Weather Blog

5 years ago today, Seattle baked like it never had before

Those of you who were around here 5 years ago today were likely trying to find some place -- any place -- for relief from the heat.

July 29, 2009 remains the hottest day ever recorded in modern Seattle history, be it Sea-Tac Airport or the Downtown Federal Building, with a reading of 103 degrees. Some spots, like Boeing Field and the NOAA station at Sand Point, were even hotter, reaching 105 degrees. Everett hit 100, Bellingham hit 96, and Vancouver, WA took the heat prize with a 108 degree reading!

100 degree readings are quite rare -- the only time Sea-Tac Airport had reached 100 before was July 20, 1994 -- and even then, technically, it was 99.9 degrees that was rounded up. The Downtown Federal Building managed to reach 100 twice (June 9, 1955 and July 16, 1941) and there is a report from July 1870 that shows Seattle hit over 100 a few times that month, including 104, but weather measuring standards may not have been equal to modern times.

The 103 degree reading also means Seattle's record high is warmer for July 29th than Spokane (99), Pullman (100) and Yakima (102)!

It was so hot in 2009, 14,000 people lost power in Monroe when sagging transmission lines drooped into trees, causing a fire that knocked out three substations. Two Seattle firefighters battling a blaze in West Seattle had to be treated for heat exhaustion.

What makes the pattern so rare is you need to have a super heated air mass and then an east wind to give temperatures a kick into a second gear. That general pattern plays out a few times each summer and gives us our handful of 90-95 degree days.

But in 2009 the ridge was stronger than usual, and the air mass was a little hotter than usual. The days leading up to the big spike were already in the mid 90s due to the hot air mass -- and that was without the east wind! We also had a rare moist northerly wind in the days leading up to the heat that increased the humidity and dew point. That was important as it aided in keeping nighttime temperatures warmer and gave us a better spring board once the sun came up. The morning of July 29th, 2009 also set a record for warmest morning on record at 71 degrees -- the first time ever Seattle had failed to cool below 70 on any given date.

So there we were baking in the mid 90s already with no east wind. On the 29th, a thermal trough finally developed and added in the downsloping heating effects of that east wind and temperatures zoomed like never before. Seattle was already in the 90s by mid-morning.

Seattle "cooled" to 96 the next day and then 84 the next, but jumped right back to 90 again a few days later. The 7 day lineup of 89, 94, 97, 103, 96, 84, 90 is the hottest week on record (and it still hit 89 again on Day 8!)

2014's summer (and 2013's too) has been marked with hot air masses, but not really any east wind events as luck would have it. July 1st's 94 degrees was really the only east wind date we've had this summer. All those other dates in the 80s and low 90s have been without the east wind otherwise we'd be talking upper 90s again.

And the forecast for this week is more of the same: Toasty warm due to a big ridge of high pressure pushing up heat from the Southwest, but no wind to give it an added boost. The result: Highs in the mid-upper 80s (maybe a low 90) but triple digits? Safely in hiding, hopefully for a long time.

Long range forecasts maintain generally warm pattern through February

Long range forecasts maintain generally warm pattern through February
Sen sets over Seattle on July 17, 2014. (Photo courtesy: Bruce Hogarth)

For much of late winter and spring, the message has been the same by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center: Expect a warmer than normal summer.

So far, July is delivering, with several days of 80s and 90s around the Pacific Northwest, and even a few triple digit days east of the Cascades. Seattle is just one spot in the region, but it's a whopping 3.0 degrees above normal so far and through Sunday, is tied for the third-hottest July on record at Sea-Tac Airport (Average temperpature (high+low/2) so far: 68.6° -- record is 69.5° in 2009; 2nd is 68.8°.)

And the forecast for this week brings a return of more warm-to-hot weather to finish off the month and potentially cement the month as 2nd warmest on record.

So what about August? Those same long-range forecasts suggest more of the same. And September. And October. And November. And...see a theme developing?

By the numbers: Wednesday's record rainfall

After the first three weeks of July began generally sunny and warm-to-hot, things changed in a hurry on July 23rd as a potent storm rolled through Western Washington, bringing a record amount of rainfall to the Puget Sound region.

Here are some of the statistics from the storm:

Northwest wildfires take 'shine' out of Midwestern sunshine

Northwest wildfires take 'shine' out of Midwestern sunshine
Photo: Jonathan Yuhas, KSTP-TV.

The wildfires raging across Washington, Oregon and Idaho are not only bringing a dense, smoky haze to much of the area just to the east of the Cascades, but its effects are being felt over 1,000 miles away across the Upper Midwest.

Jonathan Yuhas, a meteorologist with KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, noted that skies over Minnesota have taken a "frosty haze" to them ever since the wildfires have erupted here in the Northwest.

