Record temperatures hit the Seattle area and more could come

Dec 29, 2023, 7:49 PM

Image: The Seattle skyline...

The Seattle skyline (Photo: Karen Ducey, Getty Images)

(Photo: Karen Ducey, Getty Images)

Friday was a day of record-breaking temperatures in the Puget Sound area.

KIRO Newsradio meteorologist Ted Buehner said Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac Airport) measured 57 degrees at 7 a.m. Friday, shattering the record of 54 degrees set in 2017.

The airport then reached 62 degrees Friday afternoon, tying the record for the highest temperature ever recorded during the second half of December.

Buehner says that trend will likely continue.

“We’re going to maintain these warmer than average temperatures, overall, all the way through the month of March,” Buehner said.

Those warmer-than-average temperatures translate to a reduced threat of lowland snow, Buehner wrote earlier this week. That does not mean snow could not occur, yet the odds are lower. Over the decades, there have been a number of El Niño winters with no lowland snow.

Seattle winter weather outlook: How much snow can we expect?

In contrast, four of the snowiest years on record since the 1950s were El Niño winters, including the all-time record 68.5 inches of snow that fell at SeaTac Airport during the winter of 1968-69.

Buehner added the current El Niño conditions have created a snowpack that’s well below average for this point in the year.

“(That’s) great news for travelers going across the passes. (It’s) not so good news for skiers and snowboarders,” Buehner said.

Warmer El Niño winters are usually not good news for snowpacks, Buehner said. The average snow level tends to be higher resulting in a less-than-average snowpack once it reaches its peak around April 1. Water managers call the mountain snowpack “water in the bank” for summer and fall, and if the snowpack comes up short, water and wildfire managers’ concerns will rise.

The year in weather: El Niño, drought, wildfires defined 2023 in Washington

A ‘Super El Niño’ is possible

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report released earlier this month states there is now a 54% chance of a “historically strong” El Niño during the November-January season.

“An event of this strength would potentially be in the top 5 of El Niño events since 1950,” the report states.

If it happens, area residents could see it get warmer and drier than it already is.

But, researchers say if it does develop, that does not mean everyone will feel the impacts.

The predictions see most of Western Washington getting below-average rainfall. Meanwhile, the Columbia Valley with much more rain than average.

What El Niño and La Niña seasons are

Buhener wrote earlier this year that El Niño is when sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific Ocean tropical waters, the waters west of Peru, are warmer than average. The warming of these waters usually results in the North Pacific storm track spending quite a bit of time across the southern tier of the U.S., from California to the Gulf Coast and the Southeast.

More on El Niño: How to prepare

La Niña is when those same tropical Pacific waters are cooler than average, resulting in the storm track spending more time in the Pacific Northwest latitudes.

El Niño winters tend to be warmer than average. Historically, when compared to La Niña and “Neutral” (around average tropical Eastern Pacific sea surface temperatures) winters, El Niño ranks last for significant lowland snow, wind storms and flooding. Even though the odds of these nasty storms are lower, they do and have occurred.

Contributing: Ted Buehner, KIRO Newsradio; Steve Coogan, My Northwest

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

Ted Buehner is the KIRO Newsradio meteorologist. You can read more of Ted’s stories here and follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Record temperatures hit the Seattle area and more could come