Matt Igel

Convective Atmosphere Group

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CA Air Quality

One of the great environmental and human-health success stories of the past 50 years has been the improving quality of America’s air.  Acid rain is less acidic than it was a generation ago and particles harmful to human health are less concentrated in our air.  But that is not to say that air quality is especially good in all parts of the country, all of the time.  The picture below was taken on my way home to Davis (well, the Sacramento airport) from a conference in LA.  The picture is taken looking east at the southern end of the Central Valley as the sun was setting.  This particular setup, with the sun behind me and my looking far off to the east, results in a particularly hazy looking picture.  If you’re interested to know why, please take ATM 128.  But, getting back to my point, individual locations in the US are still susceptible to conditions that result in poor air quality.  Unfortunately, the Central Valley is one of those places.

(Disclaimer: I do not endorse Southwest or any other particular airline)

Weather Inspires Poetry

I am a fan of saying that science should be fun.  Apparently at least one of the forecasters in the Seattle NWS office feels the same way.  At 2:30am on Sunday morning, this particular forecaster wrote a discussion that will likely become one of the more famous ever.  Enjoy.  Also, thanks to a former classmate, Angela Rowe, now at UW for pointing this out.


Your Phone is about to Do Something Useful for a Change

Since the first indications came out several years ago that we might be able to use the attenuation of cell phone signals to measure precipitation near the surface at unprecedented resolution, I have been anxiously waiting further development of the idea.  This week Nature ( published a short report on the progress of one company trying to commercialize the technology.  Particulars of this company aside, the fact that the use of cell phone signals to measure precipitation is mature enough that someone is working to sell the data is really exciting.  For most folks, high resolution precipitation data will mean better, hyper local forecasting in locations with lots of active cell phone users.  That’s exciting, but ultimately a little fleeting.  I see the real promise of this technology being that it will contribute significantly to our understanding of clouds and precipitation at very small scales.  A super high resolution tool has been missing from our research toolbox for too long.  Better understanding of clouds will lead to better forecasts everywhere.  I can’t wait.

Spring Training

So, it’s every baseball fan’s favorite time of year again.  No, not the World Series, not the All-Star game, but Spring Training.  It’s a special time in the baseball season when guys wearing number 97 run their hardest to catch a meaningless fly ball hit by Albert Pujols in a 10-2 blowout in an earnest effort to make the Major League team…or at the very least, to have their name associated in some small way with a future Hall of Famer.  Well, OK, maybe it’s not every baseball fan’s favorite time of year.  But, it’s definitely one of mine.

Anyway.  I’ve decided recently that Spring Training is a fantastic metaphor for a university course.  For veterans (the professors) who are already on the team, Spring Training (the course) is a chance to relearn the basics — be they executing a double play or doing integration by parts for the first time in a year.  It can be a source of entertainment and a welcome return to a routine in an otherwise chaotic calendar.  For the prospects (the students) wearing number 97, games (tests) and workouts (homeworks) are a great opportunity to learn something new (duh), see how things work at game speed in the Show (“Let’s derive the vorticity equation from first principles”), impress the front office guys (maybe, future employers? ), and catch a lazy fly ball hit by one of the veterans (keeping track of negative signs while deriving things on a white board is hard…).  So, here’s to every baseball fan’s favorite time of year, Spring Semester.

Total Precipitation is Rate Times Duration

I wanted to discuss a recent paper by a fellow member of the UC faculty, J.D. Neelin down at UCLA, and several of his collaborators.  This paper lays out in a very simple way the manner in which total storm rainfall will likely change under global warming conditions.  What I think is particularly useful about what the authors do in their work is that they note not only that storm intensity will likely increase under global warming but also that storm duration might change.  Total rainfall from a storm (or at a particular location on Earth) is the result of the storm intensity and the storm duration.  A colleague of mine back at Colorado State was fond of saying that “the most rain occurs where it rains the heaviest for the longest” which is a very simple statement but one that has often been forgotten in the global warming discussion.  There are many practical reasons for this neglect, not the least of which is that we often lack temporal resolution of storms in climate models, our chief tool for predicting a future world.  Neelin et al point out that the largest storm-total-accumulation values will likely rise due to global warming.  And, I would suggest that their argument for why this is true relies uniquely on physical reasoning.  We observe that many properties of clouds, including, apparently, total storm accumulation, obey simple power-law scalings.  Global warming will likely affect the properties of these power-laws which will likely result in higher frequencies of what would in the current climate be considered extreme rainfall accumulations.  Anyway, check out the paper — it’s freely available at PNAS.

