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2011 weather in Seattle: 15 inches of mostly cloudy

2011 weather in Seattle: 15 inches of mostly cloudy
A photo taken from a rainy Seattle on Dec. 28, 2011. (Photo: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Visibility Camera)

SEATTLE -- 2011 might be best remembered for what didn't happen in the weather world as opposed to what did. Seattle did not get 23 feet of snow in one day. We did not have snow drifts so high one could safely walk off the Space Needle's observation deck. It did not get to 13 below zero.

There was much fanfare going into the year with La Nina conditions entrenched and snow fans  just licking their chops that a major snowy winter was in store. Instead, those who live in Belltown couldn't even fashion a snowman together. And even hopes of a "Doube Dip" La Nina would bring an early start to winter quickly fizzled after a brief dusting of snow in mid-November.

Oh, it did get cold though -- just in the wrong seasons. Spring was just a four month extension of February, it seemed. (The Seattle-usual February, not the La Nina-charged February). Temperatures took forever to get to their inaugural 70 degree day, then another long wait for 75....days still until we got to 80 (July!). And if you were waiting for 90? Well, hope you weren't holding your breath.

In fact, summer was so chilly, we measured it in minutes -- 3,323 to be exact, and that was only saved by a mild September. By the end of July we were barely over an hour.

There were no major storms to leave a calling card - at least for Seattle. A storm on February 23 seemed to promise several inches of snow but instead concentrated its wrath on the surrounding areas, leaving the Emerald City largely unscathed.

Maybe New Year's Day should have given us hint. Temperatures were in the 20s amid a six-day stretch of overnight lows in the 20s.

The cold was finally met with some moisture and-- some snow!!!! 2.8 inches at Sea-Tac, which would wind up accounting more than half of the year's snow total (4.8 inches). It didn't last long though.

Jan 11: Snow moves into Seattle area, mainly gone by morning
Jan 12: Gone is the pretty snow, what's left is slushy mess

The weather quickly warmed into the 50s and we went from snow to heavy rain, flooding, and gusty winds. Sadly, a DOT worker was killed when a tree fell on Highway 203 during gusty east winds to 40 mph in the Cascade foothills.

As for the rain, a landslide wiped out a segment of the Mountain Loop Highway east of Granite Falls while a cabin was washed away near Index on the Skykomish River. The Snoqualmie River reached major flood stage as did a few others. All told, there was $100,000 in damage.

Jan 17: Flood warnings extend into Tuesday as region wrings out
Jan 18: Rivers receding as heavy rains wind down


As we flipped the calendar into February, the weather was a bit ho-hum until we approached Valentine's Day, when two wind storms blew in back-to-back on the 12th and 14th. It left  those with frazzled hair on the romantic holiday not very apt to send flowers or that cute "BE MINE" candy to Mother Nature.

The storm on the 14th knocked out power to 20,000 on the Kitsap Peninsula and about 2,800 to Shoreline as gusts reached around 45 mph, although those taking a romantic walk on Alki Beach were blasted with a 56 mph wind gust.

Feb 12: W. Wash. hit by strong winds; trees down, outages reported
Feb 14: A 1-2 punch of stormy weather strikes Western Washington


Did you win the snow lottery? 

If a Valentine's Day storm wasn't enough ire for Mother Nature, snow fans in Seattle really felt jilted when a promised widespread snow event rolled in on Feb. 22-23 -- only to completely skip over Seattle city areas (no) thanks to a rain/"snow" shadow that developed off the Olympic Mountains. While forecast models were adamant anywhere from 4-10 inches of snow could fall in Seattle, the city was left with just a few flakes.

But other areas were not so lucky/unlucky as the storm unleashed feet of snow just 45 miles north. Mount Vernon reported 30 inches of snow! Burlington had 24 inches.

