April 13, 2018

Is this an unusually poor spring in the Pacific Northwest?

The complaints are coming in. 

I can't tell you how many people have told me that this spring is unusually bad.  My son, a Northwest native, is threatening to move to southern California because of the weather.

Green slime is spreading on my deck.

So have we really been cooler and wetter than normal?  How bad is it really?

Ok, let's check the facts.    We can start by look at the difference from normal of the average temperatures over Washington State for roughly the last month.  Most of the Washington State is green, blue, or purple--the colors indicating below normal temperatures.  The above normal temperatures at Yakima I would ignore, there is something wrong with  thesensor.  Slightly warmer than normal east of the Olympics.

  So yes, the state has been a few degrees below normal.  Looking at Seattle's temperatures for the last four weeks (red lines), compared to the normal highs and lows  (purple and cyan lines), we can see that  things weren't that unusual, with temperatures rising above and below normal. 
Yakima temperatures look pretty normal to me.
Spokane does appear to be significantly below normal for the past month.
Bottom line:  the complainers probably have a point about it being cooler than normal, something that is typical of springs during La Nina years.  But around Seattle, just a little below normal.

What about precipitation?

A much more complex story.  Here is the difference of observed precipitation from normal for approximately the last four weeks.  Wetter than normal along the western slopes of the Cascades and much of eastern Washington, but way drier than normal to the east of the Olympics and in locations just to the east of the Cascade crest.

I bet I know what is going on. During the last month we had an unusual number of days with westerly winds (from the west), which resulted in a strong rain shadow to the lee (east) of the Olympics as the air descends down towards Puget Sound.  And persistent westerly flow explains the heavier rain on the windward (west facing) side of the Cascades. 

Here is the cumulative precipitation at Sea-Tac compared to normal for the past month... the observed (purple) was a bit more than normal  (cyan).
Yakima and Spokane?  Considerably more than normal, at least percentage wise (they don't get that much there).
What you really want to know is the future, right?   Well, there is plenty of cool, showery weather through the weekend.

The next week will make ducks very, very happy.   Here is the forecast accumulated precipitation through next Thursday at 5 PM.  Large amounts (5-10 inches in the Olympics and Cascades) and  even substantial precipitation down into California.  And freezing levels will be low enough for substantial snow from BC to the Sierra Nevada. 

I think I will see if my son can get a ticket for California for me as well.


  1. Having gone through weeks of terrible air pollution in other parts of the world, I will never complain about rain again.

    The rain really does help to clear up the air here and totally grateful for it.

  2. In the Columbia Basin, it has not "felt" warm. Days of warmer temps have been offset by Wind Chill. Our best weather happens in the mornings before 10am. Once the wind comes up, it's chilly again.

  3. I thought they fixed the thermometer at Yakima. If not, that's a pretty serious matter, the integrity of the data seems as though it should be a high priority. And how much could a new thermometer cost? I realize we're not talking about the kind of thing you can pick up at Wal-Mart, but surely it's worth spending $10,000 or $100,000 or whatever to fix the problem.

  4. Well, beyond just up here, a bit cooler than average? I'd say so. Let's see how our summer plays out. Oppenheimer Ranch Project has some good information as well as Suspicious Observers. Oh, Piers Corbyn is pretty sharp as well over in the U.K. Hey Cliff, have you done any significant research or reading on the correlation between Sun spot activity and its affect on the planet? There seems to be a major influence and this year we've definitely had minimal Sun spots and it appears to only be decreasing. Let me know!


  5. I just want to mow my lawn already! Getting really long out there.

  6. It probably seems like an unusually cold spring to many people because the previous three springs have been warmer than normal.This year is fairly typical for a La Nina pattern;I would not be surprised if the cool/wet wx persists into June.However,it does look like we could get a respite of a few warm sunny days towards the end of this month,if the medium range models verify.Keep your fingers crossed!

  7. Well, surly it can't get as bad as last year... my memory recalls the rain didn't let up until the first day of summer!

  8. And let me pipe in that I LOVE it. I will take gray, rain and cold over the AWFUL summers we've had recently. I thought we were okay last year until August hit and began the red suns, burning skies and ash. The last few summers have had more than their fair share of miserably hot weather and heat waves. I can deal with gray and rain with an extra comforter and a good book. But there's no escaping the misery of summer. I'd like to think we'll be "back to normal" this summer, but don't have high hopes. Anything that can delay the onslaught of the sun is a-okay in my book. La Nina and cooler weather can stick around through September!

