Category Archives: Science stories

Miriam’s sunset

At least former hurricane Miriam gave us a nice sunset of mostly layer ice clouds (Cirrostratus; Altostratus (where thicker).  Note portion of halo, upper center, above pointy-top cedar tree on the horizon.  Looks a broken streak of droplet clouds (Cirrocumulus) just below that  bit of halo.

Today’s overcast of Altocumulus and Stratocumulus, also associated with Miriam, develops some light rain to the south of us now.  Wasn’t supposed to get here (from U of AZ model yesterday), but, there it is, SLOWLY heading this way.  Will it make it? Don’t think so. If it does, it won’t be much, a trace?  Dang.

Next rain here, sometime in October….  None now shown for the next 15 days.  Maybe summer stats later today or tomorrow.  (Correction, updated at 1:05 PM local based on the US WRF-GFS model run at 5 AM:  

the almost “usual” rain has shown up, 324 h from now, that is, Thursday afternoon, October 11th.  Below is the precip for the 12 h ending at 5 PM that day.  Also, as “usual”, don’t count on it, but its not impossible either.  There a tiny heavier rain blob over Catalina or so.


Didn’t get to a rain stat presentation yet due to being absorbed by former company team’s activities in SEA last evening where, at the conclusion of the match, there was a display of sport’s anarchy.  The attendees of this event, in some kind of euphoric riot, lost control of themselves, climbed out of their seats and advanced onto the floor of the stadium where only the athletes and their entourages are supposed to be.

Two curious friends were at that game, my friend Nate, who got a big check (250 K$!) from Al Gore at the Whitehouse a few years ago due to being a science star, and my other friend Keith, who made a LOT of money photographing the explosion of Mt. St. Helen’s in 1980 because he was where he shouldn’t have been went it went off.   Keith then quit the Ph. D. program in the geophysics grad school at the U of WA and started a company, Remote Measurements,  due to all the money he made from that poster of the explosion.

Nate and Keith now share season tickets now to the Husky football games, as Nate and I once did, which I think proves something about fans of college fubball.

What does it prove?

Maybe its that you can like college fubball and still get a big check from Al Gore (who later went on from being Vice-president to a star in the movies).

Or, it just proves that you don’t have to be THAT bright to be a success in science (hahahahah-its just long, hard hours, not brillance, that counts).

And, it may prove that college fubball fans are sometimes not be who we think they are.  Feeling defensive here about being so absorbed last evening, so let us not forget that the writer was thanked by the People of Earth with a small monetary prize, a “scroll”,  AND…a trophy (!) for his and Peter Hobbs’ body of work in the domain of weather modification, all these goodies being presented in Capetown, SA, in 2006.  So, there, IQ feels better now.

As a joke on that that latter thought, my friend and grad school officemate, Ricky, from Harvard U. no less, and I used to throw a  football around at lunchtime on the lawn in front of the 7-story department of Atmos. Sci.  Building at the U of WA.  Before we went out the door to play catch, I warned Ricky that his perceived IQ would drop by 30 points when people look down and see him tossing a football, and, forget dating any of the women in the Department…  :}  Just kidding!

The End.


Not expected, but it missed anyway

Woke up to Cumulonimbus clouds NW-N of Catalina.  Hmmm.  Here’s the unexpected, pretty sight just after sunrise:

7:24 AM. “Pretty, but will likely die much after sunrise.” Cumulus and Cumulonimbus clouds along a windshift line moving toward Catalina continued to develop throughout the morning while getting closer.
9:34 AM. Odd line of Cumulus congestus growing into Cumulonimbus clouds with major rainshafts is getting closer still. “What’s keeping this going so early in the day?”


