Weather Blog

'Water year' rainfall nearly normal, so how are we in a drought?

'Water year' rainfall nearly normal, so how are we in a drought?
Teanaway River July 2015. On July 9th, the Teanaway River was flowing at 8 cfs. The normal range for this particular day is between 75-200 cfs. With flows this low, water temperature is also a major problem. The river gage at Red Bridge Road reported water temperature of 78.8 °F that day. (Photo and caption courtesy: Washington Department of Ecology.)

Happy start of the rainy season in Seattle! Sure, it's blazing sunshine of late again, but Oct. 1 is the official start and thus also marks the start/end point of the "water year."

In addition to tracking rainfall from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, NOAA also tracks it from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 (calling it the "water year" rainfall) since our rainy season goes from October to March, this way we can also get a good gauge of the autumn/winter as a whole and its impact on our water and snowpack situations.

For 2014-15, Seattle ended up with 36.82 inches of rain, just 2/3" below the normal of 37.49 inches.

But this year, it'd be real nice if "rainy season" lived up to its title, since our drought is still going stong.

Now some are probably wondering: "Wait a minute, but you just said we weren't that far below normal for our past 'water year', how can it be a drought?" Indeed, last year we had about 39.11" for our 2013-14 water year -- just a little more than 2" than this year -- and we weren't in this bad of shape.

How is that possible? There are a few issues in play:

1. Much of last autumn and winter had warm, heavy rains that counted quite a bit in the official rain gauge in Seattle, but with little mountain snow to establish any kind of "water bank" for our region to draw off in the summer.

2. In addition, most of the rest of our rain this year also came in heavy spurts -- especially in late winter and August. It's better to have lighter rains spread out over greater days than heavier rains in a punch that allows some of the water to run off and not be absorbed. While our total rainfall is somewhat near normal, the number of rainy days so far this year is below normal.

3. Late winter through spring and into mid summer were very dry across the state with several extended periods with no rain.

4. It's been much hotter than normal -- several sites have smashed temperature records by leaps and bounds this year -- and that causes more rapid evaporation and decreasing soil moisture content. Because it was so hot and dry for so long, and we didn't have a winter snowpack to draw from, aquifers and reservoirs that supply water to fish, farms and communities across the state took a major hit, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.

As it stands, even with the two rainy storms in August, we've gone back to a drier than normal September, leaving Western Washington in "severe drought" wihile Eastern Washington remains in the "extreme drought" category.

Officials say we need a normal snowpack year to avoid a second year of drought, but it's not looking good as with a strong El Nino in play for this upcoming winter, all signs point to another drier and warmer season with a lower than normal snowpack expected.

For More Information:

Washington Department of Ecology Drought page
Dept. of Ecology interactive drought "tour"

Cool September breaks Seattle's 18-month heat streak

Cool September breaks Seattle's 18-month heat streak
Photo: Mirwais Azami Photography

Seattle's 18-month streak of consecutive months with above normal monthly temperatures has finally (mercifully?) come to an end.

September's average temperature was 60.5 degrees, coming in below our typical average temperature of 61.3 degrees. It's the first time we've been below normal for a month since Feb. 2014.

Supermoon plus eclipse equals rare sky show Sunday night

Supermoon plus eclipse equals rare sky show Sunday night
A lunar eclipse is seen on Saturday, April 4, 2015, in Placerville, Calif. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Randall Benton)

What happens when you combine a "Supermoon" with a total lunar eclipse this Sunday night?

Something that is even rarer than once in a blue moon!

When a full or new moon makes its closest approach to Earth, that's a supermoon. Although still about 220,000 miles away, this full moon will look bigger and brighter than usual. In fact, it will be the closest full moon of the year, about 30,000 miles closer than the average distance. (The moon's orbit is far from a perfect circle.)

Loud 'crazy birds' update: Blame Greater White-fronted geese?

Loud 'crazy birds' update: Blame Greater White-fronted geese?
Greater White-fronted geese. (Photo courtesy: North Dakota Game & Fish Department)

A mystery of what caused a very loud ruckus of birds over South King County Sunday night may be solved.

Reports flooded in across a wide swath of area ranging from about Puyallup's South Hill to Enumclaw of birds that sounded distressed, circling for hours.

Grant Canterbury, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland says the noisy birds were Greater White-fronted geese, who were on their fall migration.

Seattle summer (mercifully?) ends after breaking or tying 28 records

Seattle summer (mercifully?) ends after breaking or tying 28 records
Seattle on a sunny Friday. (Photo: Tim Durkan)

Autumn officially began its reign in Seattle at 1:21 a.m. Wednesday and it was none too soon for those who don't have air conditioning and waded through the hottest summer on record.

Many records were shattered to lengths that records are rarely broken -- such as 12 days at or above 90 degrees this year, topping the old record by 33 percent!

Since when does autumn begin on Sept. 23?!?

Since when does autumn begin on Sept. 23?!?
Photo courtesy: Meg McDonald, Wild Northwest Beauty Photography

 Happy first day of autumn! Hey, wait, today's the 23rd, right?