Source: Global warming precipitation accumulation above the current-climate cutoff scale — Neelin — 2017 — PNAS

California Gets High

We often hear about meteorological records being broken.  That is especially true for high temperatures, which is a symptom of global warming, and record rainfalls, which some argue is also symptomatic of global warming but which I would argue is simply the result of the oddity of the statistical distribution of precipitation…but that isn’t the point of this post.  The point is that those of us in the central valley approached another type of all-time record this weekend without much fanfare .  We approached the all-time high (atmospheric) pressure record at the Sacramento Airport this weekend.  On Saturday at 9:53am PST, the sea-level pressure recorded was a whopping 1036.6 mb.  That’s seriously high.  The all-time January record is barely higher at 1037.6 mb.  The difference between yesterday’s pressure and Earth’s standard pressure of 1013 mb is the same as the difference between the standard pressure on Earth and some tropical storms (but in the opposite direction)!

It’s All About Optical Thickness

I was flipping through my (digital) stack of papers and articles to read this afternoon when I stumbled upon a commentary article I’ve had sitting around for a few months.  Tropical anvil clouds and climate sensitivity reviews in an easy to read way the basic state of our knowledge regarding the radiative heating of clouds in the current climate.  The point I found most interesting is one buried toward the end.  The author argues that the new challenge facing cloud-climate types is to determine a general physical law governing the relative distribution of optically thick clouds (which will cool the climate all else being equal) and optically thin clouds (that will warm the climate all else being equal).  This is precisely the kind of work we do here in the Convective Atmosphere Group.  Why are some clouds tall and narrow?  Why are some short and wide?  Increasingly, climate predictions will depend on answering those kinds of fundamental questions.  It’s all about that optical thickness.

Also, I am now an official CocoRaH’s observer: “0.7 miles NNE of Davis”.  You should join too.

More Weather Along the Capitol Corridor

Along with all the rain and the absolutely incredible snow totals in the Sierra, NWS confirmed yesterday the occurrence of an EF0 tornado just south of Sacramento on Jan. 10.  There was very little damage reported, and this was nothing like the tornadoes that occur in much of the country, but it does serve as a reminder that tornadoes can occur across the United States.


Another Wet Weekend in CA

It has been an incredibly wet start to the year here in Northern California, and we are in store for another incredible few days through early next week.  Snow reports from Sierra towns and ski resorts since last weekend have been impressive.  I can personally confirm that some of the terrain at Squaw Valley received at least 3′ of fresh snow in the 48 hour period ending on the morning of the 5th.   Local reports here in the central valley exceeded an inch for each of 3 consecutive days (Thanks, CoCoRaHS) and one spot in the Sierra reported 60″ of new snow over the same period.  In addition to all that moisture, it looks like more is on the way.  NWS is forecasting a 70% chance of at least an additional 30″ of snow (their highest category) in the Sierra and another 2″ of rain for here in Davis.  Stay dry, my friends.

AGU Fall Meeting 2016 Review

I thought I would mention what I thought was a notable trend at this year’s AGU Fall Meeting. As atmospheric science has shifted its focus away from meteorology and toward a more basic understanding of the complex physics of our atmosphere, we have developed a variety of unique tools (think general circulation models and satellites aimed as retrieving scientific quantities). But for a long time, we did not utilize these tools to their fullest capabilities. Recently, and this was on full display at AGU this year, we, as a community, have done a much better job of using these tools in a much more systematic way than ever before. I saw more talks and posters than in any previous year that did a great job of analyzing data in a methodical way. I think we’re seeing a maturation of our science. If the conference was any indication, 2017 is going to be a year full of compelling results. I’m looking forward to it.

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