10:00 AM. “Upon closer inspection….”, a windshift line is detected via photography!
Arrow point to shred cloud below base of the turret at left. This is a great example of how clashing winds build clouds. Above the shred clouds is that vigorously growing turret trying to reach the glaciation level.
10:06 AM. It made it! (to the glaciation level)  Maybe it means that the line of fat Cumulus-Cumulonimbus might make it here to Catalina and rain on me! I’m getting excited. Arrow points to icy top, though as cloud maven juniors you would already recognize that icy top, so I left the arrow out since I forgot add it anyway.  These are the best kinds of icy tops to study with an airplane because they near the threshold temperature where ice forms in clouds on this day.  That threshold level changes from day to day, strangely believe it, and the warmer the BOTTOM of the cloud, the HIGHER the temperature at which ice forms, strangely believe it#2.  Even stranger, Mr. Cloud-maven person thought he had discovered this interesting fact back in 1988 and then he found that this guy, the Englishman, Frank Ludlum, one of the best we’ve ever had in cloud studies, and I should have known better, had reported the SAME THING 36 years earlier in 1952!  There is nothing new under the sun, Ecclesiastes said, and I guess I found out first hand.  Darn.  I laughed bitterly when I saw that Science mag cartoon about stuff like this, posted below because it won’t fit in this caption.  Darn.  You can see I still have some feelings about having something to report but then finding out that it had already been reported. I thought maybe I was gong to be famous, perhaps win a prize of some kind, but no.  (See second cartoon)

Well, the end of the story (told in the captions) is that a windshift producing this line of heavy Cu and a Cb or two and it “struck” Catalina about 11 AM;  the wind turned from the SW to the N, but the heavy line of clouds riding it were nowhere to be seen at that time; the last Cumulonimbus cloud disappearing beyond the Charoleau Gap. Tough to take after hopes up.

Only in the early afternoon did a gift of a few drops from a towering Cumulus directly overhead produce the final surprise. The drops fell from 1:22 PM to 1:23 PM. I rushed outside to see what the heck was doing it and here that cloud is (last two photos) from the bottom up.

1:23 PM. Its raining!

1:23 PM also. Arrow points to ice, showing that this little guy got to the ice-forming level, and would have been another great subject for an aircraft study of ice formation.

Mods see afternoon isolated Cumulonimbus today.

The End.

On a clear day you can see Flagstaff

Of course, you can’t see the TOWN of Flagstaff, you silly person, the title was just a hook to get you here to read about clouds!  The earth curves too much for you to see Flagstaff, for Pete’s Sake. How could you even imagine that such a title could be true?

But, you CAN see the tops of Cumulonimbus clouds boiling upward OVER Flagstaff, maybe there is someone you know there and you could call them about it, find out how much it has rained.  Those Cumulonimbus tops stick up above the horizon in that direction about a quarter of an inch if you were to take a ruler out and hold it out in front of you.  Thought you’d like to know this.

Here’s the scene I am describing from yesterday afternoon.  In case you wouldn’t know what to say to your Flagstaff friend, I’ve tried to help you out in the caption for the second photo.  Maybe its your mom you haven’t called in a while….  Who knows who it might be that you know up there?

1:27 PM. The scene. Cumulonimbus tops, likely above 40,000 feet above sea level, lined the higher terrain of the Rim to the NW-NE from Catalina yesterday afternoon.  BTW, I really like Catalina.  Who would have dreamed I would end up HERE coming from Seattle!
1:27 PM. Arrow points to a top right by Flagstaff!  If you have a friend or a relative up there because its too hot here, you could have called from Catalina yesterday and said, “Hi, I see its raining up there.  Are you getting much?  Friend:  “How do you know its raining? Did you look at some radar?”  You reply, “No, I can see the cloud over you from here, I really didn’t need to look at the radar.”

Finishing off today’s lesson: The tops you see are ALMOST always completely composed of ICE crystals and snowflakes because they too damn cold at 40,000 feet or so (temperature less than -40 C, less than -40 F; they are the same numeric at that temperature, yet another piece of knowledge for you) for anything but ice we think.

