EVERETT — Yes, it’s June … uary.
This year we’ve endured the cold, the rain, the snow. But even as summer approaches, that damp, gloomy trend hasn’t quite disappeared.
It’s a big departure from the unprecedented heatwave Western Washington weathered almost a year ago.
“Cool and wet have been the theme for the Pacific Northwest,” said National Weather Service Seattle meteorologist Jacob DeFlitch. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It could mean a shorter wildfire season, and salmon could thrive.
Western Washington has been “much colder than average” since April, said Karin Bumbaco, assistant state climatologist with the University of Washington.
Snohomish County had its fifth-coldest April and May ever recorded, tied with 1969, with temperatures 3.6 degrees colder than normal.
“We haven’t seen temperatures that cold since 2011,” Bumbaco said.
It has also been one of the rainiest springs on record. According to Bumbaco, Snohomish County had the fourth-most precipitation on record for April and May, receiving almost four more inches of rain than normal.
The dreariness hasn’t relented much since then.
Heavy rains last week broke records across the Puget Sound region. On June 9, the National Weather Service in Seattle tweeted that all six of their climate reporting sites saw record highs for precipitation around the Salish Sea.
Mike McFarland, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Seattle, said the June 9 record-breaking rain was the result of a wet front known as an atmospheric river.
He explained the north Pacific Ocean has been “fairly active” this spring, steering weather systems into the region. Some weather fronts in the early spring bypassed California and instead moved into Washington and Oregon, he said.
Bumbaco attributed the abnormal weather in part to La Niña, an oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that can result in cooler temperatures in Washington. Normally, La Niña only affects our weather during winter. But this year it’s still “pretty strong,” according to Bumbaco.
Though sunshine is expected next week, forecasters don’t expect the weather to turn around significantly in the coming weeks.
“I don’t see any big changes on the horizon,” Bumbaco said.
Research shows climate change is to blame for extreme weather like last year’s intense heatwave. Bumbaco said its role in this year’s weather is less clear.
“We do expect to see, in a changing climate, our springs to get a bit wetter on average, but not to the extent we’ve seen this spring,” she said, “and certainly we don’t expect temperatures (to get) colder in a changing climate.”
There is a silver lining: The persistent dampness may lead to a shorter wildfire season, Deputy State Fire Marshal Gregory Baruso said. But on the flip side, he said, overgrown vegetation caused by the excessive rain could create more fuel for the fire later, when everything finally dries out.
And while some people may complain about the gloom, salmon won’t.
Kaelie Spencer is the hatchery manager at the Willow Creek hatchery in Edmonds, where 80,000 coho salmon are raised each year. Cooler waters keep salmon’s metabolisms low, she explained. This leads to larger salmon and a higher chance of survival.
Plus, with the constant overcast, salmon don’t have to worry about finding shady spots to hide in when the sun is out — yes, they can get sunburnt, too. And the rain keeps streams full and moving quickly, making it easier for the fish to move around.
In last year’s extreme heat, Spencer said, “a lot of the eggs that we saw struggled.” She hopes this year’s weather will lead to more salmon surviving to adulthood, meaning more for fishermen and natural predators in Puget Sound’s ecosystem.
People shouldn’t give up hope on the summer yet, said DeFlitch, the meteorologist. A blue-skied summer “is still very possible” — in July and August.