June 20, 2010

Unusual Murk Strikes the NW

Even for me, a lover of rain and clouds, this is going too far.

Today was an amazingly murky day for much of the region, in addition to tying the record low-high at Seattle Tacoma Airport (55F). 55F is the typical high for mid April. You have heard of all the notable records for monthly precipitation and daily temperatures--I won't bore (or depress) you with more (and there are lots more!).

But here is something interesting. Today, June 20st, one day short of the day when the sun's ray should be the strongest over the northern hemisphere, was one of the most sunless days in months...many months.

Want the proof? Here is the solar radiation received at the top of the UW Atmospheric Sciences building since March (click on image to improve quality):

Today got up to around 50 W per meter squared, which is less than ANY day in the plot (which starts on 29 March). In fact, looking at a longer period, this is the darkest day (in terms of maximum solar radiation) since early February (see figure below)

Here is more information from Mark Albright, past Washington State Climatologist:

A scan of the last 15 years of rooftop June solar radiation data shows today (20 June 2010), just one day short of the summer solstice, to be the darkest June day over at least the past 15 years on campus. We received only 2.65 MJ/m2 of solar radiation today under very dark overcast gray skies. You have to go all the way back to 10 Feb 2010, with 2.40 MJ/m2 to find a day with less solar radiation than 20 June 2010! For comparison, the darkest day of the 2009-2010 winter was 11 Jan with 0.73 MJ/m2 of solar radiation.

Considering all the comments I am getting, people are starting to get depressed. Seasonal Affective Disorder in JUNE? I don't even want to ask about the sales of sunglasses and sunscreen. But at least we won't have to worry about rattlesnakes.

Finally, if any of you are interested, I will be one of the instructors this summer (August 5-8) at the North Cascade Institute's Northwest Naturalists Weekend: Weather, Wildfire and Biodiversity. I will provide a series of talks on NW weather and the other instructors will be talking about effects of wildfires and about lowland forests. Plus, hikes and canoe trips and good organic food in a beautiful location. For more information go to:



  1. Oh boy! Tomorrow is the longest soggy grey day of the year!!!

  2. My husband is so tired of me complaining -- I AM tired of me complaining but I simply can't stand it! My tomatoes are toast (despite coverage) and the cumcumbers are diseased. I have booked a trip to Leavenworth for part of next weekend HOPING for some sun. Is this due to climate change or is it just what it is?

    Dear me.

  3. A little sun would be nice, but I still don't mind the clouds.

    Reminds me of the summer after I graduated from high school (1989). I grew up on the Oregon coast, and that summer I do not remember one clear day. That's right, it was overcast the entire summer!

  4. I'm honestly considering a mini-vacation east of the Cascades next weekend. No clue what I'm going to do but I have to get out of here - and I was just on the sunny east coast less than a month ago!

    I don't suffer from depression very often but even I'm feeling down.

  5. I am using my blue light every morning for 45 minutes. It helps a lot! It has certain frequencies of light that replicate those of blue summer sky.

  6. Since I've following your blog, I believe that is one of the most remarkable things you've ever posted.

    It had to be a perfect storm of clouds; marine layer, mid level nimbo, and high level cirris debris? Thats what it looked like on Satt.

  7. I turned on the light box today, the first time since mid-March.

  8. I must admit...today was really pretty depressing. I just got off of a week of being sick...today being the first day that I wasn't medicating myself, and today was the one day that I didn't get dressed all day...stayed inside, watched movies, a general slug....But even with all of this...I'll take this over the oppressive heat and humidity that was my life back in the Midwest. Typically beginning by late April, with some little breaks for thunderstorms, it goes relentlessly on for months. I too, tho', may break down and head to the east side of the Cascades just to get some sun and warmth.

    So Cliff...do you see a light at the end of the tunnel or is it only with the aid of binoculars?

    thanks for your posts.

  9. Cliff and everybody,

    Here's more "proof" of the murky day on June 20: after several days when our solar panels generated between 13 and 16 KWH per day, with sunlight for 13-14 hours, on June 20 we got only 1 KWH for 13:42 hours of (murky) sunlight, so between 6.25% and 7.7% of "normal!" This may be even stronger evidence than what Cliff reported.

    Bob Moore

  10. Is that really watts per square meter? Watts are a measure of rate of power consumption. Shouldn't the relevant measure be total power received per square meter, watt-hours or perhaps Joules.

  11. I guess I've lived here too long (all my life). I rather enjoyed the weather yesterday. My 8-year-old son and I rode the 45 mile loop of the Livestrong Challenge on our tandem without a single concern about getting sunburned or overheating! We did get pretty soggy, and he got a little chilled, but overall we had a great time! It can be pretty depressing if you're sitting inside looking outside, but if you actually get out in it grey weather is excellent for most outdoor activities.

    See Livestrong Challenge Pictures for proof - we're soggy AND smiling! :-)

  12. We have a photovoltaic (solar electric) array on our roof here in Bremerton and we can corroborate that yesterday was gloomy and dark. On a day when our system should have produced a record high (because of the summer solstice), instead we produced THE LOWEST amount of solar electricity since we turned on our system in FEBRUARY 2010. How low? ONE measly KWH for the whole, long, murky day! Pathetic! Other days in May and June have resulted in unexpectedly low solar KWH production totals as well. On a side note, we decided to embrace the gloom and broke out the Christmas carols and hot chocolate. It was a nice, mild December day, after all!

