Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011-2012 Winter Outlook

With winter approaching, I thought I’d write a brief summary of the weather I am anticipating this winter.  My own unofficial outlook, if you will.    I’ll keep my reasoning brief, but with another La Nina winter seeming pretty likely, the overall national weather trend should follow what is usually observed on La Nina winters.   Listed below are some regional highlights and explanation.

As the graphic below depicts, during a La Nina winter, colder than normal sea surface temperatures near the equatorial Pacific Ocean have a response on the atmosphere to decrease the intensity of the subtropical jet, while increasing the intensity of the polar jet.  The end result is a more active northerly storm storm track. Often times, cold air moving south from Canada can interact with this polar jet resulting in occasionally colder storm systems bringing low elevation snows and major cold spells to parts of the country.

  My Outlook

Northwest U.S
La Nina winters in the Northwest tend to be cool and wet, and I see no reason to doubt that will be outcome of this year as well.  Despite last year being a La Nina winter, the season was not as wet and snowy in the northwest as you would usually expect to see.   I would expect this year to be closer to the typical La Nina winter.  Significant periods of rainfall will lead to an enhanced flood risk this winter.   I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a major cold spell or two with enhanced chances of low elevation snow events in the Pacific Northwest this year.
*Enhanced Flood Risk
*Possible cold snaps and low elevation snows

Southwest U.S
La Nina winters tend to favor drier conditions across the southwest, much like what was observed in the previous winter.  I don’t see a lot of hope for relief in the ongoing drought conditions in Texas, and some drought development is likely further west into New Mexico and Arizona.  I do think this winter will be very much like last winter, with near normal precipitation and snowfall observed across the northern half of AZ, with warmer and drier conditions further south.  Occasional northerly frontal systems passing through may result in brief but significant cold spells for the higher terrain of California, Arizona, and New Mexico.   Heavy snows will be possible in the Intermountain region once again this winter.
*Increasing dryness with southerly extent.
*A few brief cold spells, warmer than average temperatures overall.
*Heavy Intermountain Snows
*Continued extreme Texas drought

The climate prediction center calls for above normal precipitation and colder than normal temperatures for this region.  I believe however, that departures from normal may be muted in the overall warming trend observed for the past several winters in this area, so I anticipate near normal conditions overall for this region.

Looks like another snowy winter, and given a significant and wildly out of season snow event has just taken place in the Northeastern states (Never before has NYC recorded an inch or more of October snowfall, and yesterday Central Park measured nearly 3 inches), confidence is relatively high in this area.  A significant cold spell may also strike this region later this winter, complimented by heavy lake effect snow events.  While I doubt this winter will be as uncharacteristically snowy as last winter, I suspect amounts will generally be above normal for most of the region.

It will be interesting to review this outlook in March and see how I did! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why is Flagstaff so snowy?

It's October and my friends on the Front Range are already getting their first big snow storm, which makes me especially antzy for the winter season to arrive here in Flagstaff.   People are often very surprised to hear how diverse the climate of Arizona can be, so I thought I'd write a blog post about why Flagstaff is so snowy. 

Flagstaff, situated an elevation of 7,000 one of the snowiest cities in the United States, averaging over 100 inches of snow annually.   For a comparison, Denver and Salt Lake City average around 60 inches, Minneapolis averages near 54 inches, New York City averages near 23 inches, and my hometown in Medford, Oregon averages near 5 inches each winter.

But being at such a low latitude, it is surprising that Flagstaff can compete with some of our snowy northern neighbors.  However, Flagstaff has two great topographical features working in its favor to produce the significant snows, not to mention the already very high altitude.   The first, and primary feature is called the Mogollon Rim.  This rim is the demarcation of the edge of the Colorado plateau, essentially where the high altitude that characterizes much of Utah and Colorado meets the lower altitudes of the Sonoran desert.   This zone is characterized by a sharp increase in altitude and change in vegetation from what is seen in the lower deserts. 
Incoming air moving eastward with the prevailing wind, is forced to rise over this topographic barrier.  As air rises - it cools and condenses.  This is why the higher terrain is so much wetter than rest of the state, as shown in the graphic below.
I also put together a graphic depicting what happens as air rises over the topography across northern Arizona.  As you can see, air coming in from the warm and drier lower elevations meets the edge of the Mogollon rim and is forced to rise...cooling and moistening as it does so.

