Thursday, January 12, 2012

Temperature Inversion!

Snoqualmie Falls
during an autumn flood
I plan to post another violent attack on Hector Avalos' Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence later today.  But let's take a break and delve briefly into one of our favorite branches of science: weird weather. 

Last night I drove my son to his high school a few miles to the east to play trombone at a basketball game, and then home a few hours later, and noticed two peculiar phenomena. 

First, the road around Snoqualmie Falls was wet, and "rain" (I thought at first) was pelting the roadway -- even though the stars were out.  The wind didn't seem to be blowing that hard, nor is the river particularly high, but it seemed the wind was strong enough, and moving in just the right direction, to lift spray from the falls and pelt it onto the road. 

Secondly, why was it so much warmer at John's school than at home?   His school is -- checking Google Earth -- 425 feet above sea level.  Our house is 110 feet above sea level.  We drive UP along the falls to get to the school, and usually the temperature decreases.  They usually get much more snow there. 

This morning, driving John to school again, I noticed the same two phenomena were still in play.  The air is still as a whisper in Fall City.  There is no fog: the pumkin-colored moon shines through a layer of high overcast.  Driving past the falls, where there seems to be some wind, the temperature climbed as high as 39 degrees.  Coming back, I paid closer attention: 35 at the school, a couple miles on, then 38 at the falls, then down the hill, and sharply down in temperature: in two miles, 31, by Fall City, 27 degrees. 

No cosmic points to make here, and no scientific explanation on offer.  I just want to salute a bit of freakish weather, on a clear winter morning, when all the world seems at peace, but invisible forces battle in the heavenlies. 

The only thing I can figure, is that warm upper-layer air strikes Snoqualmie Falls, because it's a bit more exposed, and a little higher.  (Though the passes, at 3000 and 4000 feet, are both 16 degrees, so it must be a narrow band of warm air.)  We're getting what the radio warns will be "air stagnation," though without fog, this morning -- perhaps the upper-layer wind blows that away. 

Anyway, a freak of nature should be noted.v Normally the temperature would drop one or two degrees going up the hill: instead, within a few miles, it increased 11-12 degrees Fahrenheit, and the phenomena remained in place from last night to this morning.  I've never before seen so much temperature inversion in so short a distance.

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