December 06, 2018

Less Sad in Seattle

Have you noticed that people are a bit happier in Seattle this fall?   More smiles and less complaining?   

One explanation might be the unusual amount of sun this fall, which lifts the spirits and relieves the sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

November and December should be dark, gloomy times here in the Pacific Northwest.   The sun is naturally weaker and shorter-appearing due to the time of the year.   And its feeble rays are usually further weakened by considerable cloud cover, as Pacific weather systems reach our region.

In two days we will have the earliest sunset of the year (4:17 PM) and we are within the lowest daylight time of the year (see the sun plot below).

Just thinking about this is usually depressing.   But not this year!  Because this year we have had unusual amounts of sun.

Consider the solar radiation received here in Seattle (below).  We had a rough patch of low sunshine from Nov. 21 to Dec 2, but other than that we have had some relatively bright, sunny periods, including today and the last few days.

Much less sun last year.

Or in 2015 (which had a relatively bright period in early November)

To get so much sun in early December is a gift from the weather gods, that provides a huge psychological boost to those of us trying to get through the winter.   A month from now, the days will be getting noticeably longer and storms will fade a bit.  NOW is when we need the sun and we are getting it.

You may ask:  why the solar bounty this year? 

The reason is that for the past month there has been a persistent upper-level ridge of high pressure just to our north and east, providing descending, cloud-busting air.    This is illustrated below, with a map that shows the anomaly from climatology (difference from average) of the heights of the 500 hPa pressure surface over the past 30 days.   Red indicates much higher than normal heights (or equivalently pressure).  Lots of red just to our northwest...exactly where we need it.

Like sea-level pressure better?  Here is the difference from normal for almost the exact same period.  Higher than normal pressure (yellows and orange colors) offshore

Ironically, a lot of our storms have been heading south into California, which has been hammered by rain, wind, and clouds.

So turn off your light boxes and get outside will make a huge difference in your mood for weeks to come.


  1. When we saw the forecast for 4 sunny days in a row of sun in Forks Wa, we bee lined to the Pacific coast to camp. And I live in an area where there are 300 days of sunshine.

    Unfortunately, I was coming down with a cold and didn't notice it. On the first day with a bad sore throat and earache, but sun and no crowd the beach walking with my lady (together 41 years) was heaven on earth.

    Same with the second day with pain so bad I couldn't sleep at night, however a 4 mile beach walk was bliss.

    We did have to leave on day 3 of sunshine after another sleepless night.

    It's sunny and forecast to be 48° there today.

    Chris H
    Heli-free North Cascades

  2. Of course, there's really no free lunch.. the price we pay here for the clear air is cold temperatures. Given the choice, I'd rather have warmer air than clearer skies.

    1. It doesn't really feel that bad once the sun comes out. The sun is warmer then it used to be. When I was a kid and before the sun would barely be able too penetrate the cold but when there isn't a strong breeze the sun now feels good wearing only regular clothes. Yesterday I helped mowed the lawn and it felt good in the sun but after 10 mins even in winter you feel sunburned which was impossible 15 years ago. It was 2011 I felt my first sun burn and we lived in California till 1997 and I never once used sunscreen nor needed it. I first used it in 2011 when the sun became white and intense like a light bulb getting ready to explode. It's worse now then 2011 when I thought it was bad. Back in 2011 I could last a half hour to 45 minutes depending on time of day.

      Everyone around me has noticed the same thing and it's becoming documented on youtube. The best theory that isn't wacko is that our Ozone has changed the filters of our sunlight and they are afraid to tell us. I remember in social studies fed with the (By the year 2000 we will all have high rates of cancer and die) when they were doing the Ozone scare before global warming. It went from O zone to Global Warming to Climate Disruption then Climate Change. I bet next it will be Climate Catastrophe.

  3. Agree with John K. Its a lot easier for us to get out on bikes in rain than freezing temperatures especially when going down hill!

  4. If you enjoy the cold weather then not only is it a free lunch but also free dinner and breakfast! If only we had 6-10" of snow on the ground - just enough to be enjoyable for walking.

  5. Normally I prefer clear weather, but after 6 years in the Seattle area, I have grown to enjoy the "coziness" of the "dark period" in November and December . . . once it gets to be mid-January, then I'm in the mood for sun again. Put me down as in the camp of "would prefer wetter/ cloudier but warmer". I'm a once-a-year skier, but I do like to head up into the amazingly deep snows a few times each year for some showshoeing or hiking, and would like to see more of a snowpack building in the mountains.

    This post alludes to a phenomenon of which most people are likely unaware: that the earliest sunset and latest sunrise do not correspond with the winter solstice (and analogously with latest sunset/ earliest sunrise in the summer). The Boston Globe had an interesting article on this topic a few years ago (December 21, 2016) . . . do a search for the article, "The shortest day of the year has arrived. Here’s what you need to know", by Dave Epstein.

