Mike Nelson's Blog: March, February, January 2011

A few questions have been raised as to whether the unfolding nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant in the wake of the quake and tsunami will pose any threat to the U.S. West Coast. Experts say there is no immediate threat of the radiation to be swept toward the U.S. Mainland. Even Hawaii, much closer to Japan than the U.S., only faces a slight risk.

"At this present time, there is no risk to this area of the country," Office of Emergency Services Chief Michael Harris told the Board of Supervisors during a morning March 15 meeting. "We have no indication from experts that that is the case. If that changes we will certainly advise the board and the public."

"Some of the radioactivity could carry in the atmosphere to the West Coast of the US," added nuclear expert Joe Cirincione, head of anti-nuclear group Ploughshares Fund.

He cited the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster to underline how far radioactivity can travel.

"The radioactivity spread around the entire northern hemisphere," from the devastated Ukrainian plant, he said.

Harvey Wasserman, a senior adviser to environmental group Greenpeace in the US added that after Chernobyl "fallout did hit the jet stream and then the coast of California, thousands of miles away, within ten days.

"It then carried all the way across the northern tier of the United States," he said.

While radioactivity could reach the United States from the quake-hit Fukushima plant, the levels would not be high enough to cause major health problems, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Any radioactive particles would flow with the wind. All one needs to do is know the wind pattern from the day of release, namely, the Jet Stream. Currently the Jet Stream is moving over Japan and streaming across the ocean towards the U.S. (as it pretty much always does). The average speed of the jet is about 100 – 120 knots, or about 110 – 140 mph. 4,500 miles between Japan and the U.S. divided by 120 mph equals about 37 hours or about a day and a half, give or take.

"Based on what has happened to date, there is essentially zero risk," said Jerrold Bushberg, director of health physics programs at UC Davis.

Here are a few links to some information..

West Coast Radiation Risk Minimal: Experts

Radiation Release from Japanese Nuclear Reactors is Headed to US West Coast

Wow, it has really been a wild winter so far, complete with huge storms and bitter cold. For the most part, Colorado has been spared the worst of the weather, while the Midwest and the East have been hammered!

The weather pattern to blame for this year's intense winter is La Nina.

The El Nino / La Nina pattern of warm or cold water in the equatorial Pacific shifted to a strong La Nina in early Autumn. Sea surface temperatures cooled well below average starting late last summer, indicating that a La Nina event has begun. This La Nina has been the driving factor for most of the nasty winter weather that has impacted the northern and eastern states.

In just the past two weeks, instruments floating in the central Pacific Ocean have shown a warming of the water, a sign that La Nina is weakening. It is still too early to know if this weakening of La Nina will continue into the spring and summer, cool again, or even go the other way and begin a new El Nino phase, so the effects on the overall long range forecast are not certain.

The Denver National Weather Service office has just updated their excellent tutorial on La Nina

La Nina tends to favor the northern mountains of Colorado with an abundance of snow. Steamboat enjoys a wonderful season during La Nina events, in fact this season Steamboat has reported over 300 inches of snow already, Loveland Ski Area is only a few inches behind.

For the latest snow and ski conditions, try our 24/7 Weather Ski Report

Along the Front Range, La Nina winters tend to be dry and windy ones - indeed this season has proved to be that way. El Nino winters can bring a few good storms, for instance 1997 and 2003 were both El Nino years and featured big snowstorms for the eastern plains. The imapcts are usually more profound in the mountains, as they grab the lion's share of the moisture from approaching storms. For the most part, the eastern plains do not feel the biggest effects from the El Nino/La Nina phenomena.

El Nino winters often bring heavy storms into the southern and central parts of California and eventually into southwestern Colorado. The really heavy snows hit in the San Juan Mountains and favor Telluride, Durango and Wolf Creek.

When there are near normal ocean temperatures in the Pacific, other factors enter into the long range forecast equation. These include temperature fluctuations in the northern Atlantic and surface pressure oscillations in the arctic. Other factors include the amount of snowpack over the plains of northern and central Canada, southward into the northern Great Plains of the United States.

All of these factors are important, but they tend to be much weaker indicators of the type of winter we will have - especially compared to strong indicators like El Nino or La Nina.

Of course we have trouble sometimes getting a 24 hour forecast to come out right, let along the 3 to 6 month time frame, so we will see. If you would like to check out more on the specifics of the extended forecast, try the

Climate Prediction Center's website.

I would like to recommend that you get a copy of my book - THE COLORADO WEATHER ALMANAC. I spent over 2 years researching and writing the book and it will provide you with a lot of valuable information about weather in general and Colorado's weather in particular! The book is available at many area bookstores or from


The Storm Chasers return to Colorado in February as the 13th annual National Storm Chaser Convention kicks off February 18-20, 2011 at the Red Lion Hotel Denver Central hotel!

Every year, the world's top storm chasers and tornado researchers gather for this one-of-a-kind event. This year, an amazing group of speakers including Discovery Channel "Storm Chasers" star, Reed Timmer will be featured during the conference. Other speakers include researches with Vortex2 with the keynote speaker being the always crowd pleasing Tim Marshall.

For those interesting in tuning up their severe weather forecasting, Tim Vasquez is holding a class on Friday night, February 18, 2011, at 8pm. Class price only $20.00 for ChaserCon attendees! Tim is a former Air Force meteorologist from Norman, Oklahoma. Tim runs the Stormtrack website, is the author of the Storm Chasing Handbook and a number of forecast book titles, and is a writer for Weatherwise magazine.

Conference registration is $91.00 for the entire weekend. For your registration fee, you get admission to the Conference on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There will be an "Ice-Breaker" on Friday night with snacks included. There will be a pay bar Friday night. A continental breakfast is provided Saturday morning, afternoon break on Saturday with drinks/cookies/chips included, and the Banquet Dinner and Keynote Speaker on Saturday night. For an extra $12, you can get the official ChaserCon t-shirt!

2010 was one of the busier severe weather seasons in recent times with over 1,500 tornado reports across the country. Amazing footage of many major tornado events will be shown and talked about during this conference and is a must-see for any severe weather nerd! You can also meet many of the stars of Discovery's "Storm Chasers" from not only Reed's team, but from TWISTEX and the TIV teams as well!

Visit the conference website for more information, including a direct link on registration for this one-of-a-kind event!

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