I don't know about you, but growing up, I learned the seasons changed on the 21sts of their month, but it seems like that's rarely the case. Autumn began on Sept. 23 this year -- the same year that spring began on March 19.

It turns out, I don't know where we got Sept. 21 as a good date to teach us in school, because autumn hasn't started for real on the 21st in any of our lifetimes. The earliest start to autumn in the past 115 years is 7:50 a.m. (PDT) on Sept. 22 in 2012. To that effect, spring won't start on the 21st in most of our lifetimes either, unless you're super healthy (or perhaps reading this a grade school project) and live to the year 2102.

Photo puts massive Eastern Washington wildfires into perspective

Photo puts massive Eastern Washington wildfires into perspective
Photo: NASA/MODIS Satellite of Washington (false color) taken on Sept. 21, 2015, via National Weather Service in Spokane.

We already know it's been a record-setting wildfire season, with nearly 1 million acres burned across Eastern Washington.

The fires are mostly out now, but their burn marks remain.

Climbers create their own amazing shot of 'Brocken Spectre'

Climbers create their own amazing shot of 'Brocken Spectre'
Photo of "Brocken Spectre" atop Tramanos Mountain on Sept. 19, 2015 courtesy Radka Chapin.

It's not easy to create your own optical illusion, but mountain climbers and hikers who have ever been out and about on a sunny and foggy day did just that, creating what's known as a "Brocken spectre."

Radka Chapin and her husband got to see the amazing sight while they were up at Tamanos Mountain on Saturday.

"We got treated to a spectacular light show with Brocken Spectre," she said. "We spent several hours on the summit! We tried to leave several times but then the Spectre would start showing again and it was so magnificent, we had to stay and watch it. We ended up hiking out with headlamps :) "

What was with all the crazy birds in SE King County Sunday night?

It wasn't the reincarnation of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, but we got several reports of strange, loud bird behavior in Southeast King County Sunday night.

People emailed from Graham, Enumclaw, Bonney Lake and South Hill/Puyallup noting the bird commotion, asking us if we had any idea what was happening.

"Anyone know what's going on with the birds??" one person posted on a neighborhood Facebook post. "There have been a lot of them, and I do mean it sounds like a lot of them, over the last several hours. We've lived up here for 10 years, and never, until tonight, heard all this noise. They get quiet, then they start up again. At times they sound like they're in flight, but always close by."

New forecasts still say mild winter, hot summer again for Northwest

New forecasts still say mild winter, hot summer again for Northwest
Photo: Jason Shipley

Despite September looking like it will break our streak of 18 consecutive months with warmer than normal temperatures in Seattle (although not a guarantee yet), the newest 90-day forecast maps from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center are pretty adamant we'll start the streak anew in October.

And it's likely the new streak will get several months under its belt as well, as the maps still suggest high confidence we'll be warmer than normal through the winter. The confidence drops a little in spring and a little farther for summer 2016, but the odds given are still much better for more relative heat than relative chill.

Why does my phone say it's 106 degrees in Skagit County?

Why does my phone say it's 106 degrees in Skagit County?
Screen grabs of two cell phones showing triple digit temps in Skagit County

Fresh off the report that we're in for a mild winter and hot summer, has the weather in Skagit County already taken it to heart?

We had a few people remark that their cell phone is telling them despite the clouds and drizzle outside, we were experiencing triple-digit heat!

Is Seattle's 18-month heat streak in jeopardy?

Is Seattle's 18-month heat streak in jeopardy?

The last time Seattle had a month that was considered cooler than normal by average temperature, we were all dancing in the streets (but only during the "walk" sign) celebrating the Seahawks Super Bowl XLVIII victory.

A lot has happened since Feburary 2014, but one thing that has remained the same month after month since then: A plus sign next to Seattle's average overall temperature in regard to departure from normal. That's 18 months in a row, if you haven't been keeping track.

How to fix California's drought? They'd need to take our weather for a year

How to fix California's drought? They'd need to take our weather for a year
FILE -- Manufacturing Assembly worker Terry Young, 24, of Rialto, Calif., uses a sheet of plastic to protect himself from a downpour Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, as he jumps a flooded parking lot from a wood pallet to get to a food truck during his break in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Ken Steinhardt)

We've all heard how bad the drought is in California, with the past three years particularly hard for lack of rainfall. According to NOAA, 97% of the state is in some form of drought, with nearly half the state in the most dire "extreme drought" category. Remember in 2013, San Francisco had 3.38 inches of rain -- for the entire year! And so far in 2015, they're still just over 3.5 inches of rain. (They're annual rain average is around 20 inches.)

But now we have what could be a record El Nino coming this winter, and while that usually means a drier winter up here in the Pacific Northwest, it's typically a much wetter scenario for Southern and Central California -- in essence they steal our jet stream and corresponding rains.

Beautiful time lapse video of Milky Way galaxy over W. Washington

The nights are starting to get longer as we head into autumn, but there's luckily been enough clear skies of late to where longer nights are welcome.

Meg McDonald of Wild Northwest Beauty Photography has put together a time lapse video combining two stunning nights of work capturing the Milky Way (and the trillions of other stars out there) while at Olympic National Park and at Mt. Rainier National Park.