Ricky Vagras

2012 Research Experience for Undergrads

Synoptic control of precipitation over the Cascade mountains

Ricky VargasThis summer through the JISAO summer internship program I had the amazing opportunity to conduct research with Professor Cliff Mass, a distinguished meteorologist at the University of Washington as well as local celebrity for his famous weather blog and radio weather. But first, coming to Seattle took a bit of an adjustment, especially coming from the East Coast, where the culture and weather stroke me as different from what I was familiar with back home. Luckily, I was able to adapt to the environment and explore the city, which I found was nothing less than amazing.

My research began with the question of why there are precipitation differences across the Cascade mountains, specifically what was going on in a synoptic level that explained why there were variations in precipitation.  As a starting point I took observed precipitation data that was collected across three stations from the east and west side of the Cascades and sorted out the data with an index that was generated by taking an average of precipitations that fell across the western and eastern side of the mountains and taking those differences as well. I was able to separate these indices into three categories; positive, near zero, and negative, from dates running from November 1, 2011 through March 1, 2012. Essentially, a positive index implied that more precipitation fell across the western side of the mountains, near zero implied that about even precipitation fell, and a negative index meant that there was more precipitation that fell across the eastern side of the mountains.

Ricky working at computerOnce this was complete, I transferred my data into Matlab, where I used the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR), to generate composites of all my dates. I generated 1000-500mb thickness and 1000-850mb thickness maps, which gave me an idea of the thermal pattern associated with the these indices, as well as sea level pressure maps, 500mb, and 850mb heights. What I found was that there was a general progression from positive through negative cases, where when it rained more on the western side of the mountains, it was typically associated with a post frontal pattern with strong westerly flow off the Pacific Ocean, whereas in the negative case, there was flow that was more southwesterly and possibly easterly flow flowing windward across the eastern side of the mountains.

Ricky, Angel, and Karimar pre-skydivingOverall, my summer experience was nothing short of amazing. I was able to conduct research in an area that has not been explored very extensively and I became more familiar with the computer program Matlab, which I was completely unfamiliar with before. Of course this summer was not all just work. I enjoyed my weekends with the other interns as well as Angel, a former JIASO intern and current graduate student at the University of Washington, who toured us across the entire city of Seattle. My most memorable experience had to be jumping off a plane at 10,000 ft. Yes, skydiving was probably the craziest thing I have ever done but couldn’t imagine doing it anywhere else. This was definitely an opportunity of lifetime and I have JISAO to thank for giving me the opportunity.  



Ricky's research poster

Click on poster for full-size image [PDF]