Feb 22: An appetizer of snow this morning, larger snow storm approaches
Feb 22: A crazy day among the heavens
Feb 23: Snow buries parts of region leaves rest unscathed
Feb 23: Live snow event blog


The storm did bring in some arctic air as promised in its wake. In fact, the period from Feb. 23-25 would be the only three record lows set for the year in Seattle with lows reaching 27, 24, and 20 degrees. (It got down to 19 on Feb. 26 but it wasn't a record.)

The chilly air made for some awesome natural ice sculptures as water was pushed out from a railing and then froze on exposure:

Feb 26: Swirls of ice like you've probably never seen

In all, February would go down as the 7th coldest at Sea-Tac. Or as April would come to call it, "a heat wave."

Feb 28: February goes down as 7th coldest at Sea-Tac

In like a lion, indeed!

March did that whole "comes in like a lion" thing and brought our next windstorm on the 2nd. Bellingham and Oak Harbor each hit 60 mph while Everett hit 51 and Seattle was around 45 mph. It was enough to topple a few trees into homes, including in Shoreline and Gig Harbor. Overall damage was estimated at $72,000.

Mar 2: Late-season windstorm roars ashore

Middle March could be summed up in one word: "stormy". Forecasting models predicted we'd have 10 storms in 15 days and dog gone it if they weren't correct. Most brought varying amounts of rain and wind.

March 10 got the honor of the windiest storm with gusts to 60 mph in North Bend, 58 mph at Alki Beach, 55 in Seattle and 49 in Tacoma. It was enough to cause a mudslide and other downed trees to the tune of $130,000 in damage.

Mar 8: 10 storms in 15 days? Dog gone it!
Mar 9: Yet another blustery day on tap:
Mar 10: How windy was it? (Mar 10 storm):


As we moved toward storms No. 7 and 8, the skies got a big angry with thunderstorms and even a rare wall cloud over Seattle:

Mar 15: Strong thunderstorms roll through the Puget Sound area:
Mar 16: Rare video of wall cloud over Seattle:


By now, people were starting to notice it hadn't exactly been warm outside. And sure enough the long range models were starting to take notice and say it wasn't getting warmer any time soon.

Mar 17: Another chilly spring on tap?

Spring started, but still, no 60s. It wasn't until March 23 that we got our first '6' on the board -- fifth latest date to get over 55.

Mar 23: Seattle climbs to its first 60 degree day in ages:

Itsy Bitsy Spider must have become adventurous

March ends like a lamb? Not so much in 2011. Instead, down came the rains. Heavy rains made for one of the latest winter flood scenarios on record. The Snoqualmie River at Carnation exceeded major flood stage on the latest date in its records.

But true to Northwest climate form -- it wasn't raining everywhere. A big rain shadow opened up over Seattle and Boeing Field reported a paltry 0.02" of rain as several inches fell in the mountains.

Mar 30: Flood warnings issued as heavy rains drench mountains

April kicked off on 6th with a little snow in a Convergence Zone, paired up with some lightning and hail around the rest of the region. The snow was apt because it felt cold enough to snow pretty much the entire month, which would go on to set records for coldest on record. In addition to the chill, it was also gray. Seattle went nearly two months (56 days) between official sunny days.

Apr 6: This is April? Lightning, hail and even snow pays a visit:
Apr 7: Seattle at 41 days (and counting) since last official sunny day:
May 1: Seattle sets a record for coldest April on record:
May 11: Optimists cheer: It's been dry 27 days this year!!!


A rainy May 15 set two rain records in 15 hours, believe it or not:

May 15: Seattle sets not one, but two rain records in just over 15 hours

Our lone bout with truly severe weather came on May 27 when a weak tornado touched down just east of Napavine for less than two minutes, snapping large branches of trees and causing some roof damage to a few homes.

May 29: National Weather Service confirms tornado hit Napavine

The rest of May and June was spent still waiting for truly warm weather. Seattle touched 70 degrees for just a couple of minutes on May 20th, thwarting what would have been an eventual smashing of the record for latest 70 degree reading on record. (As it was, it was second-longest, but would have broke the record of May 23 by 12 days, as our next 70 degree day didn't come until June 4.)

