Weather: A Year in Review

April 14, 2009

  • By Sherman Peabody– 

    We Pacific Northwesterners are sometimes derided by outsiders for our propensity to talk about the weather. They suppose that our webfooted banter is for want of more interesting topics. But, had these climatologically-insensitive souls spent last year in these environs, they too might find the weather a worthy subject of discussion. Bookended by Decembers with nameable atmospheric events, 2008 may not have set any significant weather records, but it certainly kept coastal residents guessing.

    The weather year opened with the Great Coastal Gale of December 2007. A three-day winter weather roller coaster ride brought snow, then rain, followed by wind. The first heavy bands of warm rain melted heavy snows as temperatures shot up 30 degrees in hours, beginning a series of memorable floods. Torrential rains continued the devastation: during a 3-day period the Willapa Hills received nearly 20-inches of precipitation that sent rivers far over their banks. Water 10 – 15 feet deep covered Interstate 5 near Chehalis, closing that arterial for days. Wind speeds topping 120-miles per hour downed innumerable power lines, leaving over 110,000 Oregon and Washington residents in the dark. The gale also destroyed great swaths of forest, including the Klootchy Creek Giant east of Cannon Beach, a beloved tourist attraction once said to be the world’s largest Sitka spruce.

    Spring never seemed to arrive, as many disgruntled gardeners can attest. March was cooler than February and April was colder yet-the second coldest on record. Some parts of the Northwest Coast were blessed with snow as late as April. In its newsletter, the Office of the Washington State Climatologist dubbed it “The Spring that Wasn’t.”

    Summer arrived early, with the mercury spiking into the 90s in May, and reemerged sporadically with the hottest days of the year coming in mid-August. Frigid temperatures returned in autumn. The heavier-than usual December snowfall-dubbed “snow-pocalpse” or, less imaginatively, the “Arctic Blast”-granted residents their first genuinely white Christmas in decades.

    snowfield

    Surely this year’s colder-than-average weather disproves global warming, right? Nope. Climatologists point out that the weather is what’s happening outside your window; the climate is the long-range average-compiled with at least 30-years of data. Though its cause may still be subject to speculation, there is no doubt that greenhouse gases are turning up the heat on the globe, and resulting in the unstable conditions.

    If you found 2008’s weather unsettling, brace yourself. Sea surface temperature anomalies indicate a return to La Niña conditions this spring. So, if current trends continue, we can expect a repeat of the wet and cold weather year that was 2008.

    And you can bet we’ll be talking about it.