Weather Blog

What do Peanut M&Ms, Play Doh and Seattle's cold summer have in common?

What do Peanut M&Ms, Play Doh and Seattle's cold summer have in common?
Image courtesy Flickr user Goran Zec (Creative Commons 2.0 license)

A very interesting statistic crossed the wires on Monday, stating that Oklahoma set a U.S. national record in July -- the average temperature for the state was 89.1 degrees (mind you, that's factoring both the highs and lows.).

That was the hottest any state had ever been in any month in U.S recorded weather history, breaking the old record of 88.1 degrees.

But what piqued my curiosity was the year that original record had been set: 1954. It instantly rang a bell because most of the records Seattle has been chasing this summer for coldest on record were also set in... 1954 -- the same year Peanut M&M's and Play Doh were created.

Around here, 1954 is well remembered for the missing summer. The warmest temperature reached that year was 80 degrees, and it only happened twice. Overall, 1954 had the fifth-coldest June, the third-coldest July, and coldest August on record.

So far in 2011, Seattle hasn't quite reached those lofty heights -- we've had five days over 80 so far, reaching as high as 84. While the summer has been below normal, temperature wise, we had only the 22nd coldest June and 18th coldest July.

(The 84 degree high-water mark at the moment leaves us tied with 1957 for second-lowest summer high temperature, but we still have a solid 7 weeks on the calendar to get into the mid 80s.)

But these records seem to indicate the nation has been in this extended west-coast-freeze/Midwest-bake pattern before.

1954 was in the midst of a very strong La Nina pattern that would end up spanning nearly three years into early 1957. Sure enough, as cold as 1954's summer was, the cold pattern stretched into 1955 which overall holds the Seattle record for coldest year observed.

1973-1976 also had a long La Nina, as did 1998-2000 (that three-year stretch was notable for no 90 degree temps during those summers).

Meanwhile, our La Nina officially ended in late spring, but for some reason, the atmosphere hasn't noticed and La Nina-like conditions have persisted. That's not to say the cold pattern will remain the case through the winter, which climate models say we'll be in a neutral year, but its persistence up to this point is noteworthy.

So how did 1954 finish up?

I'm going to begin with a big disclaimer -- no wait, let's make it a big asterisk. Like, really big:


With weather, it's like trying to predict mutual funds: Past performance does not guarantee future growth. Just because we're having a chilly summer akin to 1954 does not mean that the rest of 2011 will follow 1954's script.

But since many are asking...

1954 went on to have the coldest August on record, followed by another very chilly September. However, we moderated in October to a nearly normal month, followed by a very warm and very wet November.

December was back to being colder than normal -- a trend that continued into 1955, which saw all 12 months be cooler than normal, although not particularly any wetter than normal.

Sun fans are hoping 2012 doesn't follow suit!