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Sunny skies ahead, but double check your forecasts during government shutdown

Lenticular clouds cap Mount Rainier, a volcano some 60-miles south, at dusk as a jet passes by, Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, as seen from Seattle.
Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press
Lenticular clouds cap Mount Rainier, a volcano some 60-miles south, at dusk as a jet passes by, Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, as seen from Seattle.

The persistent pattern of stormy weather that caused sweeping power outages in the Northwest and restored our snowpack and water supplies in recent weeks is in the rearview mirror, for now. KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says it will be dry and mild till the middle of next week. And the sun will break through this weekend.


“What’s happening is a ridge of high pressure is building over the western United States,” Mass says.

He says a trough offshore was keeping the clouds around on Friday, but skies will be dry in most places – with just a few sprinkles along the coast – and temperatures will be mild, in the lower 50s.   

Mass says as the weekend progresses, the ridge will amplify.

“And so there’ll be steady improvement from Saturday to Sunday. Temperatures in the 50s again, virtually no chance of rain here in the interior,” he said.

Expect Sunday to live up to its name – with skies shifting from partly cloudy to mostly sunny.


“So a dramatic improvement of the weather,” Mass says. And the dry skies persist through mid-week. “The rain is not coming back for a long time. This ridge holds in through Monday and Tuesday.”

It’s not until Wednesday that the flow pattern changes and Mass expects the rain to come back, likely later in the day.

“So, we’re going to have a series of much warmer than normal days – and much drier than normal,” he says. “All the rain is going to Southern California. So, if you were planning to go to San Diego, you might think about that again.”


The caveat to predictions this week, Mass says, is that weather forecasting right now is less accurate than normal, due to the partial shutdown of the federal government. He is checking all of his data against other modeling systems, such as Europe’s ECMWF, so he says he can be pretty confident.

Mass is just back from a major national conference of weather scientists in Phoenix this week: the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society.

“This meeting was really radically degraded because of the shutdown,” Mass says. About a third of the organization’s membership are federal scientists and employees, who were not allowed to attend the meeting.

“I mean, all the talks on weather forecasting and development of weather models and so many aspects of our field that are dominated by the federal government, those talks were canceled. Whole sections were canceled,” he says. “It really messed up this very important annual meeting.”

National Weather Service forecasters who work shifts in the local offices, such as the one in Seattle, have been working without pay during the shutdown. So, the basic products they produce are still coming out. But Mass says the skill of those forecasts is degraded because of a lack of staff to perform back-end maintenance with international data. 

“It’s really noticeable; you can compare our skill against the European center and some other major modeling systems. And our skill has definitely dropped,” Mass says. “This is really degrading the forecast that you get on TV or from your smartphone or wherever.”


Correction, Jan. 17: Further examination has shown that the U.S. global model has not been degraded due to the partial government shutdown, according to an examination by Cliff Mass. Also, a discussion with NOAA management reveals that sufficient staff are on duty to monitor forecast quality and to make any necessary corrections or adjustments in the model system. "It's important to note that forecast skill goes up and down due to varying atmospheric configurations and that a coincidental decline in forecast skill after the shutdown was a matter of coincidence," Mass said.

Another major impact of the shutdown: delayed development of a new weather forecast model for the United States, which was set to be released next month.

And Mass says lots of researchers like him are not on federal payrolls, but still depend on data from the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to do their work. The websites they use to get at the data are not available.

“So our research is being degraded at our meetings, the American forecast models are getting bad. And the ability of so many of us to do research is really being undermined because of this closure,” Mass said.

To hear the full conversation, you can click on the "play" icon at the top of this post.

Weather with Cliff Mass airs at 9:02 a.m. Friday, right after BirdNote, and twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KNKX environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, and a popular weather blogger. You can also subscribe to podcasts of Weather with Cliff Mass shows, via iTunes or Google Play.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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