Another long break and a long delay to monsoonal flow to Flagstaff

 El Nino/La Nina, Lake Powell, Models, Monsoon, Northern Arizona Weather, Outlooks  Comments Off on Another long break and a long delay to monsoonal flow to Flagstaff
Jun 242017
The Partheonon at night, May 2017.

Yes, my last post was on May 4. Here we are several weeks, and European trips, later. Since May 4th, I have travelled to Prague, Greece, Italy, Austria and the far south of Germany. Prague was a work trip to see some stunning work presented! Greece was a week long sailing trip that came about because of the 40th birthday parties of a couple friends. Athens is truly striking! Italy was for a long weekend by the Gardasee (Lake Garda). Austria is in between, and with beautiful springtime green meadows against the rocky Alps. Ah! And now the weather!

The Partheonon at night, May 2017.

The Parthenon at night, May 2017.

Of course it’s fire season. I’m surprised by the number of fires and the intensity of the fire near Brian’s Head. It’s been a fairly wet winter and spring for most of the southwest. One of the indicators of this is the meteoric rise in Lake Powell. It is the deepest it has been on this date since 2011. It could be the second deepest summer out of the last decade. The lake hit it’s low point, just shy of 3594 feet in early spring. Currently, it is around the elevation of 3633 and still rising several inches per day. A wet year so far.

Lake Powell water level from

Lake Powell water level from Notice it’s more like the last 5 years.

Now, the monsoon season. I realize there have been several faux monsoon storms. They were more driven by frontal systems passing to the north of Arizona, than a sustained moist flow from the south. The good news is that the heat has arrive to start the monsoon engine. Joe D’Aleo has written a nice summary of how the heat drives the flow. You can also take a look at my Monsoon Mechanics page.

The less good news is that the current computer forecasts point to the flow starting very much to the east of Flagstaff. It maybe after the 4th of July before the rains start in earnest. Below is a recent GFS model out look for precipitation between now and July 4. You can see only a small amount of precipitation predicted during this time frame.

Precipitation outlook between now and July 4, 2017 from the GFS model on

Precipitation outlook between now and July 4, 2017 from the GFS model on

Back to the better news, the outlook for the development of El Nino is low. El Nino conditions include the development of anomalous winds that can cut across the moisture flow, sending it elsewhere. Hopefully, when the season starts it will be a normal one.

Oh wait, what is a normal monsoon season?

 Posted by at 4:21 am

Vapor lock, another weather related phenomenon

 Lake Powell, Northern Arizona Weather  Comments Off on Vapor lock, another weather related phenomenon
Oct 122014

If you know me or my blog, you know I watch Lake Powell. Most of my posts are about the water level increase expected each spring and early summer. But many boaters have reported weather problems at the lake that weren’t related to dust storms, thunderstorms or wind storms. Triple digit temperatures are a common occurrence on Lake Powell. The high temperatures can cause engine problems.

Waterskiing at Lake Powell

Waterskiing at Lake Powell

On of the intended benefits of fuel injection was to prevent vapor lock. The gut reaction of most “gear-heads” and marine mechanics is that a fuel injected engine can not suffer vapor lock. I’m now a believer that there is a mechanism for vapor lock in a marine engine.

Marine engines run in a tough environment. The stern drive motors are typically inside a small engine compartment with limited ventilation and exceptional noise insulation. It’s a great environment for containing heat. The lower unit of the stern drive takes up fresh water and pumps it to the engine and support systems. It’s a great way to cool a motor while it’s running. But when you shut down a boat’s engine, there isn’t a natural heat release path. You can run the engine compartment bilge blowers to provide air flow. But there is no radiator like in a car. In the Lake Powell’s summer temperatures, blowing 110 degree air over a 155 degree engine has little effect.

To protect the fuel, a fuel cooler is a part of the cooling system. The fuel cooler’s intent is prevention of fuel vaporization due to high engine compartment temperatures. The water comes in from the outdrive, flows through the power steering cooler, then the fuel cooler, before going to the engine’s thermostat housing. This doesn’t work after the engine is shutdown, either.

Over the last few years our boat driving habits at the lake have changed. We used to spend lots of time on the beach with brief runs for water-skiing or wake boarding, or sightseeing. Now, we tend to do longer runs with plenty of canyon exploring and trips to Rainbow Bridge with friends. This means we run our engine longer and the compartment and engine gets thoroughly hot. Here is a temperature profile of the engine during a summer weekend trip. I measured the temperature on the top of the thermostat housing lifting eye. So, it wasn’t in direct contact with the housing or engine.

Engine compartment temperature profile, July 18-19, 2014.

Engine compartment temperature profile, July 18-19, 2014.

