Sunday, May 31, 2015

Does Monday still look like a severe day?

A few days have come and gone since our last post about the potential severe weather event for the first day of June. So how are things looking now that the event is nearing? Well according to the water vapor imagery below, it's looking pretty good. See the swirl off the northern California Coast? That's the deep low-pressure system which will deliver the active weather as it moves toward the Inland Northwest. Why is this low important? Well for a good thunderstorm day we need three key ingredients: lift, instability, and moisture. The low will provide us with the first ingredient.

Animated water vapor imagery. Note the swirl off the Northern California coast. 

The models are very consistent in taking this low from its current position off the California Coast toward the Washington/Oregon border by afternoon and then toward the Washington/BC border by evening. This pattern resembles the typical negative tilted pattern we associate with severe weather in the Inland Northwest. The track of the low will ensure that the region will be subject to strong lifting potential beginning in southern Washington and central Idaho in the morning and spreading northward through the day. 

500 mb forecast with precipitable water forecast

Notice the shading in the 500 mb map above? That represents the precipitable water forecast. The greens, blues, and purples depict where the juiciest air will be located, Initially the pool of moisture, currently over far northern Oregon, will shift northward tonight and then become enhanced with even more moisture from the incoming low. How much moisture will we see? We forecast that using  a parameter termed precipitable water. Precipitable water is a figure used to represent how much water the atmosphere is holding. The precipitable water forecasts are expected to reach  values are forecast to exceed an inch over portions of the Inland Northwest by afternoon. How unusual is that? According to the graphic below, it would be placed in the 97.5-99th percentile for this time of year. So it will be far from typical. 

Precipitable Water anomaly
So with the two key pieces in place, what about the third, instability? Well it looks like that piece of the puzzle will be realized as well. If you recall our previous blog post, one of the ways to measure potential instability is looking at the lifted index values. If we see negative lifted index values, that indicates potential instability. So as early as 5 am, we begin to see some of this instability. Notice the yellow and orange shading over southeast Washington? This is enough instability to support thunderstorms even without the benefit of daytime heating. 
5am Monday Lifted Index Forecast
How about later in the day? Suffice it to say the instability will not be lacking. The entire region is expected to see negative lifted index values, with the best instability represented by the -6 to -8 values over extreme eastern Washington and north Idaho. That's about as good of a lifted index as you can expect to see over the region. 
5 pm Monday Lifted Index Forecast
So with all the pieces in place what would we expect to happen? We think there will be a band of showers and thunderstorms early in the morning spreading across the Washington/Oregon border, which should slowly work their way northward through the morning. How extensive this band will be remains rather uncertain. One of the weather models is forecasting the radar to look like the image below. Notice the nice cluster of showers and thunderstorms near the Blue Mountains in SE Washington. This coincides nicely with the good pocket of instability forecast by another model.  

7 am simulated radar image

By midday, this band is expected to drift farther north, but could lose some of its definition and strength.  
11 am simulated radar
However, the first band which moves through will further moisten and destabilize the atmosphere before the strong upper-level disturbance tracks toward our region. So what will the afternoon look like? This is far from certain, and there are as many answers as there are high-resolution models. Here's just one of the forecasts for 5 pm. 

5 pm simulated radar
That is a pretty impressive simulation with strong thunderstorms located across the northern portions of Washington as well as in the southern Idaho Panhandle. However recall that the best instability (or lifted index values) were located over the Idaho Panhandle. So we have better faith in the eastern portions of this radar simulation verifying. Another thing we can look at is an ensemble of simulated radar returns. The image below shows where the greatest risk will be for the biggest thunderstorms (chances of having a 40 dbz or stronger radar echo). The regions shaded in purple have the best chances (over 90%) followed closely by the reds (over 70%). This would highlight two areas. The Cascade crest and over the southeast corner of Washington and the southern Idaho Panhandle.
Ensemble chances for 40dbz or higher echoes
So what will the main risk of severe weather involve tomorrow? Based on the instability, the biggest risk looks to be large hail. If we look at the model soundings they are likely a little too moist to support widespread wind damage, however, we still expect to see some strong wind potential with a few of the storms. 

So what is the typical weather we experience with this type of upper-level pattern? We can utilize a fascinating tool produced by the Cooperative Institute for Precipitation Systems (CIPS) at Saint Louis University. They created a tool that makes an analog of the 15 closest weather patterns (since 1980) to what the forecast weather pattern is supposed to be. So below we see the forecast for tomorrow in red compared to the mean of the top 15 analogs (or pattern matches). This looks like a pretty good fit.

500 mb forecast for tomorrow (red) plotted against the 15 top weather analogs since 1980
So what weather was experienced on those days? Interestingly enough, quite a bit. Of those 15 days that matched Mondays expected weather, there were widespread severe reports. Most of them were related to hail, but a good sample of the reports were related to wind as well. Also, notice there were 3 tornado reports in the Inland Northwest. We do not expect to see tornadoes on Monday, as the wind patterns are not quite right to support violently rotating storms, however, they have occurred in this weather pattern before. 
Severe reports from the top 15 analog days to Monday's weather pattern

The other risk we see tomorrow will be for flash flooding. The storms which develop tomorrow will obviously contain copious amounts of moisture. And more importantly they could be slow movers. 
The risk of heavy rains will likely continue through Monday night before tapering off. Here's a look at the 24-hour precipitation forecast from 4 different weather models.

Precipitation forecast from 11am Mon-11am Tue
That's a lot of precipitation (purple amounts are above  0.75") and there is a fairly consistent message that the bulk of it will occur across the northern quarter of Washington, the Cascade Crest, and over the Idaho Panhandle. Since much of this will be attributed to thunderstorms, there is likely to be a high variability over short distances, with some areas likely to receive much heavier amounts. 

Stay tuned for updates to the forecast as this will likely be a very active weather pattern. 

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