March is the start of thunderstorm season in the Pacific Northwest

Mar 2, 2023, 8:19 PM
The primary thunderstorm season in Western Washington usually kicks off in March, explains Ted Buehner. (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

The primary thunderstorm season in Western Washington usually kicks off in March. Thunderstorms can occur throughout the year, but spring time is prime time, while autumn has another rise in thunderstorm activity as well.

There is a good reason why this region’s thunderstorm season gets rolling in March. Thanks to longer days as spring unfolds, temperatures near the surface are warmer than in winter. Yet, cooler air aloft continues to move onshore from the Gulf of Alaska, creating an unstable air mass allowing warmer air near the surface to rise more easily – much like boiling water on your stove, but on a grander scale. The region’s mountainous terrain and the phenomenon known as the Puget Sound Convergence Zone also provide lift to help hoist the warmer air aloft.

High winds, heavy snow in mountain passes expected through Friday

Western Washington averages only about 10 thunderstorms per year. In contrast, central Florida gets over 100 thunderstorms annually.

From the Rockies eastward, people are rather lightning proficient – heading indoors when a thunderstorm approaches. Since Western Washington does not get a lot of thunderstorms, many people are unaware and get caught outdoors when lightning strikes.

This region’s thunderstorms are usually short-lived, less than 30 minutes.

If a cold rain or hail shower approaches, that is a clue it could produce lightning. Take action like heading indoors or getting into a vehicle, and avoid tall targets like trees. Lightning likes to strike tall objects, which is where many lightning injuries and fatalities occur.

More from Ted Buehner: The deadliest avalanche in U.S. history occurred at Stevens Pass

Fortunately, Washington has not had a lightning fatality since 1996. Let’s keep it that way. Remember – when thunder roars, go indoors.

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March is the start of thunderstorm season in the Pacific Northwest