Weather with Cliff Mass | KNKX

Weather with Cliff Mass

University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and renowned Seattle weather prognosticator/personality Cliff Mass has joined KNKX’s roster of commentators.

"Weather with Cliff Mass", our five-minute feature hosted by KNKX's environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp, airs every Friday  at 9 a.m.  following "BirdNote", and repeats twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. 

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Forecasting technology has come a long way since KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass first got his start in the field. He often marvels at how precisely most events can be predicted, using powerful computers that run ensembles of modeling programs that meteorologists compare before they decide what to tell the public. The aim is helping people prepare, especially for potentially dangerous weather.

But in the Northwest, snow – especially the kind that hit parts of Western Washington this week – is notoriously difficult to forecast. Mass agrees, this past week was a case study in that challenge.

Two people walk through Seattle toward the beginning of last year's big snowstorm. KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says it's too early to tell how much snow we could get next week, but a half a foot or more is possible Wednesday and Thursday.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

With the first chance of major lowland snow in the forecast since last February’s big snowstorms, people all around the Puget Sound region on stocking up on supplies and getting their snow shovels ready.

But KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says forecasting snow around sea level here is one of the biggest challenges forecasters face. And at this point, the only thing anyone’s really sure of is that it will soon get very cold.

Time Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

A recent study named Seattle the No. 1 "gloomiest place in America." The website, which ranks locations on all kinds of qualities, created a "gloom index" for the largest cities in the nation, based on weather data during the darkest months of the year.

A pedestrian bundled up against the falling snow walks near Pike Place Market Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in downtown Seattle. Schools were closed across Washington state as winter snowstorms continued pummeling the Northwest, breaking records. .
Ted S. Warren / AP Photo / file

Shortly after the big snows happened in February, residents of the Puget Sound region were already hearing how the winter storms would be an event to remember and tell their grandchildren about.

As we wrap up 2019, KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says that event still stands out as the biggest one of the year — despite a lot of other features that add up to a year of extremes.

“It was the coldest, snowiest February that we’ve ever had in western Washington,” says Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

If you want to see snow on Christmas in the greater Puget Sound region, you’ll probably have to head for the mountains. Or, close your eyes and dream, as the classic holiday tune suggests.

KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says this year — as is most common around here — there’s no chance of white stuff over the next week in most places.

The North Cascades Highway closed for the season on Wednesday, as snow filled avalanche shoots alongside it. The annual closure for safety was the latest in more than a decade.
Washington State Department of Transportation.

After the driest November in 43 years, precipitation is finally returning to Washington. The North Cascades Highway closed Wednesday – its latest closure in over a decade. The state Department of Transportation shuts it down annually for safety, after snow fills the avalanche chutes that line the highway. About a foot of snow fell this week above 3500 feet.

The Seattle Space Needle as seen Nov. 30, 2019.
Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

The dry, cool and sunny conditions that brought extraordinary fall color to the Northwest also have toppled a major record. Seattle charted its driest November in 43 years, with just 1.71 inches of rain – about 26 percent of normal. (Spokane was at 30 percent of normal, with .68).

That’s the driest November since 1976 — a “startlingly dry” year that saw about half of last month’s precipitation, says KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass.

The National Weather Service relies on a network of buoys to collect real-time data about ocean conditions. But they’re prone to malfunction and expensive to maintain.

KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass is working with a company that is offering a potential alternative. Oakland-based Saildrone has a fleet of autonomous sailboats that are loaded with high-tech equipment and can be deployed to collect highly accurate weather and upper-ocean observations.

Streams of clouds skim across the peak of Oregon's Mount Hood, as a darker bank of clouds heads east toward the mountain as seen from Portland on Nov. 22, 2016.
Don Ryan / The Associated Press (file)

Holiday travelers had lots to contend with ahead of Thanksgiving, as an unusual storm known as a "bomb cyclone" hit Southwest Oregon and California Tuesday, reaching speeds of 90 miles per hour in places.

