Weather Blog

New weather model predicts vivid sunsets before they happen

New weather model predicts vivid sunsets before they happen
Photo: Sigma Sreedharan Photography

Western Washington residents have been treated to some dramatic sunsets this year -- one of the many benefits of living in an area framed with dramatic mountains and shimmering waterways.

Most nights, they kind of sneak up on us - sure, a sunset happens every day but you need specific conditions for nature to put on a show-stopper. Yet when those conditions come together, it's 30 minutes of sheer beauty rarely matched anywhere else.

But what if you knew ahead of time the upcoming sunset was going to be worthy of a drive to your favorite vista point?

That's exactly the project three meteorologists in Pennsylvania have undertaken, with promising results. They've created a sunset forecast weather model that aims to show where the most vivid sunsets could be expected across the nation for that night.

Their model takes data from the high resolution North American Model (NAM) and then they run their own calculations, paying close attention to predicted moisture, pressure, and cloud cover.

"We quickly realized that some things were more important than others, and decided on a weighting scheme," said site co-owner Jacob DeFlitch. "The most important factor I look for is sky cover, and more specifically, the existence of high clouds over the area. High clouds not only provide moisture to refract the sunlight, their ‘wispy’ formation also provides 'texture' to the sky and are high enough in the atmosphere for the sun to scatter light below. Think of these as a movie theatre screen, in which light can be projected upon."

Sunsets that would meet those criteria would be classified as "vivid" and were given bright yellow, orange, and red colors on the model. DeFlitch said clear skies, while providing great views of the sunset, would typically lack the clouds to really reflect the colors and would be given more "average" status. And places that were predicted to be socked in with low clouds and/or rain would be "poor" status, denoted in the drab blues on the model.

The result: A unique forecast model that doesn't directly predict rain or sun, but sunsets!

(Find the current model image here and click on the "Menu" tab on the upper left corner)

The model just debuted on Nov. 18 and so far, so good.

"From what we have seen so far, the model has been very accurate. One of our biggest 'wins' came from the extremely vivid sunset along the I-95 corridor from (Washington, D.C. to New York City) on Nov. 22," he said. It was an event their model accurately predicted and was featured on

DeFlitch said the idea for the model came from his own frustrations as a campus photographer while studying meteorology at Penn State University.

"I never wanted to miss a great sunset opportunity, however, this unfortunately happened a good number of times because I was unaware of all the factors that took place to allow for a vivid sunset," he said. "As a meteorologist, I would look primarily at the visible satellite, however that would not always tell the tale." He said about five months after graduating, he got with his fellow meteorologists Ben Reppert and Steve Hallett and the sunset forecast model was born.

"Since then, we have been working on improving the algorithm, the model itself, and expanding to sunrises," DeFlitch said.

And the future of the model is bright, DeFlitch said. They are considering ideas such as expanding their models' reach beyond the United States ("We've had much interest from Canada, Europe and Australia," he says.) and creating an app that could alert you when a good sunset is likely.

In the meantime, they're asking for your help in verifying their model's performance. If you've got a good photo of that night's sunset, you can Tweet it to them @sunset_wx or post it on their Facebook page.

"At the moment we're working on this project as much as we can, given two of us have full-time meteorologist positions and another is a full time student," DeFlitch said. "However, we think we are definitely making progress!"

How can planes land at Sea-Tac in the dense fog? Holograms!

How can planes land at Sea-Tac in the dense fog? Holograms! »Play Video

Scott's Note: This blog was originally published in 2013, but figured with the dense fog around this week, it was a good time to bring it back from the archives:

It is a marvel of human technology that in fog so dense that driving just 35 mph on a local Seattle street still has you straining to see that traffic light just a half-block away, a plane traveling well over 100 mph on final approach can not only find, but land with pinpoint accuracy on an invisible airport runway -- and still find its way back to the terminal.

In years past, the answer was just to divert inbound planes somewhere where it wasn't foggy and not allow outbound planes to leave until the fog lifted. But no more. Now Sea-Tac Airport, as many others across the globe, has an Instrument Landing System that helps transmit signals to help incoming planes find their way.

Freezing weather brings out mysterious 'ice spikes'

Freezing weather brings out mysterious 'ice spikes'
Photo of ice spike taken on Nov. 25, 2015. (Photo: Carl Maring)

It might seem it's been so cold, even gravity is affected!

Check out these photos from Pamela Maring of a column of ice that rose out of a dog dish in Marysville Wednesday morning. A frozen version of the Loch Ness Monster attempting to escape from its icy prison?

Nope, just some neat physics in play.