Seattle's break from heat wave comes with a price for Central Washington

Seattle's break from heat wave comes with a price for Central Washington
The view from near Leavenworth, Wash. as the Chiwaukum Creek fire continues to burn. (Photo courtesy: Dominic Urbano, FallenLeafImaging.com, Leavenworth WA" Backlink to appreciated but not required.

Many of us in Western Washington are breathing a sigh of relief that our days-long stretch of 80-90 degree weather is coming to an end.

But one region's relief is another region's pain. The process that is cooling down Western Washington is wreaking havoc in Central Washington and the firefighting efforts over there.

How to celebrate 12 straight days of 80s in Seattle? In song!

How to celebrate 12 straight days of 80s in Seattle? In song!
Photo: Joshua Lewis, KOMONews.com

With a late surge of warm air Thursday, Seattle managed to reach 80 degrees again -- the 12th day in a row with highs at 80 or warmer.

It's the second-longest such streak at Sea-Tac Airport, tying a streak in August of 1967 and coming up three days short of the all time record of 15 set in 1977.

Forget Kevin Bacon, Washington had 50 degrees of separation Wednesday

Forget Kevin Bacon, Washington had 50 degrees of separation Wednesday

It was the hottest of places; it was the coldest of places.

Our state had quite the dichotomy Wednesday afternoon, courtesy of an intense heat ridge in Eastern Washington counterbalanced by a chilly fog bank along the coast.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the temperature in Pasco was 107 degrees. Contrast that with Forks on the coast which was... 57 degrees. (Some of the buoys offshore were even a little chiller like Destruction Island at 53 degrees). That's about 265 miles apart for the 50 degree swing.

Hot days, chilly waters make for some strange sights

Hot days, chilly waters make for some strange sights
Mirages form on Puget Sound on July 12, 2014. (Photo courtesy: Greg Johnson, Skunkbayweather.com)

They weren't a throwback to the tall-sailed pirate ships of yore or a maritime version of a Star Trek Borg, but those who were on the western shores of Puget Sound this past weekend might have had to rub their eyes a bit while gazing out toward Whidbey Island.

Weather conditions were just right to create mirages on the water that turned simple container cargo ships into what looked like...perhaps a 1980s video game rendition of space invaders?

UW Prof: Sunday's sensational sunset a 'trifecta' of perfect conditions

UW Prof: Sunday's sensational sunset a 'trifecta' of perfect conditions
Photo: Steve Scholle

It's been the talk of the town this week, the amazing sunset we had Sunday night across the Puget Sound region.

A lot of people have been asking what caused such brilliant colors: Wildfire smoke from Eastern Washington? Lucky cloud formations?

Yes, and yes, according to University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences professor Cliff Mass. And, add in some evaporating rain for good measure.

July 10th among Seattle's ''Final Four'' of original heat records

July 10th among Seattle's ''Final Four'' of original heat records
Photo courtesy: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency

July 10th has somewhat of a badge of honor in Seattle weather records -- it's home to one of the last four original record highs for Seattle.

Sea-Tac Airport's first year as the official weather records were in 1945, and of course, every temperature recorded that year is a record high and a record low. Those records fall and adjust higher/lower as the years pass and our weather goes through its expected peaks and valleys.

Now after 69 years, you'd expect those records would have been replaced, and almost all have but there are still four that have withstood the test of time and today is one of them.

Sunshine 6 days a week in winter in Seattle? Earliest records said so...

Sunshine 6 days a week in winter in Seattle? Earliest records said so...
FILE -- Late 19th century weather map of the United States. (Photo: National Weather Service)

Sure, Seattle has quite the rainy reputation, but did you know when records first began being kept in Seattle, there was nary a drop to be found?

In fact, the very first observation in Seattle noted in official record books was: a sunny day!

In February!

(I guess the pessimist would say it had nowhere to go but down.)

I stumbled upon this little fact while researching my blog for Monday about the intense heat wave of 1870. In looking for where exactly in Seattle those observations were taken, I found this incredibly thorough 52-page report on the history of weather observations in Seattle, written and prepared by Glen Conner of Scottsville, Kentucky for the Midwestern Regional Climate Center. Conner's excellent research is the source of this blog's information. 

Seattle heat wave of 1870 puts 2009 to shame

Seattle heat wave of 1870 puts 2009 to shame
Weather observation log of conditions in Seattle in the month of July, 1870. (Image courtesy: Mark Albright)

What if I told you that 144 years ago today (Monday, July 7) it was 100 degrees in Seattle?

And then what if I told you it wasn't even the hottest day of that week?

University of Washington research meteorologist Mark Albright has some of the very infant weather records from Seattle that began in 1870 and noted that it was quite a toasty July back then.