  9. Cliff, I'll add my complaints to the file. I am glad I am going to South Carolina for 10 days! What I really start to miss around here about this time of year is more sunshine. But there is no doubt it is cooler than usual. My garden is a couple weeks behind.

    I have heard it said that "Seattle's official temperature is 46 degrees". Note that that is a few degrees below the yearly average of 51 degrees. But could that be the mode? I'd be interested in seeing a histogram (cumulative time vs. temperature) with each bar representing 2 degrees or so, for the entire range that we get. The mid-forties have a very dominant hold on daytime temps from November to March, and sometimes through much of April. Summer temps are so much more variable.

    Dreary, indeed.

  10. Hey Cliff -- blog entry idea: a round up of the various meteorological data sources available to we civilians online. I often see the neat maps and graphs that you post and wonder how and if I can generate those myself; e.g. the predicted precipitation accumulation image at the end of this post. Similarly, the graphs of average accumulated precipitation vs. actual, and so many more of the things you post.

    Is this stuff only accessible to academics and professionals, or are there web portals somewhere that I haven't found? A blog post covering what's out there and maybe a brief idea on how to use it would be pretty interesting, I think.

    I'm aware of: UW Atmospheric Sciences radar loop, KOMO satellite feeds, earth.nullschool.net, Seattle City Light WindWatch, USFS airfire.org, AIRPACT, http://rammb-slider.cira.colostate.edu, NASA worldview, and the like. But none of those are really nitty-gritty detail like the maps you provide.

    Just a thought, thanks.

  11. As a farmer, it isn't the total amount of precipitation that we've had this spring that is causing problems, it is the timing. Usually we seem to get these big precipitation, storms and wind in March, not in April. Because March was drier, it meant more frosty mornings. Sure it was sunny during the day, but we didn't have many plants growing outside to take advantage of that sun. Those that were had to be kept under cloche for longer or were slowed by the cooler mornings.

    The stormy April has warmed things up because of the SW flow and increased solar heating, but we're still not getting much solar energy at the surface because of the storm clouds! The large bouts of rain are making the fields soggy and more difficult to prepare for planting. Seedlings are getting hammered with too much heavy rain and less sun than usual for growth. The wind as been hard on tender stems.

    None of this is unusual. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the spring of 2014, which was also a la nina spring if memory serves. It is still annoying.

    1. Thank you for your comment from the farming world. Interesting.

  12. I have lived in the Pacific Northwest all of my life and in the Seattle area since 1964. My last day in Seattle will be April 27th as I will be moving to our newly bought house on the Central Coast of California. I have spent quite a bit of time there this winter. It was 70 degrees on Christmas. It hit me suddenly that I really don't like Seattle anymore. And no, I won't let the door slam into my rear on my way outta here!

  13. Think of it this way - if the region has above average precipitation and below average temps for the Spring, then we're less likely to hear the screamers tell us that AGW is coming for us all and the end is nigh, so the sinners among us must repent. Ah, who am I kidding? They'll keep screaming no matter what occurs.

  14. Even without your data, Cliff, I would have answered your question, "No, this Spring isn't "unusual." It's just not a Spring that some people want."

    Thing is, human beings have a marked propensity for wanting to have the ideal. While I've lived in Western Washington my whole life, with a few years long or partial year long interruptions, I know a number of immigrants. Invariably they came here for "the weather and terrain." And there's the rub. Even some Native born Western Washingtonians like Western Washington green, but they want to live in Camelot where it rains and snows at night and it's sunny during the day and temperatures are short sleeve from dawn to bedtime and light jacket at worse in the evening and at night.

    As for me, I'm a pragmatist, born here in 1949, and formed on small farms in the foothills East of Seattle. Get out much beyond Issaquah and normal rainfall can be tens of inches more than along Central Puget Sound, the Springs cooler, cloudier, darker. In some places annual rainfall is more than double Seattle's.

    Sure, this Spring isn't last Spring, and it is not likely much like what next Spring will be. That's fine with me. I've seen every kind of Spring here. I like the ebb and flow that is the dynamic algorithm that weather is. Weather is the "Windows" dressing on the MS-DOS coding running underneath it all. The "window" changes constantly, sometimes nearly imperceptibly, but still alive and active. Our garden is loving this Spring. I'll bet we'll have sufficient water in our reservoirs for Summer, with the caveat that it's too far away to be able to tell how much people may then be worried about the heat and dry spells and falling water supplies.