The second feature that amplifies snowfall for Flagstaff is the San Fransisco Peaks.  These extinct volcanic peaks, exceed 12,000 feet in elevation.  These peaks act as a secondary forcing mechanism forcing the nearby air up from the already high 7,000 foot elevation to even higher as air is lifted over the peaks.  So Flagstaff benefits from the upward lift of air rising over the Mogollon rim ,and as it rises over the nearby peaks.

The result of these two topographic features working together is the high frequency of heavy snowfalls whenever a storm system progresses through the southwest.  While only 150 miles away is the dry and warm Phoenix Metro, a storm passing through may result in mere sprinkles over Phoenix while Flagstaff may be seeing several inches of accumulating snow.  It's a pretty fascinating climate.  I attached a few photographs of the past winter season, and some highlights from years past when winter really unloaded on the city of Flagstaff.

 February 2010, measuring snow outside my office
 San Fransisco Peaks, February 2011
 Heavy Snow, December 2009 (Not my picture)
 Snow drifts blowing into the office breezeway (Dec 2010)
Bellemont Neighborhoods, December 2009

Being as far south as Flagstaff is, we typically do have to wait until late November or December before winter really sets in and the jet stream digs this far south.   Time will only tell what this winter will bring, but I'm hoping for lots of snow despite the lingering La Nina which tends to dry us out.  We will see!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall in Northern AZ

Fall is here in northern Arizona, with the fall colors peaking a little behind schedule this year.  Nonetheless, a show worth waiting for.  Check out the pics below!

 Aspen trees near the base of snowbowl road.

 Aspen stands near 8,000 feet elevation.

View from the Arizona Snowbowl, elevation 9200 feet.

 View from Arizona Snowbowl, elevation 9,200 feet.

Zoomed in view from the Arizona Snowbowl, elevation 9200 feet.

Zoomed in view from the Arizona Snowbowl, elevation 9200 feet.  Kendrick Peak on the horizon.

View from Arizona Snowbowl, elevation 9,200 feet. 

 The quaking of the aspens sounded like moving water.

 Aspen stands on Snowbowl Road

 Aspen stands on Snowbowl Road

 The San Fransisco Peaks as seen from the Snowbowl

The San Fransisco Peaks as seen from the Snowbowl

And finally, October 6th marked the one year anniversary of the 2010 Tornado outbreak in N. Arizona. 11 Tornadoes touched town, two of which were violent in strength.  The event has become the largest tornado outbreak to strike west of the Rocky Mountains in modern history.  The forest will likely remain scarred for years to come.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Amanda Knox: A real life game of clue

I don't know how many of you have been keeping up with the Amanda Knox case, but if you aren't, your missing out!  It's quite the fascinating story involving lies, sex, drugs, and beautiful faces.  If you want the whole background - do a wiki search for Amanda Knox and you can see for yourself how intricate the details of the case are.  Long story short, she was released from an Italian prison this week after being exonerated from the murder charges that led her there.  I will attempt to break down the details of the case, and provide my own opinion of what happened, and why I think Amanda Knox is totally innocent.

Background : In the fall of 2007, Amanda Knox, then 20, flew overseas to Italy to partake in a study abroad program.  She found a cheap flat to split with Meredith Kercher (An exchange student from the UK) and one other female roommate.  Amanda Knox had met a boyfriend in Italy at the time, while also working at a local bar.  The night of the murder...which was on Halloween, Amanda claimed to be with her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito.  Meredith retired from the night early, around 9pm, when she returned to the flat.  And that's when the debate on what actually happened really begins.

The Victim: 

 Meredith Kercher - 21, A British university exchange student from South London.  She was found dead, locked in her room, stabbed repeatedly and sexually assaulted.  Items such as cell phones and credit cards were also stolen from her room.  It was speculated the crime season was made to look like a break in gone wrong. 

