Weathercatch: Snowdrifts, ice, heatwaves, wildfires — 2017 in review

By Nic Loyd, WSU meteorologist, and Linda Weiford, WSU News

Weathercatch Photo LogoFrom Arctic blasts of cold and snow to persistent heat and wildfire smoke, 2017 was a year of glaring weather contrasts for Washington state.

Last January, Brrrr was the word. The year opened with a big freeze that encased the Pacific Northwest starting on Jan. 1. Here in the Inland Northwest, unusually cold, dry winds pushed temperatures to minus 3 in Pullman and minus 6 in Moses Lake and Colville.

WSU campus buried in snow. Photo by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services.
WSU Pullman campus buried in snow in early 2017. Photo by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services.

On Jan. 3, it got so windy that the National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory. We wouldn’t have batted an eyelash if living in Chicago or Witchita, but frigid weather accompanied by strong winds is highly unusual for this region. Top wind gusts for the month measured at 32 mphstrong enough to create deep snowdrifts across parklands and fields.

Overall, we endured seven mornings of temperatures below zero, contributing to make the first month of 2017 the coldest January in 38 years.

With thick coatings of snow and ice, February resembled a scene from the animated film “Frozen.” By Feb. 1, snow had covered the ground for 55 days in a row. A snowstorm that blew in on Feb. 3 blanketed the region with 7-12 more inches. Less than a week later, a surprise overnight ice storm forced the closure of schools and businesses due to hazardous icy roads and sidewalks.

By month’s end, snow and freezing rain delivered 4.39 inches of precipitation to the areathe most seen in February since 1940.

Where winter resembled the Midwest, our summer seemed like the Southwest. No measureable rain fell for more than two and half months, challenging a 73-day dry spell that occurred in 1917.  What’s more, the season marked our third hottest summer on record. Among other things, the region went 15 days in a row with temperatures in the 90s. The prior record of 14 days was set back in 1894.

Thick smoke engulf WSU Pullman campus
Thick smoke engulfs WSU Pullman campus in fall 2017. Photo by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services.

Not surprisingly, the prolonged heat and drought conditions resulted in multiple wildfires in nine Western states, including Washington, Idaho and Oregon. In early September, a massive smoke cloud fed by fires from every direction spurred the state to issue air-quality alerts warning people to stay indoors.

Though the dry stretch finally ended in mid-September, October got less rain than usual, closing the month with under two inches. Compare that to the historic 6.22 inches that pelted Spokane the previous year in October. That rainfall amount was the most to hit the area during any month ever recorded. Meanwhile, Pullman’s rainfall measured 5.69 inches, topping its 1950 record of 4.29 inches.

Which goes to show, our region’s 2017 weather could have been better, but it also could have been worse.

 

Weathercatch is a bimonthly column that appears in The Spokesman-Review. Nic Loyd is a meteorologist with Washington State University’s AgWeatherNet. Linda Weiford is a WSU news writer and weather geek. Contact: linda.weiford@wsu.edu

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