Forecasting the Future

Weather watch with Cliff Mass

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sometimes, being a meteorologist means you have to give people news they’d prefer not to get.

Cliff Mass, the University of Washington “atmospheric scientist” and radio personality whose popular blog aims to give readers the skinny on the vagaries of the weather, knows full well that, when it comes to temperatures and what falls from the sky, you can’t please everybody.

A few days ago, in fact, Mass took to his blog to address the question he always gets asked when summer gives way to fall and snow-hounds start fantasizing about the upcoming season on the slopes.

In response to the many, many people who have apparently questioned him recently as to whether or not they should buy a season pass this upcoming ski season, Mass was cautious in his reply.

“Nothing is worse than encouraging folks to buy a pass and having the winter end up being a wet, warm washout,” he wrote. “So to help me avoid answering this uncomfortable question in person, let’s analyze the situation here.

“According to the experts in the NOAA/NWS Climate Prediction Center, we expect this year to be a neutral or La Nada one (roughly 60 percent chance), with a La Nina being a roughly 25 percent possibility. So based on the El Nino/Nina correlation, we would expect a normal snow year.”

While he allows it’s not a “slam-dunk year” for buying a ski pass, Mass also points out that snow lovers shouldn’t give up all hope for flurry-fueled fun (and, he adds, they shouldn’t pay attention to what the Old Farmer’s Almanac says).

When Mass makes his way to Bellingham Oct. 15 to talk about “The Future of Weather Forecasting” at Bellingham High School, he’ll likely make reference to those who’d rather not hear what he has to tell them. After all, extreme weather events and changes in climate patterns—a couple of the topics he’ll be focusing on—can force people to deal with the fact that sometimes it’s going to feel a little like summer in winter, and vice versa.

To those who are skeptical of Mass’ prognostications, it should be pointed out that he spent time during his undergrad years studying with world-renowned scientist Carl Sagan, and acutely understands the meteorological principles he spends so much time putting into action.

Like Sagan, Mass believes it’s important for scientists to talk directly to the public, and continues to do so via whatever outlet is available to him—whether it’s on his blog, in the book he wrote focusing on The Weather of the Pacific Northwest, on the KPLU radio station, or at public presentations.

At his Bellingham High School talk, for example, Mass will also be delving into changes in forecasting over the coming decades, including new products that will soon be available for smart phones and other media.

The funds Mass raises from the talk will go to the Community Boating Center—the area nonprofit that touts “affordable and accessible boating for all in Bellingham.”

While the connection between a meteorologist and a boating center might not be immediately obvious, I, for one, would never head into open waters without first taking a look at what the weather conditions were going to be like. If I was smart, I’d see what Mass had to say about it, and then plan my outing accordingly. You should, too.

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