Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Will this be the hottest summer ever?

As we wrote in our previous blog, June 2015 was the hottest ever for our area.  But not just in the Inland Northwest.  Here's an image showing the extent of the record heat.


All of the areas in dark red had their hottest June on record.  And for precipitation, this was one of the driest:


This past June wasn't just a little warmer than normal, it was crazy hot.  It was actually hotter than most Julys or Augusts.  The 105F at Spokane Airport wasn't just the hottest June day ever, it was the 5th hottest day in Spokane history (click here to see a discussion of the hottest day ever in the Inland Northwest).  It's interesting to note that Europe was also extremely hot.

  • Germany set it's all-time hottest temperature ever this year on July 5th with a temperature of 104.5F.  
  • Paris had it's second hottest day ever on July 1st with a reading of 102.2F.
  • Geneva hit 103.5F, an all-time record for that city.

The two most frequent questions that we're hearing are: 1) will this be the hottest summer ever? 2) what caused the record June heat?

In order to answer question #1, it's always best to look back at history.  While we've never seen a June as hot as this, there have been some historical hot Junes.  So what happened for the rest of the summer in those years?  Below is a table showing the 10 warmest Junes and the average temperature anomaly for those years.

Average Temperature Anomalies for the 10 warmest Junes
Year
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
2015
+3.8
+7.3
+6.0
+0.1
+5.2
+9.1
?
?
?
1922
-6.7
-5.8
-2.6
-2.8
+0.9
+7.6
+3.2
+2.2
+3.1
1940
+2.8
+4.0
+5.8
+3.2
+5.0
+6.0
+2.8
+1.9
+5.1
1918
+4.4
-0.3
+3.5
+2.4
-2.0
+5.9
+1.7
-2.8
+5.2
1992
+4.5
+7.0
+6.0
+1.4
+3.3
+5.7
-2.3
+0.8
-2.3
1938
+4.3
+1.7
+1.6
+2.4
+1.4
+4.5
+5.0
-0.9
+8.2
1903
+4.9
-4.2
-0.5
-2.6
-1.3
+4.3
-4.5
-1.4
-4.1
1961
+3.1
+5.1
+0.4
-2.3
-2.5
+4.3
+1.9
+5.3
-3.7
1982
-1.0
+0.2
+0.7
-3.9
-1.3
+4.2
-2.5
+1.1
-0.2
1932
-1.1
-2.2
-1.2
+2.6
+0.2
+4.1
-0.9
+0.9
+1.7

This year has been at or warmer than normal for each month.  Some of the past hot Junes seem to have "come out of nowhere", such as 1922 where the winter and spring months leading up to June were colder than normal.  While 1940 was just plain warm, with every month above normal.  Some years are similar to 2015 (1992, 1938) in that they had mild winters/springs with a hot June.  But in those years, the remaining months of July-September were not consistently hot.

Overall, the historical numbers show us that while the July-September period following a hot June are often warm as well, it's far from a slam dunk.

July is almost half-way over and while temperatures have recently cooled, we're still running several degrees above normal. The NOAA Climate Forecast System continues to predict a warmer than normal Aug-Oct period.  So the odds are good that we'll above-normal temperatures for the next few months and possibly longer (see below).

This leads to the second question:  What caused this hot spell?  The answer to this is much more vague, but it's possibly related to El Nino.  The equatorial water of the Pacific (where El Nino is monitored) has been showing a steady warming for the past 9 months.

Equatorial Pacific Sea Surface Temperature amonalies

The Nino 3.4 region (second graph from the top) shows that El Nino conditions were barely met (i.e. greater than 0.5C anomaly) through much of this past winter.  And most climate folks agree that the weather patterns we saw this past winter were not typical of El Nino (remember all the snow and cold in the Northeast?).  In a typical El Nino event, the signal will begin in late summer, reach a peak in mid-winter, and then fade during the spring.  But this year, the warming strengthened during the spring and summer months. 

Typically, the presence of El Nino has little effect on summer weather in North America.  But the weather patterns this year of late spring and early summer resembled those of El Nino.  And the 3-month precipitation anomaly for this year looked El Nino-like, with wet weather in the southern states (remember all the Texas flooding in May) and dry weather in the Pacific NW.



So was El Nino partly to blame for our hot June?  It's impossible to say with any certainty.  Our last warm June (1992) had a moderate-strength El Nino in the preceding winter that was fading out by June.  And the super El Nino in the winter of 1982/83 had a warm June in 1982.

Some of you may be hearing projections of a "strongest El Nino ever" for this upcoming winter.  Is there any truth to these, or are they just media-hype?  Here's the El Nino prediction from the NOAA CFS model:

The solid black line is the Nino 3.4 temperature anomaly back to 2014, showing the gradual warming.  All the thin red and blue lines are forecasts, and the black dashed line is an average of the forecasts.  As you can see, the average forecast peaks at just over 3.0C around November.