The heat build up is fairly quick. Idling the engine after a run provides a fair amount of cooling. But after shutting down the engine, the cool-down is much slower. Opening the engine hatch provides a better cool down of the top of the engine. Shorter runs result in a much faster cool down. We had to open the hatch because the engine wouldn’t start; we hypothesized vapor lock. But the engine compartment temperature had cooled much at this point. Shouldn’t it have started?

There is a theory about some marine engines. The theory is that some of the engine cooling water flows backwards after engine shutdown. This takes very hot water out of the engine and back the way it came. The first stop on the way out is the fuel cooler.

My son and I tried to replicate the outcome. We took our boat on a long, roughly 40 mile round trip. We went straight back to our slip at Wahweap Marina and shut down the engine as quick as possible. We watched the temperature on top of the thermostat housing lifting eye, and the air temperature inside the fuel cooler box, just an inch or so away from the real heat exchanger.

Thermostat housing and fuel cooler temperature

We watched the fuel cooler temperature quickly move from 101.5 degrees F to 121F at 15 minutes, and hit a top temperature of 124F by 30 minutes. At 45 minutes, we thought the temperature had stabilized and attempted to start the engine. It turned over, but didn’t start. We took a video the fuel being injected at the throttle body when cool, and again when it failed to start.

The fuel spray in the hot video is quite different with spurts, drips and gaps in the flow. The cool fuel spray is well atomized. What a difference!

On other trips, I tried to measure the temperature of the cooling hose that allows back-flow to the fuel cooler. Since the data logger I used had a self-protection turn off at 140F degrees, it only produced a few minutes of data as the temperatures climbed above 140F. Back-flow was the likely issue.

Mercruiser is the manufacturer of my engine. They have provided a tech bulletin about this vapor locking issue on their V-8 engines.

Mercruiser Vapor Lock Tech Bulletin

One of the solutions Mercruiser gives is to insert a check valve in the cooling system to prevent back-flow. I opted for this option. I installed the check valve in the cooling line between the fuel cooler and the thermostat housing. When I removed the existing hose, I found that it was mostly empty. To me, this validated the back flow problem as an issue. The top part of the engine coolant drained out via the fuel cooler. With the included instructions, the valve was remarkably easy to install. An experienced mechanic could do it in probably five minutes. I invested 45 minutes. Here’s a picture of the installed valve.

Cooling line check valve installed. Blue with yellow in the lower right.

Cooling line check valve installed. Blue with yellow in the lower right.

To test the repair, we did a high-speed run to Rainbow Bridge. When we shut down the engine, I watched the fuel cooler temperature. At 15 minutes, the temperature had dropped by 0.3 degrees. In other trips since then, it has occasionally increased, but never above 103F.

Every pump has a low pressure intake, and high pressure discharge. The fuel pump takes it suction on the outlet of the fuel cooler. The pump’s suction can vaporize the heated fuel, even if it is below boiling point. I wanted to record this some place because many boaters at Lake Powell to get hit by this phenomena.

 Posted by at 6:35 pm

Pretty wet, then pretty dry

 Lake Powell, Monsoon, Northern Arizona Weather  Comments Off on Pretty wet, then pretty dry
Jul 312014

For the next four days, some of the forecasts and the computer models show as much as an 1.5-2 inches of rain for parts of Northern Arizona. This will give us a good start to August. The scope of the precipitation over the next few days isn’t reflected in every forecast. Some, like the NOAA’s Graphical forecast and the National Weather Service’s forecast seem much drier and warmer. For instance, if you are heading to Lake Powell, I expect Sunday will be cooler(everyone may not think high 80s, low 90s are cool) and wetter compared to normal.

Looking deeper into August, the 6-10 and 8-14 day outlooks have dry conditions moving into Arizona. Dry period during a reasonably wet monsoon season isn’t unusual. Later today, the Climate Prediction Center should issue a new 30-day outlook. The question is whether or not the long-range outlook will continue to forecast above average precipitation.

North American Mesoscale Model of four day total precipitation. (National Centers for Environmental Prediction, 31 July 2014)

North American Mesoscale Model of four-day total precipitation. (National Centers for Environmental Prediction, 31 July 2014)


 Posted by at 6:40 am

Living south of the snow line

 Lake Powell, Winter Storms  Comments Off on Living south of the snow line
Feb 192014

There are a couple of curious things to note about Lake Powell. First, it’s at its lowest level for this date since 2005. Outflows from the lake are around the historic average.

Lake Powell water levels since 2010 -

Lake Powell water levels since 2010 –

Second, the snow pack above Lake Powell is well above normal for this time of year.

Upper Colorada Basin Snowpack -

Upper Colorada Basin Snowpack –

Unlike Arizona, this year’s storm track has hit the Upper Colorado River Basin. If this year ends up similar to 2011, lake levels could recover considerably. In 2011, level lake increase by roughly 60 feet. We are still well before the peak in snowfall.