Some embarrassed people have reported liquid water at temperatures below -50 C such as Robert H. Simpson, former head of the National Hurricane Center and also husband of the late Joanne Simpson, famed Cumulus researcher and FIRST WOMAN TO EVER RECEIVE A PH. D. in meteorology1.  Must’ve have been an especially great marriage because they both loved weather and clouds and hurricanes and probably talked about ’em all day.

Continuing with something relevant, once when Bob (Simpson) was in Seattle giving a talk, after the talk I said to him, smiling, “You must be pretty embarrassed about reporting liquid water at -62 C”, as he did in 1962 in a conference paper, and again in 1963 in the peer-reviewed journal, the Monthly Weather Review.

He smiled and said, “The theoreticians don’t think its there, but its there.”


The weather today and the next few days into August?

Scattered rains, lightning thunder EVERY day into August! I am so happy. More rain is on the doorstep.  Take a look below at what this extra rain we’ve had so far in July has already done to our desert as of three days ago, July 25th.  Its incredible, isn’t it?  I call it, the “re-jungle-ation” of Arizona accompanied by the appearance of new life forms; see last photo.

1Joanne Simpson, after reviewing my grades, advised me to give up meteorology. She was a professor at UCLA then (1963), and I wanted to “walk on” as a met student in their program. In effect, though I didn’t realize it then, she saved me from myself since UCLA was WAY too theoretical for me in the approach to weather. Later I attended San Jose State2, a program much more suited to me with my weak math skills.  (Can you put a footnote in a footnote?)”

2While at SJS in the later 1960s, I was forecasting weather for the college paper, forecasts that devolved into silly, juvenile, lame topical humor, much like the “humor” here.  To drop another name in this blog, I loved what KRLA-AM, a top 40 station in Los Angeles, where I grew up,  was doing in those turbulent days of the late 1960s. They had dared to start a news parody program, recreating news events that they would first report in a serious manner.  It was bold and courageous for a mainstream media station; they dared to offend. I wanted to be a part of it, and went down to apply for summer work there in 1968.

My interviewer?  A young Harry Shearer.  The “Credibility Gap“,  the KRLA news parody team in those days, consisted mainly of Harry, Richard Beebe, and David L. Lander.  An example of their work, “Dawn of New Era for Man”,  KRLA’s 1969 Apollo 11 counter coverage to the major networks; its 8 min long, Arizona’s Papago Indians mentioned.  You can’t find this on the internet!

Back to the interview:  Harry briefly examined my topical forecasts for the SJS paper, ones I presented to him pasted on a blank sheet of paper.  After just a minute or two, he said, “I don’t think they’re that funny.”   It was painful to hear, but upon later reflection, oh, so true!  I left immediately.

I had some low moments in the 1960s, but here I am!



Lemmon bloom

Thunderstorms in the distance crept toward the Catalinas late in the day, and after sunset, an approaching, but thinning anvil of a dead Cumulonimbus cloud (no updrafts remaining to feed the anvil) produced this beauty.  With the death of this prospect, any hope of rain moving in here later in the evening went six feet under as well.

The anvil below looks fairly close, but if you go to the U of A time lapse, this anvil comes onto the field of view at about 7:40 PM, and you can get an idea of how much farther the anvil below had to go to be above the Cat Mountains.

For the second day in a row there were virtually no Cumulus clouds over our Catalina mountains, a real disappointment.  But, undaunted, Mr. Cloud Maven person will anticipate Cumulus clouds over the Catalinas once again today, following in the same wrong footsteps of the past two days, and will again foretell that these will be ones that will rise high enough to “glaciate”, that is, have their tops convert from liquid droplets to ice crystals.

The result of this “glaciation” process is something coming out the bottom of the cloud, a dense shaft of precip, as a Cumulus cloud transforms itself into a Cumulonimbus one.