Below is a similar forecast from the ECMWF:




This graph doesn't show the average of all the red forecasts, but you can see that it would be somewhere around +3.0C, peaking in November/December as well.

The official definition of a "strong" El Nino is a 3-month average anomaly greater than 1.5C for 5 months.  These forecasts certainly suggest a strong El Nino for this winter.  And to put it into historical context, there are only 2 winters with El Ninos as strong as the one currently forecast:  1982/83 and 1997/98.  Both of these winters had a strong impact on the winter weather in North America.  We'll be writing more about El Nino in the coming months as the details become clearer.




Thursday, July 2, 2015

Record warm June

June was incredibly hot across the Inland NW, leaving us Meteorologists in awe at the numbers.  And it wasn't just Eastern Washington and North Idaho that set records.  The record warmth stretched all across Washington, Oregon, and most of Idaho as the image below shows.


See the table below for a closer look at the actual numbers.  You can see in some cities such as Ephrata and Portland, the previous records were shattered by 3 to 4 degrees.



So how much above normal was it?  Average temperatures were generally 6 to 10 degrees above normal for the month of June.  That is a huge anomaly when considering this is over a 30 day period.
See image below for the graphical depiction.




The heat wave on June 27th and 28th was exceptionally noteworthy with numerous stations setting their warmest June temperature on record.  Here is a map showing some of the observed readings, with some places such as La Crosse, Walla Walla, Lewiston, Chelan, and Omak reaching or exceeding 110 degrees!


Not only was it hot, but June was also dry which has caused elevated fire danger across the region.  See map below showing the % of normal precipitation for June


So what caused this abnormally warm and dry conditions.  An anomalous ridge was in place over the Inland NW causing the record warmth.

This past June was a month to remember.  We'll see what the rest of the summer offers, with the latest long range outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center favoring increased odds of the continued warmth.



Monday, June 22, 2015

Update to the Potential Record Heat

First, it still looks like a hot weekend coming up.  But the details are becoming a bit muddier.  In our previous blog, the computers were calling for a hot, dry, cloud-free area of high pressure to park over the Pacific NW.  Here's the GFS forecast for atmospheric moisture that was made Saturday evening that is valid for this coming Sunday.


GFS Forecast of Relative Humidity created Saturday 20 June valid Sunday 28 June
The brown color indicates low humidity, which equates to a cloudless sky, while the green is moist areas that would be cloudier.  Now here's the same forecast from the most recent run of the GFS:


GFS Forecast of Relative Humidity created Monday 22 June valid Sunday 28 June
Notice the difference?  See all that green over Washington and Oregon.  That would be a batch of clouds.  The GFS model has changed it's mind a bit.  Why the change?  In the first forecast, the GFS predicted the high pressure to be directly over the Inland NW, which would deflect any clouds/moisture around it, keeping our skies sunny.  Now, the GFS has the high pressure to our east.  Still hot, but it allows clouds/moisture from the south to move up from Mexico and California into the Pacific NW.

Here's the current forecast for Monday.  Still plenty of clouds over the Inland NW.


GFS Forecast of Relative Humidity created Monday 22 June valid Monday 29 June


So what does this mean?  If the clouds do indeed occur, that will help to keep temperatures a bit cooler than previously thought.  Also, this moisture could lead to thunderstorm development over the mountains, which might provide further cooling.  All of this is still just speculation at this time. 

So how hot will it get?  Here's our current forecast temperatures for Sunday.




If this verifies, the 102F at Spokane would not only be a record for the day.  It would be the hottest June day ever in Spokane (the current record is 101F set in 1992).  That's a significant record that could be broken.  In fact, a number of locations could set their record for the hottest June day ever.

But as is usual, the computers have some slight disagreements on the exact temperature.  Here's an example.  The table shows some computer forecasts for Spokane for the Saturday-Monday time frame.

                       Saturday                      Sunday                       Monday
Model A               102                            105                             98
Model B                 98                            103                           missing
Model C                 97                            102                             96
They're all hot, but some are a little hotter than others.

While the potential cloudiness could keep temperatures a little cooler during the day, they would have the opposite affect at night.  Clouds act like a blanket and trap the heat.  This could result in some very uncomfortable sleeping weather, especially if you don't have air conditioning.  Here's the forecast low temperatures for Sunday night. It's possible that a few locations in the Columbia Basin might not cool below 80F.





Again, the weather often comes down to the details, and the details are the hardest to predict, especially this far out.  Suffice to say, it's going to be hot this weekend and possibly the following week.  Just exactly how hot will it be?  Will there be any clouds?  Any thunderstorms?  Those details will hopefully get clearer as we get closer to this event.  We ended the last blog with a reminder:  we had a similar hot forecast for this time of year 2 years ago, and some unexpected showers resulted in cooler temperatures than forecast.







Saturday, June 20, 2015

Record Heat Returning to the Inland Northwest?

