After a slow start to summer in Seattle – with temperatures consistently running below normal for the month of June – a huge change happened in July and the city has been sizzling since.
“Sunday was our latest … 80-plus-degree day on record in Seattle,” Maddie Kristell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the city told CNN. The temperature reached a scorching 88 degrees.
The Emerald City has been dry, too.
Only 0.15 inches of rain has fallen since June, making it the driest July through September on record. San Diego got more rain than Seattle during the same period.
Fifty-six percent of Washington state is now in drought, up from just 8% three months ago, according to the US Drought Monitor.
“By now we should have definitely had some fall precipitation, but just haven’t yet,” Kristell said. “Mostly due to a really persistent ridge of high pressure that really hasn’t budged appreciably in the last month and a half, arguably longer. So it’s been stubborn.”
That high-pressure area locks in the sunshine and heat, creating a prime environment for the wildfires which have exploded around the Pacific Northwest.
Wildfires creating worst air quality of the season
There are 10 active wildfires burning in Washington state.
The Nakia Creek Fire exploded to 2,000 acres in a matter of hours over the weekend and forced thousands of evacuations.
“The Bolt Creek fire along US 2 is over 14,000 acres at this point and is positioned where the bulk of the smoke gets sent into Seattle proper,” Kristell explained.
The six large fires burning just to the east of Seattle created the worst air quality of the season over the weekend, said Kristell.
“Unfortunately, Seattle’s kind of in a bowl, if you will, because we’ve got the Olympics to the west and the Cascades to the east, so it traps the smoke pretty efficiently throughout the metro area,” Kristell said. “It’s really hard to get relief.”
Atmospheric river may aid firefighters
The atmospheric rivers the Pacific Northwest relies on for rain are running late this year, but forecast models are hinting at a decent rain event this weekend.
Atmospheric rivers are streams of moisture in the atmosphere that move into the Pacific Northwest off the Pacific Ocean. They can provide steady rain for the region over several days.
The weather service is forecasting up to a half inch of rain with this system – and even more along the coast and in the mountains. Mount Baker and Mount Rainier could even pick up two to four inches of snow.
But the greatest relief may come if the rain helps combat the wildfires.
The fires are burning in thick vegetation, so small showers won’t help put them out because the rain can’t penetrate the tree canopy. “With the amounts that we’re looking at for this weekend, a half inch to an inch throughout the three days, that will definitely reach the forest and benefit the firefighting efforts,” Kristell said.