But several other records were in jeopardy. May ended up being 4th coldest, March-May ended up being second coldest. March was the 6th wettest March in Seattle while May was 7th and the period of March-May was second-wettest. And that 3 month period combined for the most amount of rainy days at 59 out of the 92.

May 31: Spring 2011: A broken record of broken records

But June was coming, and that's one of the three months it *doesn't* rain in Seattle, so it had to get warmer and drier, right?

The news was initially good as word came that the cool La Nina pattern that was the supposed culprit for our chilly spring was dead. Mother Nature even put on a colorful cloud display a few days later in supposed celebration:

June 9: Weather pattern La Nina dies at 307 days:
June 14: Cirrus clouds put on a colorful sky show in Anacortes:


But alas, no. Still quite chilly. Seattle would wait until July 2 to get our first 80 degree day of the year -- a span of 301 days and fourth longest wait. It was also the 6th longest wait for our first 80.

June 27: 296 days -- and counting -- since we've hit 80 degrees:
July 1: First half of year wraps up among coolest on record
July 2: What a 'scorcher'! Seattle has first 80 degree day of the year:


July 4th was some payback - sunny and 78! But a few days later, Everett registered among coldest highs in nation, and then came news Stevens Pass has latest "melt out" date of last 30 years

Summer by the minute

But as we got into mid July -- summer was *still* tough to find. It seemed like you could measure it in minutes instead of days.

Turns out, you could!

I went on July 18th and counted the number of minutes Seattle had been over 80 degrees. It wasn't difficult, there had only been two dates at that point. The tally? 78 minutes -- a story that caught on nationwide as a symbol of our missing summer:

July 18: Seattle: Home of the 78-minute summer:

We finally started adding to the tally a little in late July -- 273 minutes on July 24. But it was slow going with just a few days in the low 80s here and there. Aug. 21 manged to reach 87 degrees -- what would be our high water mark for the year, but most days were comfortably in the 70s.

Summer was just fashionably late, that's all...

It wasn't until we got into September -- you know, the first of the 9 months it *does* rain all the time -- that summer finally arrived. Seattle had an unprecedented stretch of 80 degree weather that spanned nine days -- each day's high between 82 and 85 -- not sure that kind of consistency has ever happened before.

Sept. 12: Notes and scribbles from this past week's sorta-heat wave

Summer officially ended Sept. 22 and the final tally: 3,323 minutes! It was short enough to inspire a song.

Sept. 23 A song for Seattle's 3,323 minutes of summer:

And once autumn arrived, it didn't take long to flex its muscle. A windstorm with guts up to 75 mph in Whatcom County and to 60 mph on the coast knocked out power to about 35,000 at one point or another during the storm.

Sept. 25: Blustery winds knock out power around Puget Sound

La Nina, Schma La Nina

October ended up fairly calm in the weather department -- perfect time for Mother Nature to take a break and whip out her paint brush. A brilliant display of the Northern Lights popped up on the 25th, and then a day later, Mt. Rainier cast a large shadow on an amazing sunrise!

Oct. 25: Northern Lights light up the skies around Northwest
Oct. 26: Mt. Rainier casts a big shadow on Seattle's sunrise


The calm weather held through the first of November, which featured fairly normal temperatures and only 0.36" of rain. That changed on Veterans Day as stormy weather returned. Winds gusting around 40-45 mph around the Sound but 62 mph in Vancouver, B.C.

Nov. 11: Winds, hail, thunder - oh, my! First Nov. storm blows in with gusto

Then, just like last year, we got an early taste of snow -- in fact, it was a week earlier. It wasn't much -- just a few spotty accumulations here and there, but enough to get hopes up for a snowy autumn.

Nov. 17: Season's first lowland snow dots Puget Sound region:
Nov. 18: Snowflakes sprinkle around the Puget Sound area


More familiar wind and rain returned for Thanksgiving week, with gusty winds blowing nearly 70 mph along the coast and heavy rains in the interior. A 74-year-old man lost his life in Aberdeen when he was struck by a tree.

