Rain, rain, went far away in our record dry summer
The Associated Press
SPOKANE — The summer of 2003 will go down as Washington's driest in a century, according to the state's new climatologist.
Philip Mote of the University of Washington said rainfall in the state for June, July and August was 70 to 85 percent below normal. That's the driest since about 1895, though records get a bit sketchy that far back.
"In most of Eastern Washington, no rainfall fell during July," Mote said.
Like much of life, dry weather has good and bad consequences: Good for baseball games, bad for campfires. Good for wine grapes in Eastern Washington, bad for growing dryland wheat. Good for boating, bad for umbrella sellers in Seattle.
Statewide, Washington has received just 1.09 inches of precipitation this summer. That compares to an average of 4.05 inches recorded between 1971-2000, Mote said. The next-driest year was 1919, when 1.43 inches was recorded.
That means lots of wells are drying up, and dryland crops that depend on rainfall aren't doing very well, Mote said.
Many of the state's rivers and streams are at or near record low levels, he said.
Moisture levels in trees are the driest since such record-keeping began in 1993, Mote said.
It was only stringent rules against open campfires, and public cooperation with those rules, that prevented a horrific wildfire season, he said.
"We were really very fortunate in not having more big fires this year," Mote said.
There is no easy explanation for the dry summer. A persistent ridge of high pressure stayed off the coast all summer, preventing storms from coming ashore. But Mote can't explain why the ridge stayed there.
"I can't point to an ultimate cause," he said.
He doesn't think the dryness is a trend.
"As far as I can tell this is one unusual summer," he said.
So unusual that normally gloomy Seattle set a new local record when the temperature topped 70 degrees for 61 consecutive days.
Open fires were banned at many of the state's campgrounds this summer, reducing the production of s'mores. Those bans continue despite some wet weather.
"Recent rains on the Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests have done little to reduce the fire hazard on the northern portion of the forests," the U.S. Forest Service said yesterday.
The unusually high number of hot, dry days this summer was excellent for the vineyards of Central Washington, said Doug Gore, senior vice president for winemaking at Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates. Because of that, the 2003 harvest will be comparable to the outstanding 1998 vintage, he said.
"There is a terrific ripeness this year that we're excited about," Gore said.
Grape harvest began in early September, one of the earliest starts on record.
The state did not exactly burn up this summer. The statewide average temperature for June-August was just 2.2 degrees above normal, making it only the sixth-warmest summer since 1895.
Mote was recently named state climatologist, where his job is to collect, disseminate and interpret climate data. He takes over a job last held by Mark Albright of the UW atmospheric-sciences department in 1998.
"It's not an office people are clamoring to hold," Mote said.
Washington had been one of three states, along with West Virginia and Montana, without a climatologist.
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