A look back on the stormiest month in Seattle's history

A look back on the stormiest month in Seattle's history
SEATTLE -  Never before has the weather community so eagerly awaited to turn the calendar to December 1st.  

In what will go down as the stormiest month in Seattle's long history, literally displaying  everything in Mother Nature's arsenal, including record rains, record flooding, hail, wind, lightning, a funnel cloud, and then finally ending the month with a big snowstorm that brought 2 feet to some places, record cold temperatures, and a commute that was measured in days for some people.

Among the records that fell, the biggest one is that Seattle set their all-time record for wettest month ever with 15.63" inches of rain for November, shattering the record at Sea-Tac Airport (12.92" in 1953) and then just edging the record for any Seattle observation station of 15.33" at the Downtown Federal Building in December 1933 -- and both those records had an extra day to work with!

We went back and looked at each day of the month to chronicle the events that will certainly make this a memorable month for years to come.

NOVEMBER 1: Today's Rain: Trace.  Monthly Total: 0

The month started so calmly. Just a few sprinkles amid a little bit of sunshine. It would end up one of the few dry days we'd have this month, and certainly gave no clue to what could be coming down the pike.

NOVEMBER 2:  Today's Rain: 1.05". Monthly Total: 1.05"

The first storm of the November season rolled in and brought a steady heavy rain that Novembers are famous for. The only problem this storm caused were some freezing rain in the passes, but no major problems in the lowlands. Yet.

Beware of freezing rain in the passes today

NOVEMBER 3: Today's Rain: 0.45". Monthly Total: 1.50"

November is also known for its wind around here, and that was evident on the 3rd, as we joked about how Mother Nature had combined three months worth of weather in two days.  1.50" was more than our three summer months combined.  Little did we know...

The winds knocked some trees and power lines down on Whidbey Island, Lopez Island, and in the north Snohomish/Skagit County areas.

Here are some peak wind gusts from that storm:

Sekiu: 69 mph Oak Harbor: 56 mph Forks/Quillayute: 54 mph Bellingham: 52 mph
It was the first of three storms in three days.

Mother Nature combines three months of weather into two days

NOVEMBER 4: Today's Rain: 1.91". Monthly Total: 3.41"

Here comes the second storm, also packing gusty winds and a whole lot of rain. Some rivers had minor flooding, which set the stage for some record floods a few days later.

Some peak gusts from this storm:
Forks/Quillayute: 54 mph Hoquiam: 51 mph Bellingham: 48 mph Oak Harbor: 47 mph
NOVEMBER 5: Today's Rain: 0.87". Monthly Total: 4.28"
NOVEMBER 6: Today's Rain: 3.29" (3rd wettest day ever). Monthly Total: 7.57"
NOVEMBER 7: Today's Rain: 0.53" Monthly Total: 8.10"

An incredible amount of rain fell across the area over these 3 days, sending just about every river over its banks. Rain totals reached 3-7" across the lowlands. Adding up these three days of rain plus the storms from the 3rd and 4th, and Seattle had nearly 7" themselves, with a foot of rain (11.94") in Shelton.

In the mountains, anywhere from 10-18" of rain fell. With high snow levels and no snow in the mountains to absorb it yet, all that water ran into the river basins.

The rain brought some of the most significant flooding we've seen since the major floods of November 1990 and 1995.

Two died in the storm after their cars were swept away by rushing floodwaters. Hundreds of people had to flee from homes and business, some in rescues by helicopter and hovercraft.

Hamilton residents took to shelters as 4 to 5 feet of water surged through town. The flooding appeared to be several feet below the high water mark of 2003 as noted on a sign outside the Post Office. That flood caused $17 million in property damage in Skagit County and 3,400 households were evacuated.

To the south, two levee breaches along the Snohomish River near Snohomish resulted in what likely will be "the most significant flooding on record in the last 50 years," Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said. Countywide damage would likely exceed the $5 million from flooding in 2003 with parts of Monroe and Snohomish hit particularly hard. Flood waters were 7 feet over flood stage.

