Another year of extremes in 2018

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It’s sounding like a broken record, but 2018 was another year of weather extremes across much of the U.S. and other parts of the world. And, with another El Nino brewing in the waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean, it looks like these extreme weather patterns will continue into next year.

It was once again a “tale of two coasts” in the U.S. In the eastern portions the country, one storm after another set records for the wettest year in recorded history for over a dozen cities, including Washington, D.C. In the far west, heat and drought led to massive wildfires in California and British Columbia. There were also several hurricanes that hit the U.S. in 2018 causing billions of dollars in damage.

Earlier this month, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. reported over 65 inches of rain for 2018. This is their wettest year since D.C. recorded 61.33 inches in 1889. Our nation’s capital also had the wettest November, the fifth wettest September, the fourth wettest July and the sixth wettest May.

According to the Weather Channel, other annual precipitation records were set as Charleston, W.Va., and Lexington, Ky., had well over 60 inches of moisture. The wet weather extended back toward the west as Mason City, Iowa, had about 50 inches of rain for this year. Wilmington, N.C., went over 100 inches in 2018 thanks to the wet weather pattern and Hurricane Florence that went through the region in the middle of September. That’s nearly 50 inches above normal!

By contrast, one of the wettest places in the United States, southern Alaska, has been experiencing what officials have described as “a major drought.” For example, in Ketchikan, which is located in the southeastern part of the state, only — yes, only — 100 inches of rain and melted snow has fallen. Their average is close to 140 inches.

The extreme summer and early fall dryness from British Columbia to certainly contributed to disastrous wildfires. Last August, British Columbia had its worst fire season on record. It’s estimated that 2,092 wildfires burned over 3.3 million acres in 2018, which surpassed the historic wildfire season in British Columbia in 2017.

In other parts of the world, all-time record high temperatures were reported. July was a scorching month in Armenia as it had its hottest July in history. Japan had a high of 106 degrees and set a national record. Belfast, Northern Ireland and southern Russia also experienced record highs in July.

Until this year, there was never a location on Earth that had a temperature above 109 degrees for a 24-hour period. That happened on June 28 in Oman, a nation in the Middle East on the Arabian Peninsula.

In Australia, recent rains in the drought-stricken regions in the southern part of the country have eased the extreme dryness. However, from January through October of this year, much of that region had some of the hottest and driest weather in the nation’s history. And, Sydney, as well as other nearby towns and cities, reported very hot weather last week to close out 2018.

As far as the Earth’s overall temperature, 2018 will likely end up as the fourth warmest year on record for global land and ocean temperatures. This is not surprising as much of the Pacific Ocean is currently experiencing warmer than normal sea-surface temperatures.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, a new warmer El Nino pattern is expected this winter and spring season. Annual snowfall totals across the Inland Northwest are usually not very plentiful. So far, as of the weekend, Cliff has measured over 16 inches snow for the season. The normal to date is close to 30 inches.

Despite the low snowfall total through the end of 2018, we did manage to get our fourth year in-a-row with a white Christmas at Cliff’s station. Most surrounding stations also had snow on the ground on Dec. 25th, but the downtown area of Coeur d’Alene, especially near the lake, didn’t have the snow as it was too warm. About an inch of snow was on the ground in many spots, certainly not an impressive amount when compared to the last several years.

Based on climatology, there has never been a fifth year in-a-row with a white Christmas in Coeur d’Alene. Although, anything is possible in this wild weather pattern, Cliff and I don’t believe we’ll get the white Christmas in 2019.

As far as our near-term weather is concerned, January should be another month with moisture totals above normal levels. However, thanks, at least in part, the warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean, Cliff and I see more rain than snow across the lower elevations of North Idaho.

Then, conditions should turn a little drier in February and March as most of the moisture is expected to go south of our region. As Cliff often says during this time, “we’re going to have to work for the snow.” So far, snow totals are well below normal in the west and that trend is expected to continue through the rest of the winter and spring season.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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