January 2017 – Seasonal Weather Outlook

A Look Back at 2016 Weather Highlights & a Look Forward for 2017

2016 Recap: Not the Warmest Year on Record
If you read any 2016 year-in-review articles, you may see headlines that read,”2016, The Warmest Year on Record.” While that may be true for some parts of the world, here in Thurston County that is not the case.

After a lackluster summer and a short, soggy autumn we are now in the midst of the longest cold period we’ve experienced since 2008. We’ve seen three snow events since November 15, and measured more than 20 days of below freezing temps before New Year’s Eve. We also closed out the calendar year with 61 inches of rain! That’s a full ten inches above normal.

Rainiest months

October earned a label as “wettest month of the year,” with over 14 inches of rain followed by November at ten inches. Typically, November and December are the wettest with 8 inches each, and October normally has fewer than five inches.

Hottest days

The warmest days of 2016 were June 6 (96 degrees F), and August 23 (95.5 degrees F). Although some parts of the County actually reached 100 F on both of those days.

Transition into 2017

Our cold snap continues The weather doesn’t change just because the calendar flips over to a new year, and so we continue our colder-than-average winter that developed last November. The strong northeasterly pattern continues to drive very cold air south and east from Canada.

The northwestern United States happens to be in the path of that very cold air and this is why the air temps are so cold. This also why the threat of snow is in the forecast almost every week these days.

What’s next?

Looking forward a couple weeks it looks like there are a couple snow events that could cause Thurston County some additional grief. As the normal pattern of southwestern prevailing weather is trying to reestablish its dominance, it is running directly into the cold arctic air.

This struggle between artic and southwest winds will occur very close to us and this is why we could either get rain, like usual, or snow which is unusual. Until the arctic air begins its typical migration eastward we will be facing this forecast of “snow and rain.”
I would point out that if this was summer, the same pattern we are in now would bring us very warm and dry conditions and we would want it to remain. As is now, I think many of us would like to see it go somewhere else.

Gardening alert

If you are a gardener, the cold temperatures early this year may reach the limit of what some of our plants can take. We are in the USDA Climate zone 8a/8b. The lower temperature limit in our zone is 15 degrees F. Looking at my thermometer as I write, I see 16 degrees F.

That is definitely close enough to kill some of the more sensitive plants. So do not be surprised if some of your favorite garden plants, or a fruit tree or two may be damaged or killed. Our plants have gotten used to our gradually warming winters over the past ten years and they will not be happy with this unusually cold weather just as we are not.

Feed the birds If you are a hummingbird lover, did you know that many of our little hummers now forego the southward migration and stay here all winter? This is a consequence of our warming winters, backyard feeders, and flowering plants. The problem for them, and some other birds, is that there is virtually no natural food for them other than hummingbird feeders and seed feeders.

So if you have hummingbirds in your area keep one or two nectar feeders out for them. In this very cold weather they go into a mild state of hibernation called torpor daily to conserve energy. They need nectar to survive these cold spells when there is almost nothing else for them to survive on. Make sure if you do have nectar feeders, defrost them daily when it is below about 25 degrees F (about the temperature sugar water freezes) so the nectar is available and not a frozen popsicle that they can’t eat. You can also make it a bit sweeter in the winter for a little extra energy.

I use the formula one cup sugar to four cups water in the summer. In the winter I use 1 ¼ cup sugar to 4 cups water. Don’t make it too sweet because this is bad for their health. And NEVER use honey because it is toxic to hummingbirds. The internet has a lot of information on our local resident hummingbirds.

In conclusion

But before you get too depressed, we past the winter solstice in December, and the days are getting longer, so the temperatures will gradually increase. And hopefully, winter won’t dish up any truly nasty surprises, like the ice storm of January 2012.
My fingers are crossed in my gloves that we start to warm up and return to our normally-mild weather soon.
Happy New Year and keep warm, Mark

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