  6. Lots of warm heavy rain in between the sunny spells. Alot like 2014-2015 and that's a bit scary.

  7. The sun is nice but I am SAD because its a late start to the ski season.

  8. Though more evenly distributed through the year, New Hampshire has similar yearly rainfall totals as here in the Willamette Valley. My family came out west from New Hampshire to Arizona when I was in 4th grade. It took a while for me to recognize how my moods became elevated during the less frequent rains of the Southwest. It wasn't until we moved to wet Oregon that I felt at peace with being out west.

    My wife is an Arizona native. She seems more prone to moods induced by strings of grey, rainy days.

  9. It helped to take the 10:25 out of Bainbridge this morning. We passed a pod of Orcas hanging out around Restoration Point. One could see them while in port in Bainbridge with the stadiums in the background. I was fortunately parked right in front and watched them until we turned the 2nd corner. What a beautiful day it was!!!

    Something to watch out for in the next week. A close comet (Wirtanen) will be passing between The Pleiades and Aldebaran (the brightest star in Taurus) on the 15th. One will need a dark sky as it will only be 3rd or 4th magnitude. But it is already twice the size of the Full Moon . Spaceweather dot com has updates on it, including sky maps. Its closest approach to earth is on the 18th at 11 million miles.

  10. Don’t worry Cliff, the depressed and pessimistic Progressives of Seattle will always find something to be sad and angry about.

  11. If you ever want to put $$$ down, bet on sunnier, warmer weather it seems. There are exceptions of course, but that bet in these parts over the last 10 years would have you up in Vegas. This is just more of the same. I'm going to go out on a limb and say we get no meaningful lowland snow either (or perhaps a brush with slush) this year. "But El Nino", doesn't matter. We seem to be skipping out on much of any snow in La Nina or neutral years too. You have to go back to early 2012 for the last real deal snowstorm. But if you want to start placing $5 bets that next summer will be HOT (and probably smoky again) our operators are standing by. #winterisnotcoming

  12. "The sun is warmer then it used to be."

    And the dark is darker than it used to be. The night is colder than it used to be. The wet is wetter than it used to be. Wait, what?

  13. @Trucker Tucker

    If you've been spending a lot of time in the sun with no sunscreen you may want to see a doctor. Some types of cancer metastasize rapidly and, based on your comment, I wouldn't be shocked to learn that you may have a brain tumor leading to increasing credulity and irrational thinking.

    And please do wear sunscreen if you're going to be out in the sun. Despite the fact that you can't see it, UV radiation is very real and can be dangerous.

  14. "You have to go back to early 2012 for the last real deal snowstorm."

    Not if you lived in Portland. The winter of 2015 - 16 shut the city down over a dozen times, with ice and snow accumulations that are not often seen around these parts (but not unheard of). Not to mention the incredibly cold freezes that accompanied them, with no thaws for months. We followed that dramatically lower than average winter up with an above average summer in terms of temperatures. Meaning once again that trends over the past decade often don't mean jack squat in terms of prognostication.

    BTW, I seem to remember a huge ice storm that paralyzed Seattle less than ten years ago. My wife at the time was a flight attendant for American, and was stranded at the airport...for days.

  15. Stephen,

    Come on, even most NW residents need all the sun they can get this time of year. Check the UV index: December: 1 at most, as opposed to, typically, 8 on a clear day in June. You could be white as a ghost and still not get sunburned at sea level in December at this latitude even if you stood undressed in the sun all day. Hypothermia, yes, but not sunburn. Even the medical community is beginning to realize that they may have overdone the sun scare, and vitamin D has proved more important that formerly believed. There's evidence that multiple sclerosis is related to having not gotten much sun as a child.

    When I go cross-country skiing, I figure I can skip the sunscreen for two months either side of the winter solstice (since the sun's altitude follows a symmetrical sine curve). And that includes the effects of snow reflection and altitude.

    As a sunbather since I was a kid, I have noticed no change in the UV intensity.

  16. My bad - the source I used was incorrect.

  17. "If you ever want to put $$$ down, bet on sunnier, warmer weather it seems. There are exceptions of course, but that bet in these parts over the last 10 years would have you up in Vegas."

    No, the "sunnier" bet in winter would have you down. Way down. All of the stats back that up both with an increasing snowpack in the last 10 years in the Cascades and the amount of precip (increasing 10-yr avgs) in western WA for the last 30. And of all the places to be posting this stuff... Cliff has shown this - with real numbers and statistics - multiple times for multiple years.

    #winterisnotcoming???? Last winter was off the charts for our state, I mean seriously, it just happened. Huge snowpack in the mountains. 2017 was the 4th consecutive year at Seatac where precip was above average. And just to counter the bs about it not snowing here - we had almost 2x the avg lowland snow (Seatac) in 16-17.