Three hundred homes and rental cabins were threatened with flooding after the Cowlitz River changed course and ran through a neighborhood near Packwood at midday Tuesday, sweeping away three houses.

In Pierce County, rescuers used boats and helicopters to evacuate 52 people and 15 dogs after dikes failed along the Puyallup River on Tuesday, inundating Riverside and stranding people who ignored warnings to leave for higher ground. Nearly 1,500 residents of Sumner were forced from their homes.  Governor Gregoire declared state of emergency in 24 counties.

The Snoqualmie River Valley was hardest hit by floodwaters after the river crested near Carnation at 61.17 feet - 7 feet above flood level.


Record floods prompt evacuations, road closures

Record flooding as strong storm pushes into Northwest

Several rivers still flooding, but the storm is over

Emergency crews brace for major flooding

Coast Guard rescues four trapped by flood

Caught on tape: House washed away by Cowlitz

Homeowner of lost house on Cowlitz shares his story

NOVEMBER 8: Today's Rain: 0.26". Monthly Total: 8.36"
NOVEMBER 9: Today's Rain: 0.52". Monthly Total: 8.88"

Still pretty wet out there, but cooler temperatures took pressure off the rivers and allowed the flooding waters to subside and cleanup begin.

Rains abate and floodwaters subsiding

NOVEMBER 10: Today's Rain: 0.79". Monthly Total: 9.67"
NOVEMBER 11: Today's Rain: 0.21". Monthly Total: 9.88"

Yet another storm, but this one brought the area's first snow to the mountains.  Snoqualmie Summit ski resort reported 14 inches and Stevens Pass at 18 inches.
Chains were required on all vehicles except 4-wheel drive on Snoqualmie Pass Friday afternoon and traffic control was in place to limit the amount of traffic on the road at any one time.

Heavy snow comes to the mountains

NOVEMBER 12:  Today's Rain: 1.07". Monthly Total: 10.95"
NOVEMBER 13: Today's Rain: 0.23". Monthly Total: 11.18"

Knock knock. Who's there? Another storm.  It was mostly heavy rain on the 12th, and the strong gusty winds the night of the 12th and into the 13th.

The highest gust reported was a 63 mph gust in the Lake Lawrence area as the storm approached.  Tacoma reported a gust of 51 mph, which was more generally representative of the South Sound.  Trees and power lines were downed in Thurston and Lewis Counties. I-5 was closed for about an hour early Monday morning near the U.S. 12 ramp on the Thurston/Lewis County line after a tree fell across all lanes.

With the northern half of the region on the calmer north side of the storm, wind speeds didn't get too high -- generally 20-35 mph.  The exceptions were gusts to 48 mph in Port Angeles and 41 mph in Oak Harbor as some strong west winds chased the storm down the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The brunt of the storm was felt more in Oregon, where gusts exceeded 80 mph along the coast. Weather stations there reported sustained winds of 60 mph, with gusts of 102 mph at Cape Blanco; 85 mph on the Yaquina Bay Bridge; 88 mph at Lincoln City; 82 mph at Mount Hebo; and 73 mph at Florence.

Week begins with gusty winds, heavy mountain snow

NOVEMBER 14: Today's Rain: 0.01". Monthly Total: 11.19"

Ahhh...a break.  But a short one....

NOVMEBER 15: Today's Rain: 0.44". Monthly Total: 11.63"

Perhaps what will go down as the strongest storm of the fall season thus far brought another round of heavy rain and gusty winds as high as 60-90 mph in some spots around the region, knocking out power to over 100,000 people.

The far northern areas have been battered for several hours today, with Bellingham reporting gusts over 50 mph for 12 consecutive hours.  Over on the coast, wind gusts were well over hurricane-force strength (74 mph). Tatoosh Island along the coat hit 91 mph, while Clallam Bay hit 87 mph. 
The winds also destroyed a beautiful tree house that took 8 years to build, and just seconds to destroy.

