February 16, 2013

The Most Boring Winter in Seattle History

Many of you have complained about this winter.  That the weather has been entirely boring:  no snowstorms, no real windstorms, no extreme temperatures, no pineapples expresses,  no nothing.

 To try to quantify our plight, I and other local weather scientists have developed a new, and I hope, authoritative measure of interesting weather here in Seattle:
The Seattle Winter Excitement Index (SWEI).  (correct pronunciation is "swee")

SWEI is calculated over the core of Seattle's winter (Nov. 15-Feb 15) and is the sum of several components parts:

(1) The number of days the temperature exceed 60F or drops below 25F.
(2) The number of days with two inches or more of precipitation.
(3) The number of days with sustained winds of 30 kt or more.
(4)  The number of months with more than 1 inch of snowfall.

All inputs are from Seattle Tacoma Airport.  I should note there are rigorous reasons for each of the above criteria.  For example, many official groups (like this National Weather Service site) consider that hard freezes occur below 25F.   Plants die.  Local meteorologists note that wind damage often begins when sustained winds hit 30 kt or more.  And local mayors confirm that even 1 inch over a month brings tension, excitement, and danger to local roadways.  Folks, this is rigorous science.

I asked my department's star data analyst, Neal Johnson, to run the numbers for the entire record (1948- today) at Seattle Tacoma Airport, the main climatological site for western Washington.

The results are in.  Be prepared for sobering news.

This winter is the most boring and uneventful based on the SWEI index described above.  Actually, we are tied for most boring with 1963-1964.  Specifically, 2012-13 and 1963-1964 had the lowest values of the SWEI index.

Only old-timers who can remember back nearly FIFTY YEARS can wax nostalgic about such a boring winter.  For the quantitative among you, here are the ranks of the top boring years (a lot of ties)

19631115-19640215   1
20121115-20130215   1
20001115-20010215   2
20011115-20020215   2
20021115-20030215   2
19601115-19610215   3
19751115-19760215   3
19821115-19830215   3
19911115-19920215   3
19971115-19980215   3
19991115-20000215   3

The signs of profoundly boring weather is everywhere.  For example, the latest snow pack map shows that, well, we are averaging near 100% (see below).  Big surprise.

Or plot the cumulative precipitation at Sea Tac and compare to climatological values over the last three months (see graphic).  We come out very slightly below normal.  And no big one-day precipitation event.  Long periods of virtually nothing.  Yawn.

The best we could do in extreme weather this year was an extended period of low-clouds/temperature-inversion and one incident of high tides, the later mainly caused by astronomical features and a modest low.  Not good enough. No wonder the Weather Channel has ignored us.  Jim Cantore will travel elsewhere.

Extreme Weather in Seattle
The natural question of many of you is why?  What convergence of unusual events, what causative factors can produce such an anomaly?

 I do not have an answer.  

But I have heard that some folks at the web sites Skeptical Science and 350.org have suggested that such extremely boring weather is "consistent" with what one might expect from increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Time will tell.

I realize that there is some danger in writing this particular blog.   Like putting a red flag in front of a meteorological bull.   But I am willing to take the risk and quite honestly we need some excitement around here.


  1. The period of cold, dry and inversion causing bad air quality during January was kind of extreme, in a way different from headline weather.

  2. OK. I have this picture in my mind of Cliff huddled in the corner hugging his "Linus" security blanket,wondering in despair why the east coast is having all the fun. His poor wife!
    No El Nino, No La Nina.....boring

    Also most 70 today in Monterey. Boring

  3. Here's hoping that the winter of 2013/2014 wont be quite as boring!

  4. Yikes, 1999-2003 was a pretty dismal stretch.

    I'd be interested in seeing the other end of the spectrum, what were the top 5 most exciting winters?

  5. Glad it wasn't just me.

    As a bicycle commuter it's getting to be a bit of drudgery.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the sun rise when I ride over the Montlake Cut and maybe some, ya know, light in the AM.

  6. When it comes to weather there is nothing wrong with boring... especially when you have a job that requires you to be there regardless of weather!

  7. Duck! Here comes the grammar police.

    The signs of profoundly boring weather are everywhere. Still, brilliantly amusing post. Just out of curiosity, which years are most exciting and why? Any interesting trends in the distribution of the most boring or most exciting years? Any interested, or bored, grad students out there to tackle this? ;-)

  8. I did have about 2" of snow at my place that stuck around during the entire length of the inversion event... so I guess that's slightly less boring. But I was hoping this, being a "neutral" year might yield something better. On the good side, it's not a bad time to be training for a marathon :)

  9. What are the most exciting years according to this index?

  10. I'm hoping the spring will be better. So far we have not even had our typical mid-February spring teaser- you know, when it hits 55 and sunny for a week, the first week I can run and maybe even crosscountry ski in shorts... How about a windstorm/Pineapple Express in March, a set of 4 to 5 thunderstorms mixed with sunny stretches in April, and a two week seventies-and-sunny in May... not to mention June. That's my vote to stir things up.

  11. Living on a remote island makes me appreciate boring weather. But, like you say, it may be premature to write off this winter. March can be quite nasty.