Here is the Bureau of Reclamation’s outlook for this summer. I have highlighted the max, likely and min lake level projections.

Based on the current forecast, the February 24-Month study projects Lake Powell elevation will peak near approximately 3,611 ft next summer and end the water year near 3,604 feet with approximately 12.16 maf in storage (50% capacity).  Note that projections of elevation and storage have significant uncertainty at this point in the season, primarily due to uncertainty regarding the season’s total snowpack and the resulting inflow to Lake Powell.  Under the minimum probable inflow scenario, updated in January, the projected summer peak is 3,592 ft and end of water year storage is 9.7 maf (40% capacity).  Under the maximum probable inflow scenario, updated in January, the projected summer peak is 3,631 ft and end of water year storage is 15.0 maf (62% capacity).  There is a 10 percent chance that inflows will be higher, resulting in higher elevation and storage, and 10 percent chance that inflows will be lower, resulting in lower elevation and storage.  The minimum and maximum probable model runs will be updated again in April.  The annual release volume from Lake Powell during water year 2014 is projected to be 7.48 maf under all inflow scenarios. 

Seems odd to be thinking about Lake Powell in February, but the weather has been so nice. That could all change. Here is a new graphic from the National Weather Service for spring precipitation following dry winters. Near normal spring amounts seem to the highest likelihood. Currently, the weather pattern seems to be shifting across North America. The Eastern US is going to see a warming trend. There is a strong storm for Arizona in the long-range outlook.

Spring precipitation following dry winters - National Weather Service Flagstaff

Spring precipitation following dry winters – National Weather Service Flagstaff

 Posted by at 4:11 am

Funny thing and a soggy Labor Day

 Lake Powell, Northern Arizona Weather  Comments Off on Funny thing and a soggy Labor Day
Aug 292013

TR pointed out a weather warning earlier this week. The warning mentioned that precipitation would mostly fall to the west of a line from Page to Black Canyon City. What could be interesting about such a line? In this case,  a combination of where the moisture was and the prevalent wind direction that day caused the line. Sure enough, looking at the radar estimated precipitation the next day, one could clearly make out most of that line.

As I looked at weather forecasts at Lake Powell for the weekend, I started in Page. As of this morning Page is showing a 50% chance of rain on Saturday. (Page Weather forecast from NWS) I then scrolled their “Click Map For Forecast” tool to the Lone Rock Area which is on the Utah side of the border. I’m more interested in a better estimate of temperatures, but notice only a 30% chance of rain. I scrolled a bit east to the southern edge of Padre Bay, but still in Utah. The chance of rain there is 40%. Then I drop south of the border into Labyrinth Canyon. I find 50% here. Next I go up by Cookie Jar.  Only 30% here. Deep into Last Chance Canyon, 30%. It seems that if you are in Utah on Lake Powell, on Saturday, you have a lower chance of rain. Also, the Arizona-side will be 2-3 degrees cooler.

Why would the state line make a difference? As it turns out, the Flagstaff National Weather Service is responsible for the Arizona-side of the lake. The Salt Lake City NWS is responsible for the Utah-side of the lake. So, the forecasting office could be the cause. But, as I look that the North American Mesoscale model for the next 84 hours(below), an issue seems to be right around the border. An area of heavier precipitation seems to be centered around Page and south of the border. I may have to go up there and see for myself.

Arizona is going to be wet all over this weekend. Enjoy it! We need the water.

84-hour precipitation forecast from the North American Mesoscale Model at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction

84-hour precipitation forecast from the North American Mesoscale Model at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction

 Posted by at 7:26 am

Snowpack above Lake Powell well above average

 Lake Powell, Northern Arizona Weather  Comments Off on Snowpack above Lake Powell well above average
May 252011

Even with the windy, cooling trend ahead for this weekend, you might be thinking about going to Lake Powell. If you show up on Friday, you can expect things to look much different by Monday. Right now, the water level is raising about 6 inches per day. This rate could increase. So you should think ahead; 18 inches of water level can dramatically change your campsite/anchorage’s appearance and functionality.

The cooler than normal May temperatures and the recent storms have dramatically increased the snow pack above Lake Powell.

Snow pack above Lake Powell -

Snow pack above Lake Powell -

This has prompted a change in the peak level for the summer. The Bureau of Reclamation is still planning on generating lots of electricity by running all their generators as they fill Lake Mead. That’s 40 megawatts! Still, the peak level may reach 15-20 feet above last year’s peak. This could make it the highest level since 2001.


