2013 weather review for Seattle: Thunderstorms take center stage for once

Photo: Anthony May Photography

SEATTLE -- 2013 will go down as the year Mother Nature tossed out the script of how weather is supposed to progress through the year around Western Washington, and essentially winged it like a Will Ferrell monologue.

How else to explain a year where Tucson had more snow in winter than Seattle did, yet just a few months later, Seattle would match Phoenix as the hottest city in the nation?

The wettest months were not the stalwarts of November or January, but September and April -- the first time September has ever worn the wettest month crown in Seattle's 120 years of record-keeping.

Usually it's a big windstorm, or big snowstorm, or perhaps stifling heat wave that is a year's meteorological calling card around Seattle. But not 2013, which instead will probably be remembered first and foremost for a series of intense thunderstorms that in a year that has been all about the Seahawks around here, even managed to upstage the big home opener against the hated rival San Francisco 49ers.

Oh, and there was that tornado that managed to rattle a few factories down in Frederickson.

It took more than a week to get our first weather event of 2013, and it wasn't that big of a deal. A windstorm brought gusts to 35-45 mph around the Puget Sound area -- fairly routine for winter.

Jan. 9 - Peak wind gusts from Tuesday night's wind storm

Fog Horns Work Overtime

But that storm ushered in a long dry and foggy streak -- a fog storm, you might say. Seattle went a full week from Jan. 16 through the 22nd with dense fog (visibility 1/4 mile or less). At one point, Seattle had a stretch of 80 consecutive hours with fog at 1/2 mile visibility or less. The "break" in the fog lasted just 5 hours, and a new fog layer moved in that evening.

That layer was even thicker, rattling off another 24+ straight hours of dense fog -- this time 1/4 mile or less. Add it all up, and that five day stretch had just 6 1/2 hours of visibility over 1/2 mile.

We finished the month from the 16th through the 31st with at least some fog reported -- a streak that leaked over into the first three days into February. Overall, the month had 24 days with fog at some point.

Jan. 14 -- Freezing nights make for beautiful natural ice sculptures.
Jan. 22 -- A persistent fog, but was it a record fog?

February was fairly tranquil, aside from a Convergence Zone that really brought some wildly varying weather just a few miles apart and having our mainly-snowless winter rubbed in our face when parts of Tucson picked up an inch of snow.

Feb. 16 -- Convergence Zone brings radically different weather just 25 miles apart.
Feb. 20 -- Tucson now has a snowier 2013 than Seattle

Fairly benign weather carried into March, where notable events were more localized than widespread.

March did come in like a lion when a localized wind event brought gusts to 45-50 mph around Everett but left the rest of the region calm. Then as we reached the spring equinox, we had one of those classic Northwest "if you don't like the weather, drive 20 minutes" kind of days with snow, rain, hail and lightning depending on where you were.

March 1 -- 'Lee trough' makes for windy day in North Sound
March 21 -- Snow, lightning, hail, sun, rain -- it's March Madness, Seattle style
March 21 -- Photos: Hail and snow dot the Puget Sound region

April begins to pick up the slack

As winter came to a close, it finished up as the 6th driest on record -- oddly enough coming on the heels of the 6th-wettest autumn on record to end 2012.

April 1 -- Stop the presses: It didn't rain that much during Seattle's winter.

Then April came along, and... let's just say it tried to make up for lost time. The weekend of April 6-7 was the wettest April weekend in Seattle history with 2.04 inches. The 1.54 inches that fell on April 7 was the fourth-wettest April day at Sea-Tac Airport.

April 7 -- Seattle sloshes through wettest April weekend in Sea-Tac history.

Overall, April would end up as the second-wettest month in 2013 at 5.89 inches and the second wettest April on record. It would get drier.

And warmer.

No chilly spring this year...

After wading through several chilly springs over the past few years where on two occasions, our first 80 degree day didn't come until July, this year briefly deviated from the script by rattling off an 84 day on May 5, then following it up with an 87 day on May 6, matching Phoenix as the hottest city in the nation that day.

