Northwest dodges bullet, but it'll still be breezy

Northwest dodges bullet, but it'll still be breezy
SEATTLE - A few hundred miles may not seem like a large distance on the grand scale of things, but for us, it's enough to keep what could have been a major windstorm into just another rainy day around here.

A powerful storm is churning away out in the Pacific Ocean today, but it's far enough west that Western Washington will escape the brunt of the storm. Still, that doesn't mean we're totally off the hook for some inclement weather.

How strong is the storm? A weather buoy out in the Pacific near the storm put the central pressure somewhere around 960mb. That's a whopping 28.35" of mercury for those used to that measurement on the barometer. (That buoy also reported 40-foot seas and near 70 mph winds. Let's hope any marine traffic knew to dodge the area.)

To compare, last December's storm had a central pressure of 970mb; Inauguration Day Storm was 976mb; Columbus Day Storm of 1962 was 960mb; Nov. 13, 1981 was 958mb, and the Dec. 12, 1995 storm was 954mb.

Here's some old satellite images of a few big storms. Note how the "swirl" of the center of the storm is much closer to our area:

Nov. 13, 1981: (Red dot indicates Seattle. Remember, this was in the days of dot matrix printers)

Dec. 12, 1995:

(Photos courtesy of Wolf Read's "Storm King" Web site. If you have any interest in any windstorm to hit the Northwest since the late 1880s, he has an excellent site that chronicles every detail of every wind event in the area. It's at www.climate.Washington.edu/stormking)

That 1995 storm set low pressure records around western Washington, but didn't do as much damage. That's because central pressure is just one factor in a windstorm's strength around here. Wind speed also depends on the exact track of the storm and the push of high pressure behind the storm.

But anytime you're at 975 or below and putting the track close to our area -- if you were to move that current system's center to, say, Naniamo, B.C., -- you're talking about a very dangerous storm for this area.

Instead, the storm is curling safely off to the north as it was forecasted to do and staying well offshore. It was enough to bring some breezy conditions to the Cascade foothills when the storm center passed due west of the area, but the storm was even far enough away that those winds didn't get out of hand. (We dodged another bullet there, because even had the storm just been another 100-200 miles closer while still staying off shore as it passed to the north, it was so strong that the foothills would have had the potential for damaging east winds.)

However, we're still going to feel some effects from the storm -- namely its associated cold front that's pushing through Tuesday evening.

That front will bring a steady, moderate rain and gusty winds (just not catastrophic winds). Winds along the coast are expected to reach 35-50 mph, and perhaps southeast winds to 25-35 mph in the Northwest Interior. For the Puget Sound area, south winds will pick up behind the front and gust to about 20-30 mph -- on par with a normal Seattle fall storm.

The front already brought some warm air ahead of it, and combined with the warming east winds off the Cascades, and some places got downright toasty Tuesday. North Bend hit 73, while Darrington hit 72 and Everett hit 67.

The front passes overnight, and rain and wind will gradually decrease to showers and breezy.

Meanwhile, the storm itself is expected to begin weakening some before it makes landfall near the southern tip of the Alaska panhandle Wednesday morning.