  13. I almost started crying yesterday. I've lived here all my life, and I've about had it. What region of the country has the most sun, Cliff?

    Thanks for the explanation, though; it's nice to know that it's not just how I feel about the weather, but it really was atrociously dark for the season.

  14. Changing the subject to forecasts: I've been puzzled by several recent anomalous temp forecasts from the WRF for SEA. For example, today's WRF-GFS meteogram (12 km) projects a Wednesday high of 80ºF! (This is from the 21 June 12Z initialization.) Whereas the WRF-NAM is nearly twenty degrees F lower. Is there a simple explanation for the difference?

  15. I can't help but wonder, is our cool weather perhaps partly due to the Volcanic activity in Iceland? It just feels like a "volcano summer."

  16. I wonder if the unusual lack of sunspot activity has anything to do with the jet stream being stuck over us this late in the season?

  17. Cliff--is there an overall reason why May and June have been wetter and colder than usual? Some unusual weather phenomena stuck over our region? (my fifth summer here, but the first that Seattle has lived up to its rep.) sorry if I missed an earlier blog on this.

  18. I am also interested in the Macro-issues that have lead to this unusual dreariness. Is it related to the waning El Nino? Is the Jet Stream being forced our way and the Pacific is particularly moist right now? Or some other reason for the lack of high pressure ridges that usually bring us our warm and dry weather?

    Or, have we had historically unusual trends the past several years and we all just got soft?

    Frankly, I love it. Just got back from California. Dry, brown grass and dust.

  19. Hey

    I was checking to see what you thought of this unusual weather and voila you took the words right out of my mouth, "Even for me, a lover of rain and clouds, this is going too far"

    Are you still sure this has nothing to do with the Volcano eruption? The summer after Mt St Helens was one of the greyest summers I can remember.

    Ok I'm off to price the Light Boxes to keep the SAD at bay.

  20. I don't think the cause of these long term weather patthern, such as our cold spring, are well understood. But it probably has something to do with ocean temperature patterns. The sea surface temperature in the eastern pacific is unusually cold. This could be causing the chilly troughs to stall over the northwest.

    current sea surface temps:

  21. I moved out here from back East for a reason. I love the cool temperate weather. Years of clouds delay the wrinkles and more serious skin afflictions as well. I can wear a light jacket year round. It's not too hot to sleep at night in the summer, and in the winter time I sleep with the window ajar just a bit.

    We live in God's secret country - the clouds just keep *everyone else* from moving out here too.

  22. I moved into town from my county property due to similar weather 2 years ago. Yes, this was extreme but it seems like an otherwise fairly normal Spring to me. People seem to grasp onto those exceptional warm, dry summers in their memories and forget the norm. I agree with Seawallrunner for the most part and appreciate that this weather is pretty ideal for native critters and plants wheras tomatoes, peppers and cacti don't do so well without a hothouse. I just need a good mid-winter break in a sunny clime to see me through. I had a wonderful misty walk in Seattle yesterday and it just seemed perfect tourist weather to really "get" the PNW. But of course I am hopefully looking forward to July 12th! :)

  23. There are many people who get Seasonal Affective Disorder in June. It is the summer form of SAD, in case you are not aware. Search Google for it, there are several stories and support groups for it.

    I'm a cloud lover and I absolutely enjoyed this weekend! Wow! Who knew, in June?!?

  24. One only needs to look beyond our boarders to realize this isn't just about the murky anomaly here in the PNW. The greater West Coast is experience a cool summer start with higher daytime humidities and lower temperatures. When does seasonal affective disorder become yearly affective disorder? :)

  25. So here is my question...where will we find sun this weekend? If I can't have it here, I'm ready to go find it.

  26. Looks like we broke 75 today! W00t! I think that makes 275 days under 75 degrees in the greater Seattle area, simply amazing.

  27. Apparently we're continuing the 'under 75 deg' streak. It's interesting to read about the record cool weather both in this blog and in S. Sistek's http://www.komonews.com/weather/blog, and then go read about the "Warmest Year on Record, at Least So Far" on Paul Yeager's site http://cloudyandcool.com/. Definitely an interesting year all over, weather-wise. (Makes one wonder about the weather patterns on the other continents...)

  28. I love the clouds and rain too, and actually enjoyed watching the fog and mist settle on the water (we're at Greenbank on Holmes Harbor Whidbey), but I agree, looked more like a misty winter day than the eve of summer!

    Great article in the Seattle Times by the way - turns out my son is one of the 2 guys pictured wrapped in towels (after a very cold swim test in Lake Washington).

  29. Hal said: "Hal said... Is that really watts per square meter? Watts are a measure of rate of power consumption. Shouldn't the relevant measure be total power received per square meter, watt-hours or perhaps Joules."

    I think Hal has a good point here. The plots are showing the peak radiation power measurement for the day (each of those spikes is a day).

    Curiously the rooftop data do integrate up the data and give the total power per square meter received each day as a number. But is this not recorded in a "plotable" form perhaps (more interesting the climatologists than meteorologists?). You can see the values inscribed on the plots in blue here:


    Perhaps it all depends on how you define the perception of a bright day? Do "sunny spells" (as they are called in the UK) of peak brightness make a difference in the perception? Or is it the gloom that's the issue.

    Perhaps in this case it doesn't make a lot of difference i.e. the day was gloomy all day so the plot is not so a high peak value is not hiding an otherwise gloomy day. But perhaps that happens in the data.

    Come on Cliff. Post the total power versus day to see if there are other patterns!


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