Here's a list of peak gusts:
 Tatoosh Island: 91 mph  Clallam Bay: 87 mph  Sekiu: 77 mph  Clallam Bay: 70 mph  Sequim: 70 mph  Hoquiam: 68 mph  Bangor Sub Base: 66 mph  Anacortes: 65 mph  Mount Vernon: 65 mph  Oak Harbor: 66 mph  Forks: 62 mph  Bellingham: 63 mph  Vail (Thurston Co.): 60 mph  Friday Harbor: 59 mph  Brinnon: 55 mph  Tacoma: 53 mph  Everson: 53 mph  Port Angeles: 52 mph  Olympia: 46 mph  Everett: 45 mph  Seattle: 41 mph
Those winds forced the closure of Hood Canal Bridge (twice) and suspended ferry service along the Port Townsend-Keystone run.


100,000 without power as powerful windstorm blasts area

NOVEMBER 16, 17, 18: Total Rain for the 3 days: Just a Trace.

Mother Nature gave us a halftime break of three days with just a few sprinkles here and there each day.

NOVEMBER 19: Today's Rain: 0.46". Monthly Total: 12.09"

Yes, now we could measure the rain in feet. Seattle also breaks the record for wettest November ever.  Oh, and by the way, it was windy again. Gusts were as highs as 60 mph in Sekiu, and near 50 mph in many other places, including Bellingham (51 mph), Forks (49 mph) and Friday Harbor (48 mph).

We can now measure our monthly rainfall in feet.

NOVEMBER 20: Today's Rain: 0.51". Monthly Total: 12.60"

There was no weather story this day, which means a half-inch of rain officially became "old-hat" in Seattle :)

NOVEMBER 21: Today's Rain: 0.51". Monthly Total: 13.11"

But even though the same amount of rain fell on the 21st, there was definitely a weather story today!

Some of that rain fell during a spectacular thunderstorm that moved right over Downtown Seattle. It brought vivid lightning that fried trees and power poles, and struck a Mill Creek man just as he was getting out of his truck.

Our tower camera atop Columbia Center captured this brilliant multi-faceted lightning flash that appears to strike the Space Needle, the Washington Mutual tower, as well as several other buildings in the Downtown Seattle area.  (View a larger version of the image)

Also, a viewer Darrell Kirk captured this image of a funnel cloud as it passed over Ballard during the storm. What a night!

Oh, and by the way, this was the day Seattle broke the all-time wettest month for Sea-Tac Airport, passing the old mark of 12.92".

Breaking the rainfall record with a bang!

NOVEMBER 22: Today's Rain: 0.54". Monthly Total: 13.65"
NOVEMBER 23: Today's Rain: 0.64". Monthly Total: 14.29"

Mother Nature let off the lowlands a little easy with just a soggy but otherwise uneventful Thanksgiving. That was not the case for those who had to cross the mountains though, as heavy snows snarled holiday traffic through the mountain passes. 

19" of snow had fallen at both Stevens and Snoqualmie Pass during the day Thursday with another foot that night. Chains were required on both passes for vehicles without all-wheel drive.

Heavy snow makes for slow travel in the mountains

NOVEMBER 24: Today's Rain: Trace. Monthly Total: 14.29"

A nice day to sit and digest turkey...and the storm that was promising to make the drive home from grandma's house truly a challenge.

NOVEMBER 25: Today's Rain: 0. Monthly Total: 14.29"
In what was the opening salvo in Mother Nature's grand finale, some spots like Bellingham, Sedro-Woolley and the Issaquah highlands got a little snow that morning, but accumulations didn't amount to much. 

Many travelers did take note of warnings of an approaching snow storm for Sunday and left on Saturday, making roads busy a day earlier.

NOVEMBER 26: Today's Precipitation: 0.79" (1" of snow). Monthly Total: 15.08"

As we said in our headline that day: Stop building the ark, instead build a snowman! The region's first snow storm pushed through the area, bringing heavy snows in the far North Sound area and to the Olympic Peninsula.  Some spots eventually ended up with 2 feet of snow, while it was 12-18" in western Whatcom County and the San Juan Islands, plus over a foot in places along the northern Olympic Peninsula.

I-5 through Whatcom County ground to a standstill and chains were required to even attempt to pass through the area.

