Reviewing Seattle’s February Snowstorms
If you told me a month ago that February, 2019 would be Seattle’s snowiest month in 50 years, I would have told you that you were crazy. November, December, and January were all significantly warmer than normal, and apart from the fast-moving, compact “Epiphany Storm” of January 5–6, there weren’t any noteworthy windstorms or floods to keep meteorologists busy. The 2018–19 winter had been a dud through January 31, and I didn’t think February would be any different. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The first snowstorm of the month began soon after Tom Brady won his sixth Super Bowl and continued through Monday, Feb. 4. This storm was initially predicted to be nothing more than a few scattered snow showers for most of Western Washington, with notable accumulations largely staying above 500 feet. Instead, a persistent band of snow formed over Puget Sound late Sunday night and persisted through much of Monday, giving most locations north of Olympia a major lowland snowstorm. My mom measured around 5.5 inches at our house just north of the Madrona bus turnaround on Lake Washington Blvd. Some of my friends in the Cascade foothills saw well over a foot!
This snow was also accompanied by extremely strong and cold northeasterly winds over the Northern Interior. Exposed locations in Whatcom and San Juan Counties saw gusts in the 50–60 mph range with sub-zero wind chills on Monday, and while that might be shorts weather for the Chicagoans who survived -52 degree wind chills a month ago, it’s pretty rare for February in the Pacific Northwest.
Tuesday through Thursday was dry and chilly, but snow returned with a vengeance on Friday, Feb. 8 and persisted through Saturday morning. This storm was like the Super Bowl Sunday–Monday storm but was far better forecast, with 3–8 inches across Puget Sound common. Because temperatures were right on the fringe for snow, folks by the water got less than during the previous storm. My parents are only at 40 feet elevation and measured three inches, but I’d guess that the tops of Madrona and Leschi saw closer to 4–5 inches. The Cascade foothills were clobbered once again; with roughly a foot of snowfall, and some locations along the Strait of Juan de Fuca experienced a true “Snowmageddon,” with a report of 21 inches near Port Angeles. And the Northern Interior saw even stronger winds and colder wind chills than they did on Monday, with Bellingham experiencing winds gusting to 67 mph.
Another brief shot of snow occurred on Sunday, the 10th. My parents measured an inch of wet snow with this system, but once again, higher elevations—particularly in the Cascade foothills—saw significantly more. Our fourth and final system arrived on Monday, the 11th, and although this storm was much stronger than the previous three, it was significantly warmer as well, and we only saw a brief period of wet snow before switching to a messy rain/snow mix and eventually all rain. Again, there was a significant increase in snowfall with elevation; Sea-Tac Airport, which is located at 433’, saw 6 inches of snow before switching to rain.
By the end of Monday, Sea-Tac Airport had recorded 20.2 inches of snow for the month, making February 2019 the snowiest month since January 1969. The winter of 1968–1969 was the snowiest on record for Seattle, and my mom always talks about her epic sledding adventures down Clyde Hill in Bellevue that winter. We even had six more inches of snow this month than we did back during the legendary snowstorms of December 2008, when I was able to comfortably ski down Alder St. for the better half of a week. We can thank warmer temperatures and the Seattle Dept. of Transportation’s use of rock salt for clearer roads this time around.
Charlie Phillips, a Madrona resident, received his B.S. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Washington and works in Portland as a meteorologist. Check out his weather website at to charlie.weathertogether.net.