  12. Yes, what were the most exciting years and what were their scores?

    Also, you do a disservice to Skeptical Science by your misleading statement, which is not true, so far as I know.

  13. Accepting your Red Flag challenge:

    "I do not have an answer"?! You need only look at the studies - I know you have access to plenty of peer reviewed paper at the UW. I might remind you that 350.org is a political organization, not a scientific one.

    Two of the latest summaries of our climate situation are from Harvard and SkepticalScience

    Harvard just released 138 page report Climate Extremes: Recent Trends with Implications for National Security - just completed it's final science review. Although funded by the CIA, is focused on national security. [Harvard says: "Any opinions, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the CIA or the U.S. Government."} It is worthy, and presents very current information. It's top recommendation is to watch climate effects closely and continue study, but mostly it presents, defines and warns. It almost begs that we pay attention. And NOT WAIT AND SEE. Free download

  14. Your 1 inch of snow per month sounds good, but my metric for this has been number of snow days for schools. I wonder how they might coincide?

  15. Subtract 1 point if the crocuses (crocii? croceese?) are crocing by Feb 15 (they are on QA Hill)

    And one inch of snow in a month?!? That would mean that a 1.1 inch, two-hour slush non-event ranks equally with, ferzample, January 1950, Dec 1968, Dec 1996... Days with 1 inch or more, at least!

    We could also count meteor strikes... (8)^o

  16. Boring is... OK. I don't have to worry about trees falling down. Or pipes freezing. I can concentrate instead on when the frost will be gone so I can put miles on my new BMW K1300S motorcycle! Rain is not a problem. I just don't like it when the little "snowflake" icon lights up and the temparature flashes on the instrument panel!

    We just wanna be free! Free! To ride our machines and not be hassled by the man! (or the weather).


  17. Extreme storms are a sign of global warming. Boring weather is a sign of global warming. Everything is a sign of global warming!!

  18. The record lack of sunlight due to cloud cover in December was kind of drearily epic in its own way.

  19. as a daily motorcycle commuter, those 2 weeks of black ice were not particularly boring at all. but overall, I am most appreciative of this so called boring weather.

  20. I wouldn't mind some boring 55 degree sun.

  21. Ah, very interesting. But can the SWEI give us any clues into a SWSI (Spring Weather Satisfaction Index) or an SSSSI (Superlative Seattle Summer Satisfaction Index) or the following winter's SWEI. Ok, I'm only half joking but this is fun.

  22. On the upside, I have harvested Broccoli from my summer plants every month since September and several winter greens salad harvests! No complaints here. :)

  23. But, as the "most boring winter" ever it immediately becomes interesting!

    After all the "most boring winter ever" is extremely rare, there only ever being one of them.

  24. I would say this winter was extreme. Extreme dullness. December had a rearkable number of days of rain - A record even? Then the January inversion was simply shocking. I would suggest you are being way too subjective in your crieria. Just kidding - it has been dull.

  25. isn't this a La Nada year? So we were already expecting a nothing kind of winter already...

    Now I hope that the upcoming summer is similarly boring - sunny and dullishly warm - say, 68F degrees - for months on end...

  26. At least here in Vancouver, BC we had one good snow storm of 4-12 inches which included falling ice bombs from the new bridge smashing windows and denting roofs of vehicles underneath. Pretty exciting stuff!

    Other than that the winter has been boring here too.

  27. What does swei show about neutral years in general. Does it follow suit with your neutral year blog post from last fall?

  28. How does SWEI demonstrate neutral years in general? Last year we were talking about neutral years having a tendancy to be wilder than normal. Thanks for all your work Cliff. Great blog.

  29. Cliff, I am a Metro bus driver and we LOVE boring winters. Call it the "HBD" (Happy Bus Driver) Index. Yay boring! Bring it on, baby!

  30. Periods of boring weather throughout human history have been coincident with prosperity. Boring is good.

    Does boring waether mean we can put aside the Climate and Weather hysteria from Chicken Littles?

    I guess not.

  31. It's not just Seattle, the whole country was boring in January. Or so says Jeff Masters.

  32. Meanwhile, the 'extreme' storms like Sandy are purported to be the new normal due to AGW.

    Not sure I buy any of it.

  33. I nearly turned around and moved back east in the 1974-1975 winter. I think the sun did not come out even once in Issaquah.

    It took me three years to decide I wanted to stay. I stayed 30 years in Issaquah, and now am happily in Bellevue, which is more cheerful than Issaquah.

    Boring or not.

  34. That's what you get for calling it a "la nada" winter... A whole lotta nada. :-)

  35. can you post a list of the most exciting

  36. Boring – ha. Maybe if you never left the city. The weather and snowpack in mountains have been anything but boring. Especially if you like to slide on the snow. December had some of the best early season powder skiing on record. January, to this point in February, had over a 100” of snow “trickle” in at Stevens Pass. The backcountry travel has been anything but boring – good snow, stable snowpack and amazing weather. Go outside- it may not seem so boring.
    J. Meriwether: Forecaster, Stevens Pass Weather and Avalanche Division

  37. Interesting. Would enjoy the full table with years, criteria and score. Then we can answer our own questions, such as what was the most exciting year.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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