Freaking out newcomers about the weather is a Seattle hazing ritual. “You won’t see the sun from October to June,” natives tell you as the rainy season closes in. That glorious stretch in January? “Unheard of! Next week will be back to normal,” they say, meaning dismal.
The truth is, Seattle really doesn’t get that much rain (37 inches is the yearly average—less than New York City, less than Boston); it just has a disproportionate number of days when liquid “dribbles out of stratus,” as UW atmospheric sciences professor Dennis Hartmann puts it. But only in winter. According to state climatologist Nick Bond, the three wettest months (November to January) deliver measurable precipitation on two days out of three, while in summer our parched gardens are lucky to squeeze out one rainy day a week. The moderating influence of the Pacific keeps temperatures mild year-round, with average daytime highs swinging from a delightful 76 degrees in August to a tolerable 47 in January.
Not this year. Thanks to a torrid pool hovering in the Gulf of Alaska that Bond identified and dubbed the Blob, Seattle sweltered through record-breaking heat this past summer (the warmest June on record and five days in a row of temperatures over 90 at the start of July). With the Blob hanging in and a strong El Niño in the offing, we are heading into “uncharted territory” weatherwise. Bond is confident the coming winter will be warm, and precipitation is widely expected to be below normal, raising the prospect of another dismal ski season (last winter’s was one of the worst ever, with snowpack only about 25 percent of normal).
Climate change? A freakish anomaly? A taste of things to come? Bond, Hartmann, and colleagues are still scratching their heads, but natives know better. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” they’ll tell you.