Lake Powell water level projection. Bureau of Reclamation

Lake Powell water level projection. Bureau of Reclamation


 Posted by at 6:40 am

More on Lake Powell

 Lake Powell  Comments Off on More on Lake Powell
May 012011

For folks from Northern Arizona, one of the big questions from recent years is whether or not the Castle Rock Cut is open. As of Friday, the water level, at 3611.74 feet, was 3.74 feet above the absolute minimum usable level, and just under the 3612 feet safe usable level. With the water level rising about a quarter of a foot per day, lake level should allow for safe passage this weekend. Again, this season’s levels will rise similar to last year.

I’d like to thank MN for putting me on the path to finding this link to more detail about estimated lake levels for this summer. Bureau of Reclamation – Glen Canyon/Lake Powell

Here is  their future water level outlook. Visit their site for the deeper technical details.


Historic and projected Lake Powell elevations - Bureau of Reclamation

Historic and projected Lake Powell elevations - Bureau of Reclamation



 Posted by at 5:57 am

2011 Lake Powell Outlook

 Lake Powell  Comments Off on 2011 Lake Powell Outlook
Apr 242011

A quick search turns up several news reports which tell the tale for the current plan for Lake Powell water levels. And, the associated story becomes clear very quickly. Lake level has just hit the transition point from lowering water levels to rising water levels.

Lake Powell Water Levels -
Lake Powell Water Levels –

But, the curious aspect of this graph is the difference in the rate at which the lake level has been dropping through last winter. The curve is much steeper than previous years. Also, as a result, the turning point from draining to filling has been extended early March to late April. Looking at daily inflow and outflow rates for this date over the last few years shows that the outflow rate this year is the highest of the last 10 years and roughly 30% greater than avereage for this time period.

10 year Lake Powell data for April 24 -

10 year Lake Powell data for April 24 -

The core issue is decreasing water levels at Lake Mead and a desire to maintain water level there. Here is a report from Southern Utah’s KCSG TV station,  Lake Mead Water Level to Rise 20 feet With Increased Water Flow From Lake Powell.

The good news is that the snow pack above Lake Powell is above average. Also, the Castle Rock cutoff is already 2 feet above the usable level. Over all, and I think with a little luck, this summer’s water level will be much like last summer’s. Hopefully, the rising levels at Lake Mead will help keep those mussel infested boats down in Las Vegas and out of Lake Powell.

Snowpack above Lake Powell

Snowpack above Lake Powell



 Posted by at 4:55 am

Lake Powell Outlook

 Lake Powell, Outlooks  Comments Off on Lake Powell Outlook
Jan 082011

With the storm track staying farther to the north, for now, it seems like a good time to look at how Lake Powell is doing and will be doing.But first, if you have ever wondered what Lake Powell looks like in the winter, check out their webcams: Lake Powell Webcams.

The lake level is following an almost identical path as last year. A steady decline due to power generation is eating up about 14,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water. The inflows are slowly dropping and are currently around 6,700 cfs.

The snowpack above Lake Powell is looking great!It has been running at 140-150% of normal for a while now. If this continues this will lead to a very nice increase for the lake next summer. Could we see a return to levels above the 3650 foot elevation? When haven’t been above that for roughly a decade.

It comes back to who do we believe. I thought we were going to have a dry, slightly warm winter. So, I think it’s fair to say it’s been wet and very warm. The very warm part will probably change if the current cold persists. Also, I thought this wouldn’t be the effect for the Upper Colorado River Basin. I thought they would be closer to normal. The Climate Prediction Center’s drought outlook seems to agree.

Drought Outlook - CLimate Prediction Center

Drought Outlook - CLimate Prediction Center

Notice that they updated this on January 6. It looks like the Upper Colorado River Basin will not see the development of a drought. This bodes well for Lake Powell’s water level this coming summer. Also, notice, most Northern Arizona is no longer project to develop drought conditions.

 Posted by at 6:11 am

Dry, Windy Conditions for Today

 Fires, Lake Powell, Northern Arizona Weather  Comments Off on Dry, Windy Conditions for Today
Jun 212010

Dry southwest winds are on tap for the area again today. Not good for fire fighting.  It looks like the first dose of monsoonal moisture will be on it’s way Thursday, but it may not make it all the way to the Flagstaff area. But, the winds should slowly die down over the next few days. But, that will come with warmer temperatures as we head towards normal, to above normal temperatures

For today, I think the dewpoint forecast map tells the tale:

On a nice note, the days were warm and the nights were cool at Lake Powell over the weekend. Remember not to park too close to the water and leave your car for several days. We watch many cars get towed from the parking lot near Wahweap Marina. Both sets of tires were in the water on them, and one car had it’s front end in the water. The water level went up over 3 feet in the last week. The rate is slowing, though.

 Posted by at 6:51 am
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