Nov. 22: Rain, wind, mountain snow -- November's stormy hat trick is on
Nov. 23: Just how wet and windy was Tuesday's storm?
Nov. 23: Wind, mountain snow pay visit to Seattle's table for Thanksgiving


Feeling under pressure?

While record highs and lows were hard to find this year, as we headed into the final month, Seattle did manage to set an all-time record -- albeit an obscure one -- when the atmospheric pressure was recorded at 1043.4 milibars, or 30.81" of mercury -- breaking the old record of 1043.0. This ridge would stick around for much of December.

Dec. 1: Seattle sets all-time record high pressure reading

In fact, the ridge was so strong, rain was hard to find. Seattle set a record for driest first three weeks of December in history. We only had 0.03" of rain through Dec. 14, 0.06" through the 17th, and 0.35" through the 26th. We were not only seriously threatening the all-time driest December on record, we were threatening to have a drier December than July!

But some heavy rains at the buzzer prevented Seattle from setting either mark -- instead we ended up 5th driest. It was also quite chilly, although that was a factor of clear skies at night allowing temperatures to frequently drop into the 20s and upper 30s.

Dec. 12: What La Nina? December sets record for cold and dry.

Perhaps the strongest storm of the season struck on Christmas Day, when a ferocious wind storm blew into the region. Winds gusted over 50 mph in many locations, including a 60 mph gust on Alki Beach and a 53 mph gust in Seattle.

The storm tragically claimed the life of a 9 year old girl who was killed when a tree fell on a car she was riding in near Clinton.

Dec. 25: 9-year-old girl killed by falling tree during windstorm

New Year's Eve brought calm weather just as the year had begun, allowing a chilly, but mostly dry celebration to ring in 2011.

Overall, Seattle set just one record high temperature -- 55 degrees on Jan. 16, and tied two others: 85 degrees on Sept. 8 and 56 degrees on Nov. 27. There were the three aformentioned record lows Feb 23-25 (27, 24,20) and two ties: 38 on May 12 and 39 on May 17.

2011 Year End Statistics For Seattle

  • Annual Rain: 36.40" (average: 37.49")
  • Number of days with measurable rain: 167 (average: 154)
  • Number of sunny days (0-30% cloud cover): 40 (average: 58)
  • Number of partly cloudy days (30-70% cover): 175 (average: 81)
  • Number of overcast days (>70% cloud cover): 150 (average: 226)
  • Number of days 80 degrees or hotter: 21 (Average: 25)
  • Number of days at 85 or hotter: 5 (Average: 10)
  • Number of days at 90 or hotter: 0 (average: 3)

Chart of monthly temperatures and rain:

Seattle Monthly Rain +/- Normal Avg. Temp +/- Normal
January 4.99 -0.14 41.8 +0.9
February 3.05 -1.13 39.2 -4.0
March 6.29 +2.54 45.1 -1.1
April 4.47 +1.88 45.5 -4.7
May 3.20 +1.42 52.3 -3.5
June 1.42 -0.07 59.4 -1.3
July 0.71 -0.08 64.2 -1.1
August 0.13 -0.75 65.8 -0.3
September 1.29 -0.21 64.0 +2.7
October 3.45 -0.03 52.2 -0.6
November 5.16 -1.41 43.0 -2.4
December 2.24 -3.11 39.2 -1.4
Avg 36.40" -0.91 51.0 -1.3

Have a great 2012!

Keep track of the weather in Seattle through 2012 by following Scott via Twitter @ScottSKOMO and on Facebook at "Scott Sistek KOMO"

Previous Years' Recaps:

2010: http://www.komonews.com/weather/blogs/scott/112768214.html 
2009: http://www.komonews.com/weather/blogs/scott/80489272.html
2008: http://www.komonews.com/news/local/36947834.html
2007: http://www.komonews.com/news/local/12949947.html
2006: http://www.komonews.com/news/local/5051876.html
2005: http://www.komonews.com/news/archive/4173161.html
2004: http://www.komonews.com/news/archive/4141256.html