    But yes, by all means, go with your gut. I personally shy away from predicting the unpredictable because - you know - I have seen how often they are wrong (the new normal!!). Maybe that's why I don't gamble either.

    1. Your right and also how many "dry Fall" outlooks have been proven wrong in the past few years? Even this year, aside from a 2 week dry spell in October and the odd quick dry spell in November and to start to December(about to change to another soaking wet pattern),it's been a very wet Fall. Just to the north, in Vancouver BC, the north suburb of Coquitlam received a whopping 24 inches of rain in November. Add to this a wetter than normal September and any talk of a "dry Fall" is just a bunch of nonsense. The last dry winter was the year of the Resilient ridge. That was 2013-2014 and it certainly wasn't a drought as March and April of 2014 were very cool and wet. The last true "Fall/winter" drought was way back in 2000-2001. Even the low snowpack year of 14-15 was not a drought due to warm heavy rain events in between the drier periods. It was only a snow drought due to lack of snowpack. Dr Mass talked about this as well. Also dry spells are totally normal in an average Winter.

    2. Sunsnow

      "All of the stats back that up...."

      Not according to NOAA, at least back to 1949.

      Trends for Seattle winter, Dec.- Feb, 1949-2017:

      Precip: - 0.40"/decade
      Ave. temp: + 0.4 F/decade

    3. Similar trends for the Cascades, same period (Dec.- Feb), 1949 - 2017:

      Precip: - 1.01"/decade
      Ave. temp: + 0.40 /decade

    4. Minor correction....should be 1948-2017

  18. @Ansel

    I enjoy the sun as much as the next guy. I just don't believe that it's the primary driver of increasing global average temperature.

  19. I’m a Western WA native who loves sun & warmth but no, I don’t need or even want sun it at this time of year. I enjoy & expect colder (but not freezing cold) gray days of early winter. It sets the tone for hunkering down & embracing the season that is. March is much tougher: when holidays are long past; weather is wholly uninviting even as days lengthen, and we know we’ve got a wait ahead before we can fully embrace spring & summer.

    As far as “real” winter storms are concerned, north Whatcom County experiences a different reality than farther south. We only have to look to last winter to recall a serious & damaging ice storm.

  20. sunsnow12 - Let me repeat a key sentence to clarify: "I'm going to go out on a limb and say we get no meaningful lowland snow either (or perhaps a brush with slush) this year." I agree that you shouldn't gamble, especially if the parameters of the bet are fuzzy (someone could take you for a ride).

    To spell it out, I am referring to significant lowland snow in the Seattle area.

    Eric, you're right about Portland and I should have been clearer there. I forget that the blog has many Oregon readers too. I remember Portland having the winter storms you cited. I am also not talking for the skiing enthusiasts out there or mountain snowpack. Those are very, very different things than the dearth of lowland snow. You can have great skiing and nary a flake down here.

    What I'm talking about is a good snowstorm for our area. For a real regional event you have to go back to 2011-2012. 2016-2017 did have a "snowstorm", but despite the SeaTac measurements it was very spotty (the airport got much more than a lot of us).

    This is not based on "gut", rather data. There are all sorts of charts on snow measurement out there if you care to look. In the past 14 winters there have been 3 big snow events if you sneak in 2016-2017 (which is a stretch). Granted a honorable mention could go to 2010-2011. Not much snow, but frigid November temperatures that froze everything solid.

    You can see the exact snow totals below.

  21. Snape - Sulla's post was about betting on the last 10 years i.e "...but that bet [on sunnier weather] in these parts over the last 10 years would have you up in Vegas." I specifically referenced that.

    So you respond with stats for the last 70 and tell me I'm wrong. Why?

    Can we please get back to the period that was referenced in the post? The period 2008 - 2018 (using the NCDC tool you used), precip in Seattle increased at (frankly at an astounding rate imo) of 5.24"/decade for the Dec-Feb period. Not "Precip: - 0.40"/decade" (your quote); Instead + 5.24".

    I did reference the 30 year trend. And that also is up .72"/decade. You referenced the Cascades: that is up +3.97"/decade for the period 2008-2018.

    So yes. All the stats back up what I am saying.

    3 things:

    1) This is frustrating;
    2) Great avatar;
    3) The "Climate at a Glance" tool is outstanding

    Also - as I think the regulars know, I am focused on water supply. So the temperature info I will leave to someone else. My issue is with the consistent implication by some that our winters have been dry. They have not. They have been wet. And in the last 10 years, I think "astoundingly so" is not far off.

    1. Sunsnow

      Sorry about that, I misread your comment.

      The past 10 years in Seattle, 2008-2017, averaging all months, have been a lot wetter than normal:

      The past 10 winters (Dec-Feb) though, have been somewhat dry: a total deficit of 10.24" compared to average.

      (Dry at the beginning of that 10 year period, wet near the end, resulted in the strongly positive trend you found.)

  22. Strong Ridge? We just hit 1036.1mb!


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