It was part of a record-warm start to the month as never before had Seattle gone its first 11 days in May with highs at 65 degrees or warmer and zero in the rain gauge.

May 6 -- Seattle's May heat about to shatter all sorts of records
May 6 -- Seattle's 87 matches Phoenix for hottest major city in U.S. Monday.

All that relative heat served to juice the atmosphere for the first of what would be many bouts with thunderstorms this year. Almost 30,000 people lost power during the storms, and while no one was hurt, there were a couple close calls.

In Silverdale, a woman got a rude awakening when a tree crashed into her home. Officials said the woman was napping when there was a loud crash and a tree fell into her bedroom, pinning her legs to the bed. Luckily, she had her cell phone within arm's reach and was able to call 911 herself. She was taken to a Bremerton hospital for treatment of a leg injury.

And in Auburn, a woman was trapped inside her car for hours when a large tree ripped down power lines onto 20 cars at Green River Community College.

May 13 -- Power outages, downed trees as thunderstorms rake W. Wash.
May 13 -- Live blog of thunderstorms

And then just like that, once the rains came, they stuck around for a while, raining at least a little bit on 17 of the next 20 days.

Commence Summer Warming Program In 3...2...1...

June kicked off what was to be quite a generally warm and pleasant summer by starting with 19 consecutive days at or above 68 degrees in Seattle -- a feat never done before and had it not been for a 63-degree reading on the 20th, the record would have stretched the entire month.

June 17 -- For 2nd month in a row, Seattle sets obscure all-time weather record

The end of the month brought the region's first real heat event, with highs climbing well into the 80s if not 90s on the 28 through the 30th with a 93-degree day in Seattle on June 30.

That sounds hot, but Seattle actually dodged a bullet as that was part of a record-setting heat wave across the West that saw Las Vegas tie their all-time record at 117 degrees and Death Valley setting the nation's all-time June heat record with a 129 degree reading.

But lucky for the Northwest that the heat ridge was placed just a bit inland, sparing us what might have been triple-digit heat.

June 28 -- Summer's first blast of heat on its way, but it could have been worse.
July 2 -- How this West Coast heat wave made history

On July 16th, it was a rather routine toasty day around Seattle -- it reached 88 degrees. But in Forks, they had what might have been the craziest day in Western Washington history? They reached 90 around lunch, then dropped to 74 the next hour, warmed back up to 83, down to 72...and then it started raining. I bet there was a whole lot of fashion confusion out on the north coast that day.

July 16 -- Town of Forks has most absurd weather day... ever!?!

Now add a dash of lightning...

But most of all, July would be known for dry weather and thunderstorms-- yes the two can go hand in hand when the thunderstorms don't bring much rain. July tied an all-time Seattle record with just a trace of rain in the rain gauge -- the second consecutive year Seattle went an entire month with no measurable rain (having done so in August in 2012.) In all, Seattle managed 35 straight days with no measurable rain -- not a record, but close to a Top 10 streak (37). You might remember last year we went 47 days for the second-longest streak on record.

Yet we still had two rounds of thunderstorms in the region, including one on July 16 that brought 2,500 lightning strikes to the state, and second that blew a woman across her deck when lightning struck a nearby tree in Issaquah.

July 17 -- 2,500 lightning strikes hit Washington state overnight
July 31 -- Woman blown across deck when lightning strikes nearby tree.
Aug. 2 -- Pitter-patter, drip, drip: Seattle's dry streak ends at 35 days

Shortly after the rain streak died, Seattle rattled off another long stretch of summer weather, with six consecutive days with highs over 80 degrees, topping out at 88 on Aug. 7. But again as we had seen a few times before, the cooling weather came via a round of thunder and lightning.

This latest episode occurred on Aug. 9 and 10 and photographers were out in force to capture some dramatic shots of the rare storms over Seattle:

Aug. 10 -- Photos: Brilliant lightning dances across Puget Sound skies

After the storms, it was right back to the warm sunshine -- in fact, much of August ended up warmer than Los Angeles!

