Tropical trouble? Seattle public radio meteorologist finds new home

It’s the time of year when forecasters at NHC watch every little tropical wave in the Atlantic with a wary eye.

Today, there are two main areas of interest in the Atlantic. One may threaten Central America. The other could be a threat to the southeast USA late next week.


So called low pressure system 93L is churning in the Caribbean Sea south of Hispaniola. The system is showing some signs of circulation, and hurricane hunter aircraft have been dispatched to investigate the potential for low level organization.

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Weather Underground hurricane guru Jeff Masters has the write up. “Caribbean disturbance 93L, A westward-moving tropical wave in the Central Caribbean a few hundred miles south of Hispaniola, Invest 93L, has increased in organization overnight, building up a modest amount of heavy thunderstorms. Low-level spiral bands have begun to form on all sides of the storm this morning. There are currently no signs of a surface circulation, though there is plenty of large-scale rotation apparent on satellite imagery. Dry air surrounds 93L and has infiltrated the center of the disturbance, giving 93L a doughnut-like appearance. However, the disturbance is steadily moistening its environment and is under low wind shear of 5 – 10 knots, so this dry air should gradually mix out today and allow 93L to continue to organize. There is a hurricane hunter mission scheduled for this afternoon at 2pm EDT to see if a tropical depression is forming.

93L will bring heavy rain showers to southern Haiti this afternoon and to Jamaica tonight. By Thursday, 93L’s forward motion will slow to 10 – 15 mph, and the storm will bring heavy rains to Northern Honduras and Northeast Nicaragua. These rains will spread to Belize and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula by Saturday. The latest SHIPS model forecast shows wind shear remaining in the low range and the atmosphere steadily moistening as 93L enters the Western Caribbean on Thursday. All of the models agree that the ridge of high pressure steering 93L to the west will remain strong, forcing the storm into a landfall Friday in Northeast Nicaragua or Northeast Honduras. It is possible that 93L will have time to intensify into a Category 1 hurricane before then, though landfall as a tropical storm would be more likely, given the dry air that 93L needs to overcome. Regardless of development, the storm will bring very heavy rains of 4 – 8 inches or more to Nicaragua and Honduras. These rains are likely to cause dangerous flash flooding and mudslides. NHC gave 93L a 30% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Friday morning in their 8am outlook; I’d put these odds at 50% now, given the continued increase in organization seen on satellite images.”

Hurricane modles are tracking the system west into Central America or southern Mexico.

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Florida threat next week?

The second tropical wave near the Cape Verde Islands in the eastern Atlantic has the potential to be an eventual threat to the southeast USA late next week.

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As I wrote Wednesday morning, the GFS insists on bringing a hurricane to somewhere near the southeast USA by next Thursday or Friday. Various runs of the GFS have placed the system near Florida, then into the Gulf or curving north into Georgia.

Again, Jeff Masters has the write up. “A tropical wave near 14°N 34°W, about 500 miles west-southwest of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, is moving westward near 15 – 20 mph. This wave has little heavy thunderstorm activity associated with it due to dry air, but an impressive amount of large-scale spin is obvious in visible satellite loops. This wave is expected to arrive in the Lesser Antilles Islands by Saturday. Three of our four reliable models for predicting tropical storm genesis predict that this wave could develop into a tropical depression sometime Friday through Sunday. A west-northwest track through the Northeast Caribbean bringing the storm near Puerto Rico by Sunday or Monday is favored by most of the models.”

If you read between the lines and follow that track, you can see the logical extension (and GFS solution) is that a hurricane may approach the southeast USA late next week.

Stay tuned.

Seattle Public Radio meteorologist booted from one station, finds a new home.

I’ve never met Cliff Mass, but I’ve read some of his excellent work and he’s well respected in the Pacific Northwest and nationally as a researcher. The UW Professor has had a weekly radio gig on public radio in Seattle of many years. Think Mark Seeley in Seattle.

It appears that Dr. Mass has recently strayed from talking about weather and climate issues into expounding on other topics of interest for him.

I don’t have a whole lot of comment here except to say that if I decided to take on other topics outside of weather or climate during my MPR weather chats, I’m pretty sure I’d be invited to pay a visit to my managers office in a hurry. My role here is to talk about weather and climate, and any related topics that may be of interest to MPR listeners. It’s just how the biz works…you fill your slot and that’s that. If they want somebody to talk about politics or some other topic, there are plenty more capable and experienced than me ready to do that.

Here are some details on the Cliff Mass dust up in Seattle.

Outlook now sunny for outspoken pubradio weatherman in Puget Sound

“Cliff Mass, the colorful local weather guy whose non-weather opinions got him booted off Seattle’s news channel KUOW in May, soon will have a regular spot on jazz station KPLU in Tacoma, according to the Seattle Times. Mass, a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, was featured weekly on KUOW’s morning show, Weekday, to discuss weather. But sometimes he would veer off onto other subjects, including a controversy over which textbooks to use in local schools. Station management asked him to stop; he refused. And so Steve Scher, host and executive producer of Weekday, removed Mass from the unpaid spot. In a letter posted for listeners, Scher wrote, “I do not want the weather segment to become an opinion and views segment.”

The pair’s on-air dust-up and Mass’s subsequent firing was dutifully covered by KUOW. Petitions containing more than 2,500 signatures were delivered to the station’s board of directors. KUOW management stood by the decision. “There is a place for everything,” Program Director Jeff Hansen said. “The weather segment is not the place for random opinion; that is the place for weather to be discussed.”

