If cloudy skies, driving rain and thunder snow aren’t your thing, it’s been a relatively miserable winter. And, there’s data to prove it.
Perhaps it was the thunder snow that pushed us over the edge. Or maybe a particular bout of ceaseless, driving rain left our spirits washed out. Then again, the blame could rest on these stalwart Pacific Northwest skies, ever gray and drowning out what color is left in our skyline’s palette.
It’s not just you: winter’s grip has been unusually resilient this year.
The anecdotal evidence abounds. You’ve seen the headlines. “For first time in 48 years, Seattle out-snows Minneapolis in January and February,” KOMO-TV reported.
From The Associated Press, we learned that the Northwest’s cool winter held the nation back from setting the distinguished mark of warmest February on record. The months of December through February were the coldest here since 1985.
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“Coldest winter in 32 years is pretty significant in and of itself. For a lot of younger people, it’s the coldest winter in their lifetime,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Logan Johnson.
And then there’s snow, which has followed us into March.
“As far as snowfall goes, you’re talking about almost 10 years since we had that much snowfall for the Seattle area,” Johnson said.
Data bolsters the argument. There’s an index to calculate winter’s misery, called the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index (AWSSI, pronounced Aussie, as in the people enjoying sunny days with 80-degree highs in Melbourne).
The AWSSI index qualifies snowfall and temperature measures for an area, and then compares a compiled score to previous years. It’s our roughest winter since 2008-2009, according to the index’s data.
“For Seattle, this is a severe winter,” said Steve Hilberg, at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, one of two climatologists who created the AWSSI measure.
Hilberg stressed that the measure is relative, though.
Seattle is scoring a 72 on the AWSSI scale, which puts it in the second-most severe category. Hilberg is based in Champaign, Ill., which is having a mild winter.
“What we’re doing here is [more than] double Seattle, and we’ve had a miserable winter. Just 6 inches of snow,” he said.
For the record, Hilberg’s definition of “miserable” is not like most.
“The press really wanted to call it (AWSSI) the winter-misery index,” he said. “I took some offense at that. There are parts of winter that can be pretty brutal, but overall, I enjoy winter.”
Media bias against winter? Sad!
Hilberg would love living in Yakima then, or Spokane. All of those places are experiencing “extreme” winters with AWSSI scores north of 650.
Maybe we’re wimps compared to our Eastern brethren. Of course, the AWSSI index doesn’t capture a complete picture.
“We can’t account for wind chill. That’s not a daily observation,” Hilberg said. “And we can’t do freezing rain … that can be far more damaging than a blizzard.”
In Hilberg’s index, Westsiders don’t get any credit for shouldering Seattle’s most famous burdens, the sun’s habitual disappearance and the interminable drizzle.
The months of December through February rank as the 36th-rainiest winter since the same months in 1894-1895. With nearly 17 inches of rain, we’ve more than 2 inches above our average. February was particularly soggy as we nearly set a rain record.
Where has the sun been? Hiding.
From December to February, our skies have been cloudy more than 75 percent of the time, according to analysis of National Weather Service sky cover data.
For those tiring of winter’s slog, relief is coming. But, it’s relative, too.
Meteorologist Johnson said the extended forecast predicts a chilly March.
“We are going to slowly warm up. We may be near or even above normal early next week,” he said, before settling in south of average for much of March.
Comparatively, it’ll be balmy. Get out the shorts!
“It’ll feel like that,” Johnson said. “In New Hampshire, you get the first day in the 40s and sunny, everyone would be outside … We’ve been below normal so long, being close to normal seems warm.”
And be ready for a windy Friday morning, as the weather service has issued a wind advisory for the Seattle metro area, with sustained winds expected between 20 and 35 miles per hour and gusts up to 50.