The Suspects: 

Amanda Knox - 20, A U.S exchange student from Seattle, Washington.  Claimed to be with her boyfriend, Raffaele, that night at his flat, where they had sex, smoked marijuana, and went to bed.  Rumors following the murder quickly painted Amanda to be a 'she devil' due to her modest number of past sexual partners and likeness to marijuana.  Rumors claimed she was involved in the murder as part of a satanic ritual.  No physical evidence directly ties Amanda to the crime scene.

Raffaele Sollecito - 23, an Italian native majoring in Computer Engineering. He had begun dating Amanda in the weeks prior and the relationship was going well.  Best described as skinny and kind of nerdy. No substantial evidence ties Raffaele to the crime, although traces of his dna was found on the victims bra strap, which was moved many times during the investigation, resulting in crime season contamination concerns.  Additionally, a knife which was initially thought to have been the murder weapon was found at his flat following the murder, yet does not match the wounds or outline of the knife wiped on sheets, following the murder.

Rudy Guede  - 20, was an acquaintance of Kerchers, and had little or no connection to Knox and Sollecito.  He did have a past of minor scuffs with the law, but no violent crimes.  Guede is the only suspect with strong, undeniable evidence against him.  Guede's dna was found on and inside the victims body, indicating a clear sexual assault. His bloody handprints were also found in the room where the victim was found.  He claims the sex was consensual, and she was killed while he was in the bathroom listening to his iPod, while Amanda and Meredith began to fight. He fled the country following the murder and was expedited back on murder charges; he is still serving whats left of a 16 year sentence.

The Crime Scene:

Meredith was found sexually assaulted, stabbed 47 times, in what was deemed a pretty brutal murder. The window had been broken, but based on the layout of the objects in the room, police speculated the break in was staged.  Credit cards and cell phones were also stolen.  The room was locked and Meredith lay lifeless for many hours before she was found, requiring police assistance to open the door. Blood was also found in the bathroom.  The flats front door was also unlocked.

 The Evidence:

Dna matching Guede was found on the victims shirt, bra, body, and handbag.  A bloody shoe print matching Knox was found in the hallway, but no traces of her dna were found in the room where the victim was found. Traces of Sollecito's dna were found on the victims bra strap, but not enough to be retested several months later, indicating a relatively minimal exposure. Additionally, the bra had been moved around the crime scene many times before being tested, possibly resulting in contamination.  The knive, found at Sollecito's flat, did have traces of Amanda's dna, as well as Meridith's, but considering it was the kitchen knife, this only is to be expected as they made meals with this knife.  The blade does not perfectly match the grooved knive which is thought to have been the murder weapon (above). The true murder weapon may have never been recovered, and its speculated there may have been multiple murder weapons, or attackers.

The Interogation:

This is where Amanda Knox really gets herself in some hot water, and the case gets real interesting.  It's understood that Amanda had no idea she was ever being looked at as a suspect. She was interrogated for 12-14 hours, by Italian authorities.  She was deprived food or water basically until she said what interrogators wanted to hear, and implicated many names in the process.  She claims to have been hit, deprived of a translator when she only spoke limited Italian, and lacked a lawyer present. The interrogation was also not recorded, in violation of Italian interrogation regulations.  So its hard to say what really happened in that dark room.

Amanda first stated she was with her boyfriend that night, but interrogators pushed her to think harder and claimed her boyfriend said otherwise. After a few hours of intense interrogation she initially implicated her boss from the bar, who had a solid alibi.  She told other variations of what could have happened as interrogators pushed her further, sending her down an increasingly suspicious path.  She claims she was encouraged to tell 'what could have happened', and rewarded with food and restroom breaks when she did so. Bizarre behavior such as handstands in the police waiting room added to the suspicion, as well as lingerie shopping, despite the fact that her flat was a crime scene and she was not permitted access.  Amanda claimed the handstands were a form of stress relief.

The Trial:

(Stolen from wikipedia because I am lazy).

Guede, Knox and Sollecito, all stood trial for the murder of Kercher. Guede was convicted and, after appeal, is serving a 16-year sentence. Knox and Sollecito were convicted in a joint trial in 2009 and sentenced to 25 and 26 years respectively. They successfully appealed their convictions. Under Italian law two appeals are permitted to defendants, during which there is a presumption of innocence until a final verdict is entered.