Here's some of the snow totals:
Ferndale: 18" Lynden: 15"  Bellingham: 10-14" Port Angeles: 12" (toward Olympics)  Maple Falls: 12" Coville (Clallam County): 11" Friday Harbor: 9" Anacortes: 8" Port Angeles: 7" (near city)  Sequim: 7 Potlatch: 6" Everett: 6" Mukilteo: 5" Stories:

Near whiteout conditions in Whatcom County

Stop building the ark, instead build a snowman!

Seattle and points south missed out on the snow on this one, but they would get their turn...

NOVEMBER 27: Today's Precipitation: 0.18" (2" of snow). Monthly Total: 15.23"
NOVEMBER 28: Today's Precipitation: Trace. Monthly Total: 15.23"

In what will go down as one of the longest commutes ever for some, a line of snow hung out over Island County and western Skagit County for most of the day, dropping another 7-10" there. Then, the squall sank south though the Puget Sound area during the heart of the evening commute. It dropped a blanket of snow in very little time -- as much as 5-6 inches in just two hours once it moved into the south Sound area, with even some thundersnow to boot.

Here's some of the snow totals from that storm:
Issaquah: 6-10" Montesano: 7" Kent: 6" Sammamish: 5" Federal Way: 5" Snohomish: 5" Bellevue: 3-4" Seattle: Trace-2" Once the storm passed, the roads froze into ice as temperatures plummeted well below freezing.

Compact snow and ice covered much of Interstate 5 on Tuesday morning, slowing traffic to a crawl and forcing some drivers to simply give up and stop on the freeway.  Interstate 405 on the Eastside was littered with abandoned cars from drivers who simply gave up and decided to walk.

The State Patrol said troopers responded to 653 calls in King County, and handled more than 240 collisions.

Transportation officials said many of the people on the roads early Tuesday were those who had been trying to get home since Monday night.  Many of those stranded were those trying to get home from the Seattle Seahawks game that ended around 9:30.  With traffic at nearly a standstill in many areas some commuters reported being on the road for nearly eight hours.  DOT cameras showing freeways at 2 a.m. looked jammed just like what they typically would show at 5 p.m.

Parking lots near major interstates were full of people who couldn't make it home Monday night and decided to get off the roads and sleep in their cars.

Dozens of tractor-trailer rigs were off Interstate 5 Tuesday morning on a hill beside the Southcenter shopping mall south of Seattle.

Police and towtruck operators couldn't keep up with cars sliding off Interstate 405 Monday evening in the suburbs east of Lake Washington.

Temperatures dropped as low as 25 in Seattle, 20 in Everett, and into the low teens in Whatcom and Skagit County.

Meanwhile, the snow and ice in the Puget Sound left over 40,000 utility customers without electricity.


Snow squall hits Puget Sound area during evening commute

Ice snarls morning commute

What in the world is "thundersnow"?

Mt. Baker ski resort sets snowfall record:

"It took me 3 1/2 hours to go 10 miles, and I didn't even get home"

This is how fast we wish we could drive in the snow (time lapse video of 5 hour commute):

NOVEMBER 29: Today's rainfall: 0.33". Monthly Total: 15.59"

The day began with record cold temperatures across much of western Washington.

Seattle dropped to 18 overnight, breaking the old record of 22 set in 1975. In other areas, Bellevue dropped to 19, Everett dropped to 15, Tacoma to 20 (although 14 in at McChord AFB), Bremerton to 18, Port Angeles to 17, Oak Harbor and Olympia to 16, Bellingham to 12, and the cold derby winner goes to Arlington, which plummeted to 10 degrees overnight. The coast was the relative warm spot, with lows "only" in the low 20s. Over in Eastern Washington, Pullman dropped to -2.

But the day will also go down in history as the day Seattle broke the "big" rainfall record, surpassing the 15.33" reading for wettest month ever around 9:30 p.m.

And just how should we break such a record in such a crazy month? Why, with the very rare-for-Seattle freezing rain, of course!