Photos: More dramatic photos of Earth from the Int'l Space Station

Photos: More dramatic photos of Earth from the Int'l Space Station
Typhoon #Soudelor from the International Space Station. (Photo courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA)

Social media a blessing -- and a curse -- for meteorologists

Social media a blessing -- and a curse -- for meteorologists
Photo: Brendan Ramsey

As I stared at my Twitter feed blowing up on Thursday with excited Tweets about potential snow -- for the following Tuesday -- it really dawned on me just how things have changed in the meteorology field over the past 10-20 years. We're publically talking about a marginal snow event -- in Seattle -- already? When it's still five days away?!?!?

Watch: Fog covers Downtown Seattle during brilliant sunrise

Fog and sunrise: it's a lovely combination around Seattle.

Michael Reid of Mike Reid Photography was in the perfect spot Friday morning to get this video (shown above) of the sun rising as a layer of fog was draped over Downtown Seattle.

As El Nino rages, still a warm winter foreseen, but 2016's looking wetter

As El Nino rages, still a warm winter foreseen, but 2016's looking wetter
Kasee Palmer, left, and Summer Sturhan, right, both of Olympia, Wash., hike on Snow Lake Trail, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, above Snoqualmie Pass in Washington state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE -- It's probably the first time in several months an update to the long range seasonal forecasts hasn't been met with total dread by skiers, snowboarders, and anyone else who is a fan of a snowy winter.

That's probably because November has been kind to snow lovers so far with a parade of storms that have brought enough mountain snow for some ski resorts to open before Thanksgiving!

Wind speeds hit a high as 137 mph at some Cascade ski resorts Tuesday

Wind speeds hit a high as 137 mph at some Cascade ski resorts Tuesday
Mission Ridge ski resort on the morning of Nov. 18, 2015 sporting 7" of new snow on the ground after the higher hilltops were blasted with 116 mph winds Tuesday. (Photo: Tony Hickok, Mission Ridge Ski Resort)

Scott's Note: In the original text, I erroneously crowned White Pass the wind champ at 119 mph, but it turns out I didn't run Mission Ridge's data back far enough. Lo and behild, they hit an eye-popping 137 mph gust Tuesday evening!

The Olympic Mountains may be home to Hurricane Ridge, but it was some of the Cascade ridges that took on hurricane-force winds during Tuesday's windstorm.

As an intense low pressure system passed by just to the north, it created an incredible pressure difference along the eastside of the Cascades, bringing triple-digit wind speeds to some spots.

Seattle rattles off (almost) 37 consecutive hours of rainfall

Seattle rattles off (almost) 37 consecutive hours of rainfall
A rainy Seattle night on Nov. 12, 2015. Photo: Tim Durkan

SEATTLE -- November is traditionally the rainiest month in Seattle, and 2015 is sure following suit.

Through early on November 15, the month has already collected over 6.5 inches of rain -- already filling the typical monthly average (6.57") with still half a month to go.

Both Friday (1.32") and Saturday (1.86") were the second-wettest November 13th and 14th (respectively) on record in Seattle, and Sunday November 15 was already approaching another inch of rain.

Cool, blustery day manages to set another Seattle heat record

Cool, blustery day manages to set another Seattle heat record

Saturday will be remembered a soaker of a day, registering the second-wettest November 14th on record with 1.86" of rain in Seattle.

It was also the first time since Feb. 1 -- yes, the day of the Super Bowl -- that Seattle failed to reach 50 degrees (getting a high of 49 just after midnight, the cooling from there.)

Remembering the great Friday the 13th storm of 1981

Remembering the great Friday the 13th storm of 1981
Satellite image shows the storm as it churns in the waters just off the northern Oregon coast at 1:45 a.m. on Nov. 14, 1981.
As the Pacific Northwest goes through a fairly potent storm on Friday the 13th in November, I figured this was a good time to bring back a blog I wrote three years ago detailing another big storm that hit the Northwest on a Friday the 13th in November. Of course, this storm had an impact on my life and, as you'll read, a much greater impact on many others.

Could Des Moines, Iowa have had the craziest weather day ever?

Could Des Moines, Iowa have had the craziest weather day ever?
Debris is strewn about after strong storms and heavy winds blew through the area, Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 11, 2015, in Des Moines Iowa. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register via AP)

Think of all the weather stories your dad or granddad told you were a kid about how difficult it was.

Probably had nothing on what Des Moines, Iowa had on Wednesday. We've joked during our own storms about needing "weather bingo" to account for all the different events. We lose.

The morning started simple enough: Cloudy skies gave out a little drizzle. Temperatures in the mid 50s warmed into the low 60s at lunch. Clouds were pretty low and thick, but winds were only blowing at 15 mph.

Why are mules carrying rain gauges into the Olympic Mountains? Science!

Why would a pack of mules be carrying weather equipment up into the Olympic National Park this October? It's all in the name of weather research!

NASA has undertaken an ambitious research project this fall and winter called OLYMPEX (Olympic Mountains Experiment) to cover the Olympic Peninsula -- even its most remote locations -- with all sorts of weather instrument goodies in an effort to help NASA calibrate some new advanced weather satellites.