Aug. 12 -- Seattle is out-summering Los Angeles lately

The month then finished with -- what else? -- more thunderstorms! These storms brought urban flooding to parts of Everett, Mukilteo and Renton, and down in Olympia their rain gauge recoded an impressive 0.89 inches of rain in just 19 minutes.

Aug. 29 -- Thunderstorms, drenching rains rock evening commute

The warm days, rather muggy nights, and frequent thunderstorms helped Seattle set another all-time record this year -- the warmest average monthly low temperature on record of any month. August finished at 59.9, shattering the old record of 58.4 degrees -- and let me tell you, breaking a monthly average by a full 1.5 degrees is mighty impressive. So all those sweltering nights this summer? Totally worth it! (right?)

August also smashed the all-time monthly record of a low temperature at or warmer than 60 degrees at Sea-Tac with 16 days. The old record? 11, set in July of 1994. (August 1942 did have 13 at the Downtown Federal Building.) We're only supposed to have three, and average lows are in the mid 50s. For the entire year, Seattle had 34 nights with a low of 60 or warmer. The old record? 18!!!

Sept. 2 -- August finishes up with hottest nights on record.

Behind on annual rainfall? September to the rescue!

Seattle would also experience its hottest day on record -- at least on Sept. 11 -- when the temperature hit 93 degrees, tied with June 30th as the warmest day of the year.

But book-ended around the hot day, September brought another double dose of thunderstorms -- the first wave on Sept. 5 when one bolt of lightning struck a motorcyclist as he was riding along I-5 in Chehalis. He was dazed but would later recover.

Then, just over a week later, our eighth thunderstorm day of the year took the national stage when lightning caused an hour-long delay during the Seahawks' home opener against the dreaded San Francisco 49ers.

Sept. 5 -- Thunderstorms light up the Puget Sound skies

Sept. 5 -- Motorcyclist struck by lightning as thunderstorms roll through region
Sept. 13 -- Thunderstorms could be around for big Seahawks-49ers game
Sept. 15 -- Seahawks get blowout 29-3 win over 49ers

Summer officially ended on the 21st, and oh what a summer it was. Some were calling it the best in recent memory. Even our annual @SummerMinutes on Twitter where we count the minutes Seattle was at or over 80 degrees was at a three-year high of 5,443 minutes.

Sept. 21 -- Was this the best summer in recent Seattle memory?

But the storms kept coming in September, and right on cue as fall began, so did the gusty winds. A storm blew through with generally 35-45 mph winds, but Oak Harbor reached 55 mph and the gusts were enough to topple a small tree into a home in Brier.

Sept. 21 -- Autumn wastes no time saying 'hello' with stormy weather
Sept. 21 -- Peak gusts from Sunday's 'First Day of Fall' Storm

As the month drew to a close, Mother Nature finished with a flourish as two very powerful storms pummeled the region over the month's final weekend. The storm on Saturday not only brought wind gusts to 60 mph in North Bend and 53 mph in Hoquiam, but brought 1-3 inches of rain to the lowlands. For Seattle, the 1.71 inches of rain that day would make Sept. 28 the wettest September day on record.

That Sunday evening brought another round of rain and wind - enough to topple a tree on to a car on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill and was enough to knock out power to 20,000 people.

Sept. 28 -- Heavy rains, strong winds punctuate a very soggy weekend
Sept. 29 -- Saturday was wettest September day on record
Sept. 30 -- Over 20,000 lose power in unseasonably strong storm

September would end up with 6.17 inches of rain, making it the wettest September on record! And as I mentioned earlier, it went down as the wettest month of 2013 -- a first for Seattle!

It's a twister!!

But if rain and wind weren't enough we even had a damaging tornado! (You can tell this was an exciting time of the year based on the number of consecutive exclamation points! Possibly also a record for this blog's annual recaps!)

