UW Today

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July 30, 2003

Washington state gets climatologist just in time for national meeting

News and Information

Just in time for the American Association of State Climatologists meeting next week in Portland, the state of Washington has someone fulfilling those duties for the first time since the late 1990s.

Philip Mote, a research scientist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, said state climatologist positions nationwide haven’t been funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration since 1973, and the posts have been held informally by those willing to carry out the duties.

He takes over the Washington post last held by Mark Albright, a research meteorologist with the UW atmospheric sciences department, who gave it up in 1998. Albright has joined the new office as associate climatologist.

“It’s not an office people are clamoring to hold,” Mote said. He noted that, while the reconstituted office is being partially funded by the UW and the state Department of Ecology, it is still not a formal state post and there is not full funding to help carry out the responsibilities.

Washington had been one of three states without a climatologist. The two remaining are West Virginia and Montana.

Mote takes over the Washington office at a time when he believes there is more demand for the services it provides. There is a new importance attached to the position, he said, and there is a growing possibility of renewed federal funding.

The state climatologist collects and interprets climate data and provides information to the public and to private users. In addition, Mote will provide periodic outlooks and forecasts, and he can research specific questions.

For instance, the climatologist Web site — http://www.climate.washington.edu — currently has information about the lingering statewide drought. It notes that timber throughout the state is tinder dry because of below-normal rainfall since at least mid-May. The Web site notes that fire risk is particularly high in eastern Washington, where fuels are the driest they have been since monitoring began in 1993, and relief is unlikely for weeks.

The Web site also is a ready source for observations of basic climate variables such as temperature and precipitation, as well as seasonal forecasts, but more sophisticated requests often require judicious use of existing data to fill gaps.

“Someone may want to know temperature in a location where there are no observations, or they might want it in a different form, such as a 50-year high temperature,” Mote said. “More difficult are requests for uncommon variables, such as relative humidity or incoming solar radiation.

“What’s needed is more in-depth, specific interpretation of data,” he said. “It requires the prudent use of actual observations to make valid assumptions about conditions at a specific time.”


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For more information, contact Mote at (206) 616-5346 or philip@atmos.washington.edu