Weird Winter Weather

It can’t be ignored. It would be nice to fit the stereotype and write about spring approaching, which it is, but it is also snowing and we just set a record for being dry. It has been and continues to be a weird winter for weather.

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It’s snowing. It’s quite likely going to continuing snowing for a few days. The National Weather Service assures us; “Little or no snow accumulation expected.” Considering most winters on Whidbey, Little or no snow accumulation expected. Even the climate data only suggests fewer than 0.1 days of snowy days in March. That’s less than three hours of snow. Well, averages mean sometimes there’s more, like today.

Last month set records. Depending on elevation, proximity to the relatively warm waters of the Salish Sea, and whether trees got in the way of the sunshine, some places got over a foot of snow – or hardly anything at all. Within the last few days, almost all of the snow was gone. The remnants were dark, plowed piles in ditches or beside parking lots, piles struggling to return to dirt and water. Neighbors on private streets but without private plows were locked away for a few days, but finally escaping. Being the third coldest February helped hold onto our reminders of winter.

And then it got dry.

A few days ago, the air around the Salish Sea was the driest in the Lower 48 states. Shocking, shocking enough that it made sense to touch something metallic and grounded before touching something fragile like a computer. Cliff Mass has a good description of how and why, but basically it comes down to more weird weather.

Blame it all on the wind.

In general, weather for the region is delivered by the jet stream pulling in air masses and storms across the Pacific Ocean. If the jet stream bends south, we get arctic cold, which tends to be dry. If the jet stream bends north, we get wet, which tends to be – well, warmer than the Arctic. Snow days happen when there’s an atmospheric debate involving warm, cold, wet, dry masses mixing. The mess hits the Olympic Mountains from the west, then the result swings around into the Sound from either the north or south, dropping whatever it managed to produce.

This time is different.

Sometimes the winds come from the east. The most common event is the dreaded Fraser outflow, wind storms that flow out of the Fraser River valley in Canada as cold mountain air manages to beat the trend and rush to the sea. The north part of the Sound can see blizzard conditions when the rest of the region is only complaining about yet another rainy day. This event is less common. High pressure in the middle of the continent beats back against the westerly winds causing dangerous gusts in the foothills. As the air flows downhill it dries. (Again, see Cliff Mass‘ description.) The result, air that makes a desert seem moist.

And then came another patch of ocean moisture. Hence, snow in March. (And note, Whidbey Island seems to be getting most of the attention.)

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Snow in March is also why a blog like this can be more descriptive than a guidebook. Days are rarely average, ‘normal’, or ‘to-be-expected.’ Weather like this is also why local outdoors folks know that there is no bad weather, just the wrong clothing and equipment. Layers, people, layers. That’s the thing.

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We’re forecast to have a couple more days like this. It is hard to imagine the change we’re about to witness over the next few weeks. The Equinox is only two week away. The rains will remain, but heavy coats will be replaced with less fleece and something more rain-repellent. Hats will switch from ski caps to something with a brim. Windshield wipers will get more of a workout. We’ll make those changes without much of a thought after the first week of the new season. Our thoughts (and social media posts) will be more likely filled with blooms, blossoms, songbirds – and the lawn mower’s race against the exuberance of growth that’s been on pause just a little longer than usual. It’s all good.

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