Science Story:  This is always an exciting sight and a process that Mr. Cloud Maven person (MCMP) spent some 25 odd years studying with a highly instrumented aircraft at the University of Washington but couldn’t quite figure out how it happened.  In fact, MCMP (with his lab chief co-author) were criticized royally (i.e., Blyth and Latham 1998) for what they did report over the years (“royally”; they were two British guys, but working in the US).  We “Reply” to their comments in quite substantial fashion in the same issue (Reply to Blyth and Latham)!

BTW, real scientists, like Alan Blyth, are still working on this problem; how clouds glaciate.  Its pretty amazing when you think of it.   These days the Japanese (asteroid dust Science-2011) can send a spacescraft to an asteroid named, Itokawa, land on it, pick up some dust grains, and bring them back, a process taking more than 10 years, but we really don’t know completely how ice forms in a cloud!


Back to the local scene:

once again we have our high surface dewpoints, in the upper 50s (58 F here in Catalina) and even 62 F now at Douglas.  So the bottom of our atmosphere is OK for Cumulus.  And once again, we have an overcast of mid-level Altocumulus clouds.   A problem yesterday was the extreme dryness above that surface moist layer, and below the Altocumulus one, a shallow moist layer that was completely obliterated after the sun came up and the dry one and razor-thin moist one mixed together.  Its not so dry today above the low humid layer today, and so Cumulonimbus clouds should be able to develop in the area.

Besides the models told me so.  Have been a little sloppy and a little, well, arrogant,  about reading the early morning sky absent more information.


Here’s today’s TUS sounding, from the Wyoming Cowboys, so you can see for yourself.

The End, unless I find out I am going to be wrong again when more data comes in a couple of hours.



Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion, p269: climate change meets cloud seeding

“McIntyre’s first step in trying to replicate a paper was to collate the data.   While data might be cited correctly and accurately in the papers, it was always possible that what had been used was different in some way to the official versions, whether due to an error in the archive or one made by the authors.”

Almost at every turn in this monumental exposé by A. W. Montford, I see parallels in the many cloud seeding reanalyses I did at the University of Washington with Peter Hobbs.  The two sentences quoted above from Montford’s book, so fundamental a step in checking results, literally leapt off the page since that is exactly where the most basic replication starts, and where we always began in our cloud seeding (CS) reanalyses.

In our re-evaluation of perhaps the most important randomized wintertime cloud seeding experiments ever conducted, those at Climax, Colorado, 1961-1970, we started with the raw data that the experimenters said they had used.  This was precipitation measurements at the cloud seeding target gage that were taken by an independent organization and archived by NOAA, thus making it publicly available.  The experimenters high lighted this independence in their publications.

But when those values from NOAA were used in the re-evaluation of those Climax experiments, discrepancies were found, just as Montford reports that Steve McIntyre found so often in his proxy raw data examinations.   In our case, the seeded days generally had more snow in the experimenters’ data at the NOAA target gage, and control days less than was actually the case according to the NOAA data.   Furthermore,  these discrepancies were only observed in the second “confirmatory” experiment (1966-1970) on the days that were supposed to respond the most to seeding.  In our re-evaluation of the second experiment (aka, Climax II) the use of the NOAA precipitation values, along with other data corrections,  degraded the results so badly that they did not confirm the first five season experiment after all.   The experimenters had previously reported that Climax II had been a confirmation of the first (aka, Climax I) experiment.

As one might imagine, the initial reports of a the “confirmation” of the earlier “exploratory” CS experiment gave those two experiments together a great deal of caché as strong evidence that snow could be increased on a determinant basis through wintertime cloud seeding.   And they were cited as having done so by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences Panel on Climate and Weather Modification in 1974.    (As an interesting aside, the NAS Panel was also concerned at that time about the “…recent equatorward shift in ice boundaries.”)

Further work “de-constructing” those experiments at Climax, that is, the discovery of more discrepancies, can be found here.