Guede elected for a "fast-track" trial that began in October 2008, presided over by Judge Paolo Micheli. By doing so, he exchanged the right to challenge the evidence in a full trial for a more lenient sentence, if found guilty.  In October 2008, he was convicted of murder and sexual assault but acquitted of theft, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.   Guede's appeals, which concluded in December of 2009 and 2010, upheld his conviction but reduced his sentence to 16 years.

Knox and Sollecito opted for a full trial. They were indicted in October 2008 by Judge Micheli and charged with murder, sexual assault, simulating a crime (burglary), carrying a knife and theft of 300 euros, two credit cards and two mobile phones. The trial and subsequent proceedings has attracted great media attention. Knox and Sollecito filed for their first appeal in April 2010, which began in November 2010 and concluded on 3 October 2011 with the overturning of the murder conviction
What I think happened:
First of all, Amanda's reputation may have been the biggest injustice in this whole case.  Italian press immediately painted her suspicious and deemed her the nickname 'Foxy Knoxy'.  It was suspected by police and Italian press that the she was involved in the murder as part of a satanic ritual to take place on Halloween.  Her past number of sexual partners, rather modest in my opinion, 7, was also made public after interrogation officials lied and told Amanda she had HIV, to get a listing of her sexual history.  Her reputation may have been the biggest victim in this case (besides Meredith s death of course), as she was portrayed as a liar, whore, and drug user given her very occasional social marijuana use.  Amanda was really portrayed guilty before she even had a chance to prove her innocence.

My opinion is, there is no way she did it.  Why?  First off, there is absolutely no motive.  Why would a young, college age girl, with favorable upbringing, randomly kill her roommate? It makes no sense.  Some tried to claim she may have been jealous of Meredith, but, all girls are jealous of each other for one reason or another it seems, is that a reason enough to kill? I highly doubt it, and the jealousy theory still holds no weight, as there isn't any evidence to support the theory.

Second, it was claimed the killing was part of a satanic ritual.  First, the prosecutor who suggested this has a history of using this as a motive for other cases, sounds like he's a little satanic happy.  Why would a young woman with no prior ties to satanism take part in a satanic killing. Seems a bit far fetched.  And again there is no evidence pointing to this.  Well what about this, maybe she was on a marijuana fueled drug high which led to the killing!  Anyone how would buy this theory has obviously never tried it.  Enough said.

So if she didn't do it, then why did she lie?  That's easy, I think anyone would be inclined to lie if it would get them out of an all night interrogation with no food, water, bathroom, or translator.  She didn't know what she was agreeing to when she signed the forced confession, written entirely in Italian. And if she was responding to the question. 'what could have happened, Amanda, think, what could have happened', is she really lying or just talking?  The fact that who she implicated was nowhere near implies to me she had no idea who was at the house that night. If she was there, she would have implied Rudy killed her -- because he definitely was there, and that would have been the end of it.  She never once implicated him, nor does she even know him, and never blamed him because she honest to god was not there.

What about the bloody shoe print?  Amanda was the first person to arrive at the crime scene the next morning, so it's not surprising her bloody shoe prints were found as she walked through the house investigating what happened.  She also immediately called Meredith's phone at 12:20 pm that day, if  she knew Meredith was dead - why would she bother calling?

All in all, it appears to me the Rudy followed Meredith home, or was already hiding in the flat when she came home, where he raped her, and killed her.  Then he panicked and made it look like a break in, before he fled the country. The fact that he fled implies guilt in itself.  Additionally, hes the only one with true evidence tying him to the murder. 

Evidence against Amanda and Sollecito is really non-existent, and largely based on Amanda's forced confessions during her interrogation.  Therefore, I think she (and Sollecito) is completely innocent.  I'm not saying I know all the facts, but evidence favoring her guilt just doesn't add up, and is so minimal I can't force myself to buy into it.  I was relieved when she was released and came back to the U.S because I would hate to think an innocent young person loses their life to a life behind bars.   Justice was realized and I hope she can make an adjustment back to normalcy in the years to come, and I CAN NOT WAIT FOR HER BOOK!