Those like me with a simplistic understanding of meteorology were in the minority. Most of the more than 100 people who attended are active or retired meteorologists and atmospheric scientists with an abiding passion make that obsession with weather.
Me? I took Atmospheric Sciences 101 at the University of Washington in 1967. Ive had more than 45 years to forget most of what I learned.
Yet much of my newspaper career, Ive served as a messenger for National Weather Service forecasters who need the media to relay forecasts aimed at keeping people out of harms way when wind, rain, snow and ice storms lash the Pacific Northwest.
Then, once the storms have passed, Ive been left the task of writing about the damage to property and lives those storms wrought.
Now, as I enter the home stretch of my journalistic career, curiosity has me digging deeper out into the mechanics of wind, air pressure, climate, and even atmospheric rivers.
To help me with my crash course on weather, I just purchased a home weather station a Davis Vantage Pro2 that will allow me to track temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction, wind chill, rainfall, rain rates and more at Horsefeathers Farm in East Olympia. The instrument array I especially like the anemometer was mounted Monday night on a 10-foot steel pole embedded two feet deep in concrete in the back pasture, unimpeded by buildings or trees, but close enough to the house about 175 feet to send back, display and store weather data on a wireless console inside.
Im going to start recording weather observations in a journal. In the next windstorm, Ill know with some degree of certainty how hard the wind is blowing when the small branches start flying off the 60-year-old fir trees that tower over the house.
Back to the weather workshop sponsored by NOAAs National Weather Service, the University of Washington and the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Meteorological Society.
I grasped about half of the 30 presentations. Most of the ones involving advanced research flew over my head like gale force winds. Those detailing how the National Weather Service communicates weather information and the challenges it faces were easier to understand.
I learned that the National Weather Service in Seattle conducted more than 170 spot forecasts in 2012. These are localized forecasts cranked out within 30 minutes of request from a government agency. Often theyre done for firefighters battling wildfires or Joint Base Lewis McChords prescribed prairie burns on the military base. Or they may be for search and rescue missions on Mount Rainier.
Sorry, the weather forecasters wont accept requests from private parties who want to know what the weather will be like for a salmon-fishing trip in South Sound.
Brad Colman, meteorologist in charge of the NWS operations in Seattle, noted that advances in weather forecast technology have allowed the National Weather Service to warn of pending weather disasters days in advance. Compare that to 50 years ago when weather forecasts were cartoonish and based on scattered observations on land and at sea.
But society is becoming more vulnerable to extreme weather events and people are still being injured and dying unnecessarily, he said, voicing frustration born from weather warnings that go unheeded by the public.
I quickly realized theres been an explosion of computer software used to model weather and climate forecasts. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and the most accurate forecast may be derived from averaging all the model results.
Many of the presentations were graphically stunning, including two on atmospheric rivers. They are relatively long, narrow regions in the atmosphere that transport water vapor outside the tropics. The big ones may carry up to 15 times as much water as is found in the average flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
In a typical year, a few of the major atmospheric river events deliver 30 percent to 50 percent of the annual precipitation to the United States west coast, according to a NOAA fact sheet. Think Pineapple Express.
A paper presented by UW researcher Michael Warner explored the question: Will climate change influence the frequency and intensity of atmospheric rivers?
We could have more winters with more intense atmospheric river storms, he said. Climate model projections also show more precipitation in atmospheric rivers near the turn of this century.
At times the weather workshop for me was like a head-scratching glimpse into the world of advanced meteorology. But Im still glad I went and I look forward to more detailed weather observations at Horsefeathers Farm.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com