Eventually the experimenters acknowledged the source of their errors in precipitation at the target gage in a journal exchange in 1995.


However, unlike the situation that McIntyre repeatedly encounters in Montford’s HSI account, where climate researchers refuse to honor requests for raw data, in our re-analysis of cloud seeding experiments in Colorado, the experimenters at Colorado State University were totally cooperative in supplying data that was occasionally requested by the present writer.  They did this even though they KNEW that the requestor was a critic/skeptic, might challenge their earlier results.  To their great credit, the ideals of science were given a higher priority than their egos by those at CSU and that finding problems and discrepancies were recognized as a way of advancing science, not hindering it.



The FAA and the Ideals of Science


Today, its not unusual to see researchers publishing seemingly important findings in journals accompanied by a global news release at the time the article appears.  At this point, such research has perhaps been reviewed prior to journal publication by only several individuals.

However, it has become fairly common for researchers asscociated with globally impactful findings to withhold methodologies that led to them.   The natural result, particularly in the climate change domain, is a firestorm since critics in that research domain are SURE that there are misdeeds or errors due to “confirmation bias.”

An example in point is the important “Hockey Stick” paper by Mann et al. 1998 (Nature), one that was to have tremendous influence before it could be checked by outsiders on how exactly it came about.  This paper showed a sharp rise in global temperatures during the past 30-40 years, one commensurate with the thought that rising CO2 concentrations were already having a noticeable effect on global temperatures.   Eventually, a number of errors were found in this paper, and the Hockey Stick, as presented, was thrown in doubt.  It should be kept in mind, however, that just because the original paper was flawed, that there is not going to be such a rise–the author tends to agree with this proposition that global temperatures will gradually rise in the future.

This long, tortured chapter involving the “Hockey Stick” should not have happened.   It was clearly due to the original researchers believing that their results were too important for others to learn how they got them.   Sadly, in this writer’s opinion, it is a position of the National Science Foundation well that researchers can hide their methodologies and the exact data they used under a “proprietary” umbrella.  A scientific horror story in concerning the Hockey Stick has been laid out in detail by A. W. Montford, in “The Hockey Stick Illusion”, a book I highly recommend.

Withholding methodologies and data suggests that something is wrong with the outcome of the research, and, furthermore, is anti-science.  Imagine, a lab announces that it has cured cancer, but can’t tell us exactly how they did it, and so no one can replicate their results!  In the domain of medicine, this would be a ludicrous, surreal example; it wouldn’t happen.  It should not happen in the important climate change domain,  either.

On the other hand, the view that opening the door to skeptics of your work can lead to a lessening of conflict in research domains, and even more likely,  an improvement in the robustness of the orignal work, is one that is shared by numerous scientists.

Who among us as science workers, is so arrogant that we think our work cannot be improved upon?

While we depend on peer-review to catch errors, it has been this writer’s experience that hundreds of pages of peer-reviewed literature in the domain of cloud seeding research can reach the journals and stand untouched, uncritiqued for years at a time.   This is because peer-review in conflictive environments can easily fail with soft reviews by advocates of the conclusions being reached in a manuscript.  No scientist reading this doubts this.

The Federal Aviation Administration is fully aware of the hazards of “soft reviews”.  The attached statement at left concerning work on the writer’s former research aircraft at the University of Washington might well be a metaphor for our science environment.   “….there will be a paper trail.”   “…there will be an inspection by someone other than the person doing the work.”

We all know that these kinds of rules established by the FAA is to protect us from plane crashes.   But imagine, that there is no “paper trail”, no documentation of what’s in and what’s off the aircraft!  That’s how we get journal “plane crashes.”

It is the same with journal articles on scientific results.  How our results were arrived at is mandatory for purposes of replication, of which the first, most basic step is to use exactly the methodologies and data that the original researcher (s) claimed they used and see if you get the same result.



What’s Up with This?