Mass says he was approached by a TV station and five radio stations to go on the air. One commercial radio station, he says, offered him a one-hour show to talk about the weather and anything else he wanted to discuss. Mass wasn’t interested. “I only want five minutes,” he says. “This is a very small part of my life.”

Meanwhile, Joey Cohn, director of content at KPLU, received dozens of emails from listeners saying the station should have Mass on the air. “I’ve been here almost 24 years, and I’ve never seen a personality so in demand,” Cohn says. “And if the audience likes him, I like him.”

So Weather with Cliff Mass, beginning Sept. 2, will run from 9 a.m. to 9:05 a.m. on Fridays.

“It’ll be strictly weather,” Mass says.”

The perspective from KUOW here.

“When Cliff Mass signed on 15 years ago to be a regular Friday guest on the show Weekday, he told the producers he wanted to do more than just give the weekend forecast. He wanted to talk about science as well.

Mass: “One of my mentors was Carl Sagan, and I was, you know, I was very much interested in this outreach idea that scientists need to talk to the public directly.”

Over the years, Mass says, he gradually expanded what he talked about. A favorite topic was how the math skills of his students appeared to be on the decline.

At one point, about three years ago, Mass blamed that on something called discovery math. That’s a math curriculum that’s widely used in the state’s schools.

Steve Scher is the host of “Weekday.” He says Mass’s comments crossed the line. The issue of math textbooks is heated and highly controversial, and Mass only represented one side.

Scher: “That issue should be vetted in a forum where people can have the time to understand the complexities of that issue. And it isn’t for one person who has got a forum, who has got a microphone, it’s not fair. And as journalists, we try to keep it fair.”

So, Scher and his producer had a meeting with Mass to set new ground rules. Mass was told to stick to the weather and the science behind the weather. Mass said he didn’t like the rules, but he agreed.

And by all accounts, for the next couple of years, Mass did not stray from the topic. It was, as he says, an uneasy truce.

But then at the end of last month, all that changed.

Scher: “Cliff, how will the weather be this weekend?”

Mass: “Well — ”

When Mass got on the line for his regular weather segment, three journalists, including an editor from the Seattle Times, were seated in the studio, ready to begin the weekly news roundup.

Mass: “Steve, can I make a comment about that UW admissions for a second?”

Scher: “Well, you are violating the rules of you being a UW weather forecaster, Cliff, and people will now be writing in to yell at you.”

Mass: “OK, well, I’m not just a weather forecaster but I just wanted to mention — ”

The Times had recently run a story about how some straight “A” students were being denied admission to the University of Washington. Mass said in his opinion, the story was wrong.

Mass: “And what I’m going to say is that we are not rejecting straight ‘A’ students with great board scores and great everything — ”

The discussion continued on for several more minutes, and Scher gave Mass the last word on the subject. While it all seemed cordial, this is what Scher says he was thinking:

Scher: “My reaction was, a fair thing would have been for him to have called in like any listener would and not to seize the microphone and say, I want to talk about this, I think I have the right to because I have this platform.”

More emails were exchanged after the show. Scher says once again, he asked Mass for a firm commitment to stick to the weather. But this time, here is how Mass replied:

Mass: “I said, I think it’s unreasonable, and I think, I do think it’s out of keeping with just the basic idea of KUOW and about public radio. And so, and so I sent him an email, and the next day I got an email from him, You’re off, you know. You are not going to do regular broadcasts on KUOW anymore.”

Mass says he was shocked by the move. At first, he thought Scher would change his mind, but when it was clear that he wouldn’t, Mass appealed to his fans. On his blog, he announced his dismissal from KUOW and asked his supporters to contact the station to demand his reinstatement.

Hundreds of people emailed KUOW to protest the decision, including Ryan Berg. He started a Facebook page in support of Mass. It now has more than 2,000 fans.

Berg: “I think people had felt like they had a relationship with him, you know, by virtue of his character, by virtue of the energy that he brought. And so initially, it was a real anger at like, well, why did they do this? Where did this come from? And the only information people had at the time was from his blog essentially.”

Berg also presented the KUOW board of directors with a petition, signed by about 2,500 people, demanding that Mass be reinstated with no restrictions.

KUOW’s Program Director Jeff Hansen says he stands by the decision to dismiss Mass. He says the issue goes to the heart of how the station operates. Shows are carefully programmed, guests are booked on certain topics and hosts try to keep them focused.

Hansen: “There is a place for everything. The weather segment is not the place for random opinion; that is the place for weather to be discussed.”

So, who’s right in this debate? Well, here’s the views of one disinterested expert.

Bob Steele is a professor of journalism ethics at DePauw University and a scholar at the Poynter Institute. He’s leading the group that’s rewriting NPR’s ethics code in the wake of the firing of news analyst Juan Williams.

Although he says he doesn’t know the specifics of this case, Steele says in general, news organizations are wise to have clear standards of accuracy, fairness and balance. But he also says those standards have to be rigorously and consistently applied, and if conflicts arise, they need to be resolved in a very transparent way.

Steele: “There should be a process and a protocol for working through those differences. Ideally, it is done respectfully, it is done fairly. It is done clearly in a way in which all the stakeholders, from the management of the station, to the producers and hosts of a program, to volunteer contributors have a voice in reconciling differences.”

For his part, Cliff Mass says he’s still hoping those differences can be reconciled. Steve Scher says Mass is welcome to return to KUOW in another capacity, but for now, the search is on for someone else to do the weekend weather.

I’m Deborah Wang, KUOW News.”


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