‘Fingerprints of warming planet’ amid Seattle area’s year of record-breaking weather

Dec 2, 2021, 5:07 AM
rain, meteorologist...
An entrance to Tolt MacDonald Park is shown under water on Nov. 12, 2021, as rain falls near Carnation, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The last time local meteorologist Ted Buehner joined KIRO Radio, the temperature was reaching triple digits back in June. The state was also bracing for wildfire season at the time. Now, five months later, he stopped in again to talk about the rain impacting the region.

Seattle area sets record for wettest fall season with more rain on the way

Starting with all these atmospheric rivers, Seattle’s Morning News asked Buehner: What’s going on?

“This year, I think is probably best described by James Taylor’s song ‘Fire and Rain,'” Buehner said. “… We’ve had significant rain events not just here, but around the globe.”

That includes in Europe, Tennessee, New York, and New Jersey, as Buehner highlighted.

“We’ve now had six atmospheric rivers already this fall here,” he added. “You probably heard from Nick [Allard] that the September through November timeframe for Sea-Tac Airport: 19 inches of rain. Up in Bellingham, this month, they broke their previous record by almost 3 inches of rain, with just a little over 14.5 inches of rain.”

“It has clearly been a wet month — and November is typically our wettest month of the year,” he said.

So is there any preparation to help people survive these extreme weather events — whether that’s landslides during periods heavy rain, or hot weather that creates an increased risk of heat stroke?

“The short answer is just better preparedness by each of us really, personal preparedness at home, at school, at work, in our cars,” he said. “We’re seeing the fingerprints of a warming planet. When you get a warmer air mass, like we experience now as opposed to maybe 30 years ago, it can hold more moisture, and as a result, it’s the old phrase, ‘what goes up must come back down.'”

“Some atmospheric scientists in Germany reviewed what happened back in July with their big floods there and in Belgium, and they found that particular storm held 5 to 20% more moisture than it would have 30 years ago,” Buehner continued.

He says he’s been telling folks this fall with the atmospheric rivers Washington is getting that based on what the state has had this month alone, he thinks we’re starting to see the same kind of rain rates seen in Europe.

“With regards to preparedness for floods, for instance, if you’re in a low-lying area, step one is consider moving to higher ground,” he said. “Step two is to really try to set up any kind of protective and mitigation efforts you can do around your property.”

For heat, Buehner warned that we’re likely going to see more and more heat waves because of the warming planet, which he explains is adjusting how the Jetstream and storm track behaves.

“We’re going to see more of what are called these blocking events,” he said. “That’s what the heat dome was back in late June, where it just got locked into a position and then just, as a result, it feeds on itself, intensifies. That’s why we saw those extreme temperatures there in the latter part of June.”

Shifting gears slightly, how’s the snow forecast looking for the Puget Sound region this year?

“We’ve got our second consecutive La Nina winter season, [which] typically gives us a really wet fall,” Buehner said. “I think we’ve seen that. Then we tend to get cooler and wetter than average as we get to right around the holidays and into the early part of the following year.”

“You remember last year, we had a nice snow event in February. I would not be surprised to see the same thing occur in January or maybe as early as Christmas,” he added.

Again, preparedness is key for big snow events, Buehner noted.

“I’ll tell you, the snow shovels, there are lots of them in the hardware stores right now,” he said. “This is a good time to get one. I’ve already picked up my chains from my local tire centers.”

“The idea is just prepare in advance, and we can all do that,” he added.

What happened to Seattle’s ‘Pineapple Express?’ Enter, the ‘atmospheric river’

Maybe, as Buehner suggested, consider getting your loved ones a holiday gift that would help them out.

“Hey, dear, here’s some chains, Merry Christmas,” joked guest host Travis Mayfield. “Not the kind you wear around your neck — the kind you put on your car.”

“Are they diamond encrusted?” host Colleen O’Brien laughed.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
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‘Fingerprints of warming planet’ amid Seattle area’s year of record-breaking weather