Since our last mini heat wave around the 10th of June, temperatures across the Inland Northwest have generally remained above normal.  If we just focus on afternoon highs, the term "above normal" suggests that we are warming above 30-year averages which range from the lower 70s to lower 80s °F.  I think it's safe to say that the current string of above normal warmth has been manageable with highs only a handful of degrees above June's standards.  Dryness levels on the other hand, are another story, but we will reserve that for a different time.

Following that early June heat wave, a low-amplitude jet stream has been in place across the Eastern Pacific, Pacific Northwest, and Upper Midwest.  We have seen a few minor shortwaves rippling through at times but overall, no major storm systems or swings in temperatures.  Another feature of note has been a persistent area of low pressure residing over British Columbia.  

Saturday jet stream (color contours) overlaid with 500 mb heights
This low has helped the flow remain flat and as a result, prevented the dome of heat strengthening over the Desert Southwest from expanding northward.  This time of year it's not uncommon for triple digit heat in the Desert Southwest but it has been anything but normal.  Temperatures in Phoenix for mid June typically range 103-105 °F.  On Friday, Phoenix warmed to 114 °F, marking the 5th consecutive day that temperatures exceeded 111 °

High temperatures Friday 6/19

Now let's shift our focus to the forecast.  Sunday to Wednesday, only minor changes are expected. The trough currently off the coast will weaken while traversing the region.  It will increase the risk for mountain thunderstorms and deliver locally breezy winds but temperatures will generally remain steady in the upper 70s to 80s °F.  By Thursday, the pattern over the Pacific will begin to shift.  The area of low pressure currently along the western tip of the Aleutian Islands will shift east, amplify, and become the dominate area of low pressure between the Rockies and the International Dateline.  Yes, this means the persistent area of low pressure that has been lingering over British Columbia will finally depart.

Saturday morning Water Vapor satellite image with 500mb heights overlaid

If we fast forward to Sunday, here is the output from the GFS weather model: 

Sunday (June 27th) jet stream (color contours) overlaid with 500 mb heights

The GFS is indicating a ridge of historic proportions across the Western US.  Will this really pan out? Lets see how additional models stack up.

 4 different model output for Sunday (June 27th).  Jet stream (color contours) overlaid with 500 mb heights
As you can see, there is good agreement that a strong ridge will develop over the Western US but definitely some uncertainty exactly when the ridge will be strongest over the Pacific Northwest. The model output from the "less amplified" solutions did support the GFS output at one time or another but Saturday morning runs trended a bit flatter, at least for the Sunday time-frame.  When I investigated those "flatter" models a bit further, I noticed two things: 1) They eventually come into line with the GFS, just a day or two later and 2) They still indicate enough warming in the lower-levels to support 90-100s °F.

Confidence is rapidly increasing for a strong warming trend for next weekend and early next week which is likely to yield temperatures 15 to 25 degrees above normal.  

The Climate Prediction Center outlook would agree.



What are the odds we see record heat?  First lets see how this compares historically. Utilizing the GEFS (Global Ensemble Forecast System) and M-climate Return Interval, we see that 850 mb temperatures by Saturday evening are already approaching values seen once every 10 years in Southeastern WA and outside the database near the Cascades and Northern Mountains.  This particular model output does not have data for Sunday onward but I imagine a similar signal. 

M-climate return interval from GEFS mean 850mb temp

I also investigated sounding climatology from the Storm Prediction Center Page: http://www.spc.ncep.noaa.gov/exper/soundingclimo/

Example of sounding climatology from SPC.  This particular graph plots historic 700 mb temps

Of a few variables examined, output from the GFS indicated the possibility that the ridge could be of historic proportions for these dates in June.



If these numbers were to come to fruition, record temperatures are a strong possibility.  More importantly, the excessive heat will impact numerous outdoor sporting events, recreation, and festivals that are scheduled for the weekend and continue to have large impacts on outdoor activities and workers early next week.  The NWS forecast only goes out through Saturday so for the time being, here is the temperature forecast from the BCCONSALL, one of our more reliable model outputs that uses an average of medium range guidance and applies a bias correction.  In summary, highs will have the potential to soar into the 90s and 100s Saturday with many locations near or exceeding triple heat thereafter.

SATURDAY 6/27

BCCONSALL High Temperature Forecast for Saturday 6/27


SUNDAY 6/28



MONDAY 6/29



To put this into perspective, many locations could come close to breaking their all time warmest June temperature with the current records listed in the table below.

 


Tuesday could be just as hot!  As we go into July, the outlook from the CFS does not offer much hope that the Northwest will cool off anytime soon.  Note the warm anomaly in 850 mb temperatures planted directly over the Northwestern US.



So a good blog always adds some doubt to the main argument right?  Well, we were faced with a similar scenario two years ago when forecast models advertised a major heat wave for the end of June.  This happened to correlate with a large basketball tournament held in downtown Spokane.  The weather models a week out were shouting HOT HOT HOT!  Long story short, it was warm but not unbearable as a combination of clouds and thunderstorms kept temperatures in check.  Will history repeat itself?  Stay tuned!