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Tornado makes rare Pacific Northwest appearance

Tornado on Doppler image
Color-coded Doppler radar imagery shows where a tornado apparently touched down near Port Orchard, Wash. (NWS via @MorganKIRO7 / Twitter)

The Pacific Northwest is typically in the “bush league” when it comes to tornadoes, but the National Weather Service says a twister hit a grand slam today south of Port Orchard on Washington state’s Kitsap Peninsula.

Aerial views from Seattle television stations showed roofs ripped off houses, debris flying in the air and trees uprooted.

In a series of tweets, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office said the storm caused “catastrophic damage in the Port Orchard area.”

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As smoke clears, what’s ahead for Seattle’s skies?

Smoke distribution
A color-coded map shows how smoke is expected to be distributed across Western Washington on the morning of Aug. 23. (NWS Seattle via Twitter)

After enduring days of record-setting, eye-watering levels of smoke in the air, the Seattle area is in for relief, thanks to a shift in wind patterns. But the debate over whether this is the “new normal,” the old normal or the abnormal is likely to play out for months and years to come.

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Tech tools touted for fending off Western wildfires

Black carbon concentration
A color-coded image based on NASA’s GEOS-5 satellite data model shows concentrations of black carbon in the atmosphere over North America on Aug. 15. (NASA Image)

The smoky skies over Seattle have cleared up somewhat, but the Pacific Northwest’s wildfires continue to burn — prompting pledges from Republicans as well as Democrats to beef up the region’s firefighting capabilities.

Advanced firefighting technologies, including satellite monitoring, drone patrols and risk management tools based on big data, received loud shout-outs today during a Capitol Hill news briefing.

“That’s the wave of the future,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the Trump administration would step up its coordination efforts with local and state authorities to prevent wildfires and to fight them once they start. “Frankly, we cannot do this ourselves,” Perdue said.

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Seattle’s bad air earns a place in record books

Hazy Seattle
A hazy day dawns over the Seattle skyline, as seen from the Space Needle. (Space Needle Panocam)

If this week’s smoky skies seem unprecedented, that’s not far wrong: Thanks to an unusually unfortunate weather pattern, Seattle just recorded its worst 24-hour air quality in almost two decades of recordkeeping.

University of Washington atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass called attention to the high levels in a blog post today. “I have been here a long time, and I have never seen anything this bad,” Mass wrote.

How bad is it? Mass said particulate readings from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s Duwamish monitoring site have registered the worst 24-hour average air quality since the agency began keeping records in 2000.

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What killed the birds? Scientists blame the Blob

Cassin's auklet
This Cassin’s auklet was found on Oregon’s Kiwanda Beach in 2014. (Patty Claussenius Photo / COASST)

Researchers have untangled the mystery behind a die-off that felled hundreds of thousands of tough seabirds known as Cassin’s auklets in 2014 and early 2015.

It’s not a simple answer: The proximate cause was starvation, but in a study published by Geophysical Research Letters, scientists report that the most likely root cause was an anomaly in Pacific Ocean circulation that came to be known as the Blob.

“This paper is super important for the scientific community because it nails the causality of a major die-off, which is rare,” senior author Julia Parrish, a marine scientist at the University of Washington and executive director of the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, said today in a news release.

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Next-gen weather satellite runs into glitch

GOES-R satellite
An artist’s conception shows a GOES-R series satellite. (NASA Photo)

Two months after its launch, the main imaging instrument on a next-generation weather satellite is experiencing problems with its cooling system.

That, in turn, is hurting the Advanced Baseline Imager’s ability to capture infrared and near-infrared images for the GOES-17 satellite, which is supposed to take over the task of monitoring weather systems over the Pacific Ocean and the western U.S.

Managers say the issue is being investigated by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the imager’s contractor team, led by Harris Corp.

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Satellite enters orbit to watch weather and wildfires

Atlas 5 launch
The GOES-S satellite is launched by an Atlas 5 rocket. (NASA via YouTube)

A next-generation GOES-S weather satellite, the second of its kind, rose into orbit at 2:02 p.m. PT (5:02 p.m. ET) today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

NASA assisted with the preparations for launch, but the satellite will be operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of a constellation that also includes GOES-R, now known as GOES-16. The acronym stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.

GOES-16 monitors the eastern United States, much of South America, the Caribbean region and the Atlantic Ocean from NOAA’s GOES-East orbital vantage point, 22,000 miles above Earth.

Once GOES-S is declared operational, late this year, it will occupy the GOES-West position as GOES-17.

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Wild winds and waves wow Northwest watchers

Waves
Waves wash over Grays Harbor Bar on the Washington coast. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo / Steven McDougal)

Thirty-foot waves swept over seas off the Pacific Northwest coast on Jan. 18, producing deadly awesomeness for onshore videos and presaging a wild weather weekend.

Northwest weather guru Cliff Mass, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, explained in his blog that the waves were caused by a “HUGE, intense and slow-moving storm” over the northeast Pacific Ocean.

“I mean a stunningly big storm,” Mass added.

The National Weather Service reported waves as high as 33.5 feet on the afternoon of Jan. 18. That height, which is twice the norm, was recorded by a buoy off the coast of Washington near Grays Harbor.

The crashing waves made for a stormy display in videos captured by the Coast Guard as well as civilian wave-watchers.

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Next-gen weather satellite goes into orbit

JPSS-1 launch
A United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket sends the JPSS-1 satellite into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (ULA Photo)

The first in a series of four next-generation weather satellites, known as the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 or JPSS-1, is in orbit after a twice-delayed liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Four small research satellites and an Australian nanosatellite piggybacked on today’s United Launch Alliance Delta 2 launch and were successfully deployed as well.

Two launch attempts had to be scrubbed earlier in the week due to a variety of snags, including boats that strayed into the restricted zone for the launch, a technical glitch and weather concerns. But today’s countdown went smoothly, leading to liftoff at 1:47 a.m. PT today.

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Wildfires and ash wow the weather gurus

Ash on roof
Car roofs are being peppered with ash from Washington’s wildfires. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Texas has its floods, Florida has a potentially catastrophic hurricane coming its way, but the Pacific Northwest has its own sign of the apocalypse: wildfires that are turning the sun into a smoke-obscured blood orange and peppering the streets with ash.

“I have been forecasting around here for a long time and have never seen a situation like this,” Cliff Mass, a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, wrote on his blog this morning.

KCPQ meteorologist Rebecca Stevenson suggested that Seattleites should sweep up the ash and put it in baggies “to save and mark the incredibly hot/dry summer of 2017.”

Weather conditions have been conducive to wildfires all summer long, even in the stereotypically rainy Northwest. Western Washington suffered through smoky skies last month, due primarily to fires in British Columbia, but this week is shaping up as even worse.

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