On Sept. 30, an EF-1 tornado packing 110 mph winds tore a jagged 40-by-40-foot hole in the roof at Northwest Door, forcing about 100 workers to evacuate. Also in the tornado's wake, a dozen trees, a Rohn tower and several parking lot lamp posts had toppled, the National Weather Service said. Several empty rail cars were also knocked over in the gusts.

Luckily no one was hurt.

Sept. 30 -- Tornado packing 110 mph winds damages buildings in Frederickson

Then, just a couple days later, another twister -- this one a waterspout off Westport. Again, no one was hurt as the waterspout just twirled harmlessly offshore.

Oct. 2 -- Another twister: Waterspout sighted off Westport

October weather anything but scary

As we said goodbye to summer and hello to fall, we said...goodbye to any real weather for a while (note the lack of exclamation points). In what would become a repeating theme this autumn, October was mainly known for its dry and foggy weather. Of the 31 days that month, there was fog reported on 24 of them, with once again a long dense-fog streak. This one reached nine days between the 18th and 26th -- tied for third longest. The month also rattled off a 14-day dry streak.

Oct. 15 -- Forget Waldo, can you spot the lonely rain shower?
Oct. 20 -- Northwest getting hit by virtual ''anti-wind storm''

November is statistically the stormiest month of the year and at least at the start, it was holding true to form as a decent wind storm blew into the area on the 2nd. Winds gusts well over 50 mph across the region, with Sea-Tac Airport hitting a gust of 59 mph while Alki Beach hit 61 and Everett hit 54.

Two people were hurt by falling trees -- one when a tree fell on a Mustang as the driver was heading on SR-203 near Monroe. He suffered serious head and leg injuries, troopers said. And in Seattle's University District, a 2-year-old child was struck by a tree branch and taken to Harborview Medical Center but later recovered.

Strong winds gusting over 45 mph also forced the DOT to close the 520 Floating Bridge. Troopers said there was a 4-5 foot sway in the bridge at the high-rises and that drivers in 50 cars abandoned their vehicles and walked off the bridge. They later got a trooper escort to remove their cars and the bridge opened about two hours later as the winds subsided a bit.

Nov. 2 -- 2 hurt by falling trees as wind storm slams Western Washington
Nov. 2 -- Peak gusts from Saturday's storm

But aside from a rainy day on Nov. 7 that brought 1.18" of rain to Seattle, the rest of the month was surprisingly quiet with a 9-day dry streak at the end.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow... for 6 hours.

We finished up the year with a cold snap, and then a little snow just to remind Seattleites what it looked like. The warmest day of December was the first day at 56, and then temperatures quickly dropped from there. Seattle had a 5 day stretch where the highs didn't get warmer than 36 as lows dropped into the teens and 20s across the region. But somehow the city miraculously managed to dodge any snowfall during the extended chilly period, keeping the theme of a dry autumn intact.

Dec. 3 -- Frigid air moves in to W. Wash. for an extended stay
Dec. 5 -- Frigid cold tightens its icy grip across Wash. state
Dec. 7 -- Bitter blast of winter hits Western Washington
Dec. 8 -- Freezing temps, ice on tap for Western Washington
Dec. 11 - How cold did it get? Check out the Arctic Outbreak Scorecard

We briefly warmed up mid-month, then had our first -- and only -- real bout with snowfall on Dec. 20. About 1-2" of snow fell across the region, prompting several school delays and closures and giving the kids around here a quick refresher course on how to build a snowman.

Just don't look for any clues it snowed in the monthly climate recap - warm air melted the snow away by midday and the official high in Seattle that day was 47 -- in the books as a warmer than normal day.

Dec. 20 -- Snow accumulates in Seattle for first time in nearly 2 years
Dec. 20 -- Live blog of snow event on Dec. 20.
Dec. 20 -- How much did it snow Friday morning?

The month ended on another foggy, tranquil note -- no White Christmas again this year, just foggy and dry. The final week had just a few drips in the rain gauge, cementing December as the third month in a row with below normal rainfall -- December also managed a 9-day dry streak.

Rain City USA? Not this year

Overall, Seattle ended up about 5 inