Whasssup with the weather? The Anti-Vortex Smackdown and Weather Literacy? Huh..?

While we wait for the results of the latest BC River Forecast Centre manual snow survey to numerically confirm a dismal ski, slide, and ride season, it might be worth trying to answer another question I’ve been asked repeatedly: Whasssup with the weather?

Ruping Mo, our El Nino expert, resident Cambridge PHD and craft beer fanatic when Mo speaks, meteorologists listen, especially given his driest-sense-of-humor-east-of-Beijing-delivery – kindly whipped up some maps to address all the Whassupping?

The whipping-up came after I humbly suggested to Ruping that since October 1st the West Coast has been caught in the middle of a vexing anti-vortexian smackdown of which Dana White would be proud unless its just more of the wussification of America. Given all the recent nonsense and whining about the Polar Vortex, I think DW has a point but I don’t think he was referring to weather. I digress and worse, I’ve run-on sentenced you to-death.

Basically the premise I posed to Mo is this:

The Pacific Anti-Vortex has been in a run-to-fail battle with the Arctic Anti-Vortex over fall-winter supremacy on the West Coast, providing perplexing patterns vacillating between extremes of dry and extremes and dry cold. When a Cambridge PHD says “ok” or even “well, sort of…” to that hypothesis, that’s good enough for me.

So, here’s what would take me a year to produce but dudes like Mo can generate on a bathroom-break. The Mo-map below is a composite of 4 months’ worth of weather observations. Those would be the red lines. The bump in the red lines just off the West Coast is the aforementioned Pacific Ant-Vortex. That’s it. Boring huh? (Really, it’s an Anticyclone but ‘cyclone’ is too close to clown, and clown should be reserved for everyone who hyperbolated over the Polar Vortex) Seriously, if we refer to it properly as an Anticyclone we’ll be dealing with fear and loathing and boring Climate Change questions for the next month or however long this damn thing persists. Sorry, I’m out.

Air more or less flows along the red lines from left to right so you can imagine warm Pacific Air moving from the southwest into the bump, then flowing over the West Coast.

Storms travel where the red lines are packed closer together – on this map further north toward the Alaska Panhandle. Storms carry moisture that builds the snowpack. Since October, Pacific storms have been tracking further north than usual and ‘missing’ most the West Coast below the Panhandle. No storms, no moisture, no snowpack.

The other less dominant phase of this depressing dichotomy (3 Arctic Outbreaks since November) is shown in this Mo-Map.

In this depiction, which uses only observations from two of the 3 Arctic Outbreaks so far, the bump has moved west, the storm path has shifted even further north and cold air from the Arctic is now diving into the Interior of BC instead of remaining east of the Rocky Mountains…where it belongs. The cold air builds like a dome, eventually getting ‘tall’ enough to spill through the coastal inlets and passes where it creates brutal wind chills. Note that in either case, unlucky Easterners get the cold Arctic shoulder, exactly as they have ALL WINTER LONG!

These two common patterns, although unusually persistent recently, are so basic to BC weather literacy that it kinda blows my mind when long-time BC residents cannot carry the elevator-weather-conversation with me during an Arctic Outbreak. Such knowledge can help  you anticipate nasty weather and make better decisions. Come-on people, what gives?

I’ll let you think about why – after 60 years of television weather – your average Vancouverite apparently thinks the world is coming to an end whenever a garden-variety Arctic Outbreak happens.  And more importantly, why hardly a soul anywhere knows immediately that the odds of a Major Snowstorm have just dramatically increased.

That’s a hint by the way.

For more about Arctic Outbreaks and the pre-condtioning role they play in Major South Coast snowfall events watch these videos:

One thought on “Whasssup with the weather? The Anti-Vortex Smackdown and Weather Literacy? Huh..?

Add yours

  1. Thanks, David, for putting me on the grill. In the big picture, I don’t see the fundamental difference between the Pacific anti-vortex and the Arctic anti-vortex. Both of them can be called the ridge of an orographic wave forced by the Rocky Mountain Range. From the following link you can see a figure showing the position of this ridge in this season (red lines, Oct 1 – Jan 31) as compared to the 30-year climatology (blue lines, 1981-2010). The ridge of this year appears to shift to the west, just enough the block the moist marine flow towards the BC coast. The pattern of this year minus the climatology is color-filled.


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