    Thing is, you can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, and never all of the people all of the time. My friends in California gripe, too.

  15. Glorious! Just hope I don't have to pay for it later this summer...
    - an anonymous slug

  16. The famous bit of North Dakota graffiti goes: "Forty below keeps out the riff-raff." Around these happy mossy fields we say: "Forty inches of rain, it washes the weak willed away."

  17. I know I tend to get outdoor fever after the first nice day of the spring. Unfortunately, this year that day happened to occur unusually early on in March. The weather quickly returned to more seasonable conditions but I have already been successfully woken up from my winter slumber.

  18. It has definitely been chilly, but it doesn't seem all that unusual for Seattle. Things really get nice around right now when all the leaves come out and it starts gradually warming up until summer. And we are only a little ways into spring, there plenty of time to enjoy cool rain and the smell of pollen.

  19. And yet....the NWS data for SeaTac shows something quite different. Month to date precipitation is more than twice normal - 2.9 versus 1.6. That data is different than the chart in the blog. I think the blog chart is wrong.

  20. As an accountant and a gardener, I’m glad the sun is not coming out until mid-week! After the 17th I can finally get into the garden!

  21. On my way to SoCal next weekend. My (native) 18 year old is attending college in SoCal, near where I grew up. But I am guessing she will be back. It is a crappy Spring.

  22. 1.3 inches today. 50% increase in precip. Gone from sort of wet to very wet. This spring is now a very wet one.

  23. My family in WI is grappling with the second snow storm of the month, with the latest one being a blizzard/ice storm expected to deposit a foot of snow with 50mph winds. We have nothing to complain about in the PNW. I'm about to go out for a bike ride (sorry, Dad!).

    1. It was near freezing where I am from yesterday! We have flowers, blooming trees and my peas and carrots have sprouted. This place sucks! 😂

  24. So much negative talk about the rain is getting old, we should be thankful we live in this green, lush area of the lower 48. Who else has towering volcanoes and rugged peaks with massive glaciers, ancient giant trees, temperate rainforests, towering waterfalls and tumbling cascades and real wilderness with wildlife that is still mostly wild. Not to mention plentiful drinking water from our pristine watersheds! On top of all of that we can drive 2.5 hours and escape the rain, it was so nice in Vantage yesterday :)

    I moved here from New England 16 years ago and I am still so thankful and happy that I live in such an amazing place and never take it for granted. I also think it's funny and annoying that when we finally get our long stretches of consistent dry, warm weather in the summer all people do is complain about how late it starts or even that it's too hot. Try living where the summers are 90+ degrees and 90+ humidity, oh and the bugs. You don't know bugs (mosquitoes and blackflies) until you've been back east. Yeah we have them here in the mountains, but they aren't always bad.

    I've also lived in dry, desert climates (Arizona). Scorching heat in the summer, water tastes awful, dusty and poor air quality, not to mention it's not a sustainable environment for humans to live and like Cali crazy drivers, maybe worse actually. It's also shocking how much they waste water there.

    For those who want to leave because of the rain, especially to Cali, please stop whining and embrace this beautiful place or just go. Hope you can tolerate your increasing and more intensive wildfires, shrinking aquifers, failing wine crops, polluted air, crowds and crazy drivers. The grass is definitely not greener!

    Disclaimer before the hate replies: I actually really love parts of California, especially the Sierra's, Big Sur and all the amazing wild places and National Parks. I also love Arizona, you just couldn't pay me to live in either state!

  25. The stages of Seattle residence for newcomers.

    First couple of years: Oh, it's so mild! Rarely even reaches 90, and never gets below 20. The rain is soft, and it's kind of cozy and mystical.

    Third year: Maybe people have a point about those full-spectrum lights. This place is kind of depressing at times.

    Fifth year: No wonder it's the suicide capital of America.

    Sixth year: If I could afford it, I'd spend the winter in Hawaii.

    Seventh to 20th year: I hate the winters here. And spring is no bargain either, especially June.

    21st year: Okay, that's it. We're leaving. Why in hell did we ever stay so long? I want to be happy again.


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