Got pretty mad yesterday when I saw this overhead in some Altocumulus perlucidus clouds.  You’ll have to hold your monitor or Ipad, or cell phone, or whatever, over your head to see it EXACTLY the way I saw this because it WAS overhead;  straight up.  (Actually, doing 3 sets of 12 might be good for you.)  Also, click on images to get the full view.

As you can see, the white strip below in these clouds is a contrail caused by an aircraft, but a special one that occurs in “supercooled” clouds.   Supercooled clouds are clouds that are composed of drops, yep, they’re still liquid, even though the temperature is FAR below freezing.  Here, the clouds were likely colder than -20 C (-4 F) and yet there is no ice forming in them!  (You don’t see trails of snow coming out, do you?  No.)  Run of the mill contrails occur at cirrus levels at temperatures below about -35 C  (-31 F).

Note that except for being much whiter than the surrounding cloud, the elements are exactly the same size and texture as those around it.  That is going to change, because this white strip is composed of “horrendous” concentrations (probably thousands per liter) of ice!   You can only know this by what happens later.

In the next shot below, is an example of what happens later, trails of tiny snow crystals fall out leaving a hole in the droplet cloud, so called, “hole punch” clouds, a form of inadvertent cloud seeding by aircraft.  Note the delicate strands of ice crystals falling out of this cloud from the hole, so pretty because they are so delicate looking.  Note, too, I am one of the “trailing authors” of the journal article above, like one of those itty bitty ice crystals in the second photo which are almost evaporated at the bottom of those fine strands.

So why be upset?

Rather than looking forward to good things in the coming year, this happenstance yesterday reminded me of all the trouble we had in the early 1980s trying to get our paper published on this phenomenon; namely, that an aircraft could produce tremendous amounts of ice when flying through supercooled clouds, inadvertently seeding them.

In the SECOND rejection of our manuscript (with Pete Hobbs), the Editors words still burn; “(the reviewers) are still unconvinced by these controversial claims.”

We had to do a LOT of extra work on this to convince those reviewers.  The third version was more convincing, I guess, for intransigent reviewers, and got published.  In fact, one of the great scientists of our time as far as clouds and ice crystals go, John Hallett (yes, the same one as in the “Hallett-Mossop” ice splintering process),  speaking at the Peter Hobbs Symposium Day in 2008 called this episode, “an embarrassment for the airborne research community.”  “Hey”, he wasn’t referring to our paper!

He was referring to the fact that such a phenemenon had been overlooked and not accounted for in research studies of clouds by aircraft.  Actually ground observers had been reporting this kind of thing (ice canals and hole punch clouds) since, if you can believe it, the 1930s!

BTW, this hole is not the one from the first shot; I got distracted and forgot to follow it until it was disappearing over the horizon.

BTW#2,, this shows what happens when you introduce ice into a supercooled cloud; “stuff” falls out.  Proves cloud seeding works, though for sure in limited venues like these (non-precipitating, supercooled clouds).

BTW#3:  The second photo is a nice example of the difference between supercooled clouds composed of tiny drops (probably less than 20 microns in diameter), and cirrus-ee ice clouds, composed of much larger crystals (here probably 100 or 300 or so microns in maximum size) that tend to settle with time. (Hence, those strands in most cirrus clouds.

BTW#4:  Today’s title is cribbed off the world’s most viewed climate website, “What’s Up With That?”  Mr. Watts, host of the site, has made significant contributions to our climate network by pointing out flaws, but has no “credentials” beyond having been a TEEVEE meteorologist.  He is excoriated on this point alone by “credentialists”, as I myself was when I first began to reanalyze other folks’ cloud seeding experiments such as this one.

BTW#5, a movie about credentialism is now out, called,  “The King’s Speech.”  I highly recommend it.   In this documentary, which I just saw yesterday, it will be seen that the credentialists in the King’s Court were royally put out by the help the King got by his uncredentialed therapist.