a pretty steep learning curve there. It's comparatively straightforward to engineer a thermal power plant like coal, gas, or nuclear and understand the performance envelope given the local atmospheric conditions. When that system becomes a set of wind and solar assets covering a large geographic area backed up with various energy storage systems, engineering of that system is really much more complex and requires much better understanding of solar and wind energy inputs over longer periods of time. I'm just trying to understand what tools may be available. It's a lot more difficult than just looking up pipeline natural gas specifications, but it needs to be done, and I'm trying to get a better understanding.

    3. Cloud-cover forecasting is more difficult than wind forecasting. Anticipating lulls in wind on the scale that you describe is within the capabilities of contemporary modeling abilities, on scales of at least a few days if not longer. I suspect the problems are not on the forecasting side. Increasingly, we are seeing this where the societal or energy system response falls short. See the cold snap in Texas this past winter for an example. That was a well forecast cold snap.

      It's remarkable that forecasts are at the point where the problem really isn't the forecast. This is a major change compared to when I started my career (although that doesn't mean we still can't improve).