This winter has rewritten the rulebook for strong El Niños. Meteorologists were so certain that Southern California would be far wetter than normal, while the Pacific Northwest would be drier than normal. Instead, Southern California ended up with below-average rainfall for yet another winter, and the Pacific Northwest witnessed the rainiest winter in many locations on record. To our credit, many other things we predicted, such as a lack of lowland snowfall and above-normal temperatures throughout the West Coast, have come true, but still, this year is one many seasonal forecasters would like to forget.
We’ve had several strong storm systems over the past 12 months. We had our summer blow on August 29 and an intense storm on November 17. We even had a significant storm on March 10 that caused extensive coastal flooding throughout the region and ripped a Bellingham Home Depot to shreds. But the most impressive storm, in my mind, has to be the one that occurred only three days later.
It wasn’t the windiest storm, and it wasn’t the biggest. However, the low-pressure system itself was one of the most symmetrical, picturesque lows I have ever seen.
It doesn’t take a meteorologist to see that this was an intense storm! Moreover, this storm tracked just off the Washington Coast, and our new coastal radar was able to pick up some incredible pictures.
The day of the windstorm, I was teaching ski lessons up at Alpental, near Snoqualmie Pass. It was extremely gusty up there – I know that Summit West had a gust to 68 mph, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw similarly strong gusts at times at Alpental. It was quite a sight to see all of the snow being blown around. Many of the kids found the winds scary, but they persevered through the storm and were a pleasure to be with the entire day.
Down here, winds were quite gusty. Sea-Tac gusted to 56 mph, Boeing Field gusted to 54, and the University of Washington gusted to 49. Winds were even higher up north, with Everett, Bellingham and the Whidbey Naval Air Station gusting to 60, 64 and 66 mph, respectively. As is usual, the coast was the windiest place of all. Aptly named Destruction Island clocked a 79 mph gust at 3 pm. One of my friends, a post-doctoral atmospheric sciences graduate from the University of British Columbia focusing on Pacific Northwest windstorms, estimated gusts of 55-60 mph by Seward Park based on tree damage nearby. Indeed, many trees were toppled in this storm due to the extraordinarily saturated soils from this past winter, including this one right by the #2 bus turnaround at the bottom of Madrona Hill.
(Tree that fell under the storm’s fierce winds at the bottom of Madrona Hill. Courtesy of the author.)
None of the individual storms this past year will go down in the record books. But, taken as a whole, this winter was one of the stormiest on record for the Pacific Northwest. Let’s hope next winter is a little bit calmer!
Charlie Phillips, a Madrona resident, just received his B.S. in atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. Check out his personal weather blog at www.charliesweatherforecasts.blogspot.com!