by Brendan McGarry
- The Capitol Hill Times -
The Pacific Northwest was drier this year. While Washington didn’t fare as bad off as California, which ranked number one by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for precipitation lows, Washington State was twentieth in the United States. Thankfully, this week Seattle will get some rain – a strange thing to be happy about considering the normal trends.
So far, it has been a bad winter. “Bad” being the appropriate label for a dry winter, despite the local appreciation of less sodden days. Ski resort owners, employees, and snow junkies have been looking mournfully at the green hills that should be white this time of year. More serious, though, because our municipal drinking water largely comes from Cascade snowmelt, low snow pack equates to less drinking water.
The Puget Sound is technically a Mediterranean climate, with summer dry spells (serious enough to be called droughts). As a result, Washington relies on winter precipitation to get through the dry times. And before anyone flies off the handle about climate change, consider that one year’s weather isn’t a pronouncement of many years of trending weather data. For now, sit still and think about what’s happening overhead as it relates to daily life.
Most winters there are temperature inversions – certain weather patterns create blasts of warm air that, rising above the Puget Sound, trap colder air below for days or weeks. Last month, the city woke up a few times in fog, but had crisp, mostly sunny days as it dissipated. The little bit of moisture in the cold air, caught beneath the inversion, condenses into fog during the cool nights before dissipating as the days warm. While this trend might be enjoyable, it’s bad for air quality because pollutants are trapped along with the cold air (also the reason that there has been recent talk of burn bans). Inversions also mean warm air at high elevations, i.e. snowmelts. If there already isn’t a lot of snow, more of it melting isn’t good.
Good news: with minor lifestyle changes, there is a lot that the community can do to answer to climate change. Former Mayor Mike McGinn as well as Councilmembers Mike O’ Brien and Kshama Sawant are also addressing the issue, and the people who run the Cedar River Watershed adjust to these conditions (to the degree).