Hours after temperatures dropped to record lows across the state, sleet, freezing rain and snow began falling in the evening after the end of the rush hour.  Another 1-2" of snow fell across the area before warm air mixed in and it turned into a brief period of freezing rain, and then just plain old rain.  The high temperature at Seattle was 33 degrees, set at one minute before midnight.


Record cold this morning; one more storm this evening.

Seattle breaks rainfall record with -- what else? snow and freezing rain.

NOVEMBER 30: Today's Rainfall: 0.04". Final Monthly Total: 15.63"

November ended much the way that it began -- calm. Only this time, there was bunch of slushy snow still on the ground from earlier in the week,  but otherwise, just a few morning rain showers and then…November drew to a close.


Years from now, it'll be the rain record that will stick the longest in the memory of weather historians (well, unless you're still stuck in the commute from the 26th).  So let's give some final rain record minutia.

First, there was a lot of controversy over the rainfall record, and what the "real" rainfall record truly was. The difference is that from 1890-1945, official Seattle records were kept at the downtown Federal building. In 1945, it was moved to the brand new Sea-Tac Airport, where the official numbers are still taken from. (Observations were still taken Downtown until 1972.)

The record for the wettest month at the airport was 12.92" in January 1953. But in 1933, the Federal Building measured 15.33" in December.  The problem is, we can't compare those two sites exactly, because Sea-Tac Airport is typically wetter than Downtown Seattle.

Some research has been done showing that, on average, the airport gets about 11 percent more rain than Downtown Seattle. So come claimed the record should be 17.02 because statistically, that's what it probably would have been at Sea-Tac had the airport existed. But we can't say for sure -- in the 27 years observations were taken at both locations, there were 7 instances where Downtown was wetter than Sea-Tac.

Truly, the only record we have officially broken is the 12.92" of rain at Sea-Tac.  The Federal Building record still stands, and will until we ever decide to take downtown observations again. But we can say now that this month has the most rain ever measured in Seattle.

Also, this year marks the first year ever in Seattle that featured 2 months with greater than 10 inches of rain. January 2006 also had 11.62" of rain -- what used to be third wettest at Sea-Tac (now, No. 4).

* Congratulations to Christopher Ferrieri, the winner of our "Guess the November rain Contest."  Christopher accurately predicted we'd end the month at 15.63" of rain. He wins a KOMO hat, umbrella, ice scraper, and an autographed copy of Steve Pool's book "Somewhere, I Was Right".


Here's how other cities around the Puget Sound area fared this November in the rainfall department.

This month: 15.63" (1st place)
Record: 12.92" (January 1953)

This month: 19.68" (2nd place)
Record: 19.84" (January 1953)

This month: 21.06" 
Record: 29.14 (November 1983)

This month: 8.05"
Record: 11.60" (November 1990)

This month: 21.03"
Record: 23.46" (January 2006)

For these cities below, we're not quite comparing apples to apples, because their current official measuring station either hasn't been around long enough to get a good historical context, or doesn't report their totals daily to know where they are this month.

So we'll compare their current observation with their nearest historical observation point. (In other words, these wouldn't be official records, but more of a "general idea" of how wet it's been)

This month (Tacoma Narrows Airport): 15.59"
Highest previous total found (Downtown, 1948-1981): 11.63"
Highest previous total at Narrows Airport (1999-2006): 12.36 (January 2006)

This month (Paine Field): 8.95"
Highest previous total found (Everett Jr. College) 9.77" (January 1971)
Highest previous total at Paine Field (1998-2006): 8.39" (November 1999)

This month (Shelton Airport): 27.31"
Highest previous total at city observation point (before 2000): 23.86 (missing one day of data; January 1953)
Highest previous total at Shelton Airport (since 1999): 23.49"

This month: 35.15" ** this is not including November 3rd. Unfortunately, Bremerton's data from that date is corrupted, and it was a really rainy day, so we're not sure how much rain they have this month. Also, Bremerton's rain gauge has sometimes overreported, so this data isn't official.  If it's right, it's likely around 37" -- the average annual rain for Seattle.)
Highest previous total: 20.08" (January 1953)

So, congratulations to November, the all-time champ for most weather in a month.  Later today, I'll update this with some other cities' totals.