Its effects were felt in Washington on Wednesday.

 Mount Rainer is seen at dawn in this Jan. 2, 2012, file photo, from Seattle, some 50 miles away from the national park.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

Snow levels are dropping over the Cascade mountains. Weather officials are warning that anyone planning to cross the passes before Thanksgiving should be aware of the potential for hazardous conditions. As much as a foot is expected to pile up by Wednesday above 3,500 feet, as the temperature drops.

And it will be cold enough all around the Northwest to store your extra food outdoors if the fridge is overflowing, says KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass. But don’t expect to build a snowman. Only a few snow flurries are expected in the lowlands on the west side.

With Mount Rainier in the background right, morning fog clears from downtown Seattle as seen from the roof of the Space Needle on Friday, Nov. 8.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

It was just over a month ago that an early snow storm hit the Cascade Mountains, stoking the hopes and dreams of Northwest skiers for an above average season.

“October 8-9th, we had enough snow that it was messing up travel across the passes,” said KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. “Now unfortunately most of that has melted. And we’ve gone into a very dry pattern.”

Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

Normally early November is a wet and stormy time of year in the Northwest. Not this year. It has been generally dry and sunny over the past few weeks — dry enough to tie a record for lack of rain, assuming no precipitation falls on Friday.

“The record for a period in November is 14 days. That happened in 2002. That’s a very long stretch of no rain,” says KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

“In fact, I think it’s the longest stretch of this particular year, even including the summer, of having no rain.”

Smoke from the Maria Fire billows above Santa Paula, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. Calmer weather allowed crews to increase containment on wildfires after a three-week siege of gusts fanned blazes across California and led utilities to cut power.
Noah Berger / The Associated Press

People in the Puget Sound region have experienced chilly weather this week, especially overnight. Temperatures have dipped into the low 30s in some places, with cool and partly sunny weather most days. That's going to continue pretty consistently through the weekend.

At the same time, furious winds have been stoking California's wildfires. KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says the cold here is directly connected to the Diablo and Santa Ana winds that are fueling infernos there.

Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

This fall, the Puget Sound region has graced residents with an abundance of clear and crisp sunny days – classic fall weather. And the colors displayed on fall foliage have been exceptionally stunning, says KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass.

Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

It’s been a dark and stormy week in the Pacific Northwest. Starting Wednesday, the region was pummeled with wind and wet stuff as series of weather fronts started pushing through the skies above us. KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says that’s going to continue all weekend and into next week, before it lightens up a bit.

The contrast can be jarring, especially when you have the stunning crisp fall days of early October that we did this year, often with sunshine. But Mass says this is absolutely normal.

"Tonight from Seatown," an image from Seattle on Oct. 10.
Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says it’s going to get a bit warmer over the weekend and he’s confident that “real rain” won’t set in until Tuesday evening.

But it’s harder to answer the question many people in Washington are wondering about right now: with record early snowfall in our passes and the unseasonably cold start to fall, should we expect a cold, snowy winter too?

Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

Not long after we crossed the threshold into autumn last week, leaving the fall equinox behind and watching the days grow shorter, an extreme cold wave hit the West. Records were smashed all around the region. Montana was hit by blizzards and several feet of snow. And in Washington, some of the higher elevations saw almost that much. Spokane got its earliest snow ever. 

A 'rainbow surprise,' as seen on Seattle's waterfront, September 16, 2019.
Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

Fall arrived in the northwest with a September that has been wetter than normal. Now, unusually early cold is expected to hit the region as an early blast of Arctic air heads our way this weekend. It’s expected to bring record low temperatures to parts of the state and snow east of the Cascade mountains. But as it gets colder, the west side will dry out.

Sunset in Seattle, June 8, 2019.
Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

September is one of those months in the greater Puget Sound region that can be glorious, with sunny blue skies serving as a stunning backdrop for crisp autumn leaves and classic Northwest views of mountains and water.

Not so much this year. It’s been cloudy and cool. And very wet.

Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

Lightning lit up skies around the Puget Sound on Thursday night, and another big rainstorm is on its way to Western Washington. But KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says none of the incoming weather systems are likely to outshine the extraordinary display of lightning that hit the region last Saturday night.

Elliott Bay and Mt Rainer as seen from Seattle January 28, 2015, when the effects of 'The Blob' were at full strength.
Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

Despite a summer that has been relatively cool overall, a warm area of surface water has formed off the West Coast. It’s about 3-5 degrees warmer than normal for the eastern Pacific Ocean and covers about 6.5 million square kilometers, from Alaska to Hawaii to California. It has put federal fisheries and marine scientists on alert.

Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

August is often thought of as the hottest time of the summer in the Pacific Northwest, with searing blue skies and sunshine – ideal for boating or heading to a shady park with a wading pool.

That's especially true of the past two summers, when hotter-than-average temperatures dried out everything and boosted wildfires that spewed smoke into the region.

So, the rapid cool down that started Thursday comes as a bit of a shock.

Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

Most people have had that classic summer experience of driving along a warm road and seeing a shimmering patch ahead that looks like water. But when you get there, it’s gone. This is a trick of the atmosphere, caused by different densities of the air, associated with temperature.

KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says people ask him about mirages all the time. Among the “most famous" ones, he says, is that "water on the road" mirage — a result of bent light, as the layers of air act like a lens. 

Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

A push of marine air from the cold Pacific Ocean that came in Thursday night is bringing morning clouds to the greater Puget Sound region. These low clouds typically burn off by noon, though they can stick around longer.

KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass expects Friday and Saturday to provide sunny afternoons, with the clouds opening up to blue skies and temperatures in the mid- to upper-70s.

A cloudy Seattle skyline as seen on June 5.
Time Durkan Photography

Low clouds have lingered over much of the Puget Sound region in recent days, the latest evidence that this summer stands in stark contrast to the hot, smoky, straw-hat weather of the past two years.

KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says Friday temperatures will only get into the lower 70s. And he says the weekend will be dominated by more of those lower temps, thanks to the presence of an upper level trough.

Lenticular clouds cap Mount Rainier at dusk as a jet passes by Dec. 31, 2018, as seen from Seattle.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

August was off to a warm and sunny start Thursday, with blue skies and nearly perfect summer weather.

But people in the Puget Sound region woke up to as much as a half an inch of rain that fell overnight; on the coast, the precipitation totaled as much as an inch and a half. Temperatures dropped quite a bit, too.

KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass said a strong front came through and brought along an intense band of showers.

Two girls play in warm and sunny weather at the International Fountain in Seattle on Friday, July 13, 2018.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

With all the bright sun, blue skies and warm temperatures that have dominated Puget Sound weather recently, it’s a little ironic to see showers in the forecast for Saturday. This weekend is the one anyone planning a major outdoor event in the Northwest typically aims for, says KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass.

Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

"Cloudy and wet" has been the weather mantra so far this July. But KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass say all that is going to change this weekend.

Lenticular clouds cap Mount Rainier, at dusk as a jet passes by, Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, as seen from Seattle. Lenticular clouds, sometimes called "cap clouds," form over mountain peaks when moisture begins to increase in the upper levels of the atmosphere
Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Summertime in the northwest can provide a remarkably mellow atmosphere, with lots of clouds, temperatures that hover around 70 degrees and the kind of sprinkles that evaporate on your skin almost as soon as they land. Low clouds often filter the light and you can enjoy the soft focus all around.

That’s the kind of weather people in most of western Washington can look forward to for the next several days.

A view of Seattle's Seafair Festival Fireworks, July 4th, 2019.
Tim Durkan / Tim Durkan Photography

There’s a joke in Seattle that summer doesn’t start around here until July 12– three weeks after the solstice and nearly a week after Independence Day.

“And I have a feeling that may be true this year,” says KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass after a damp Fourth of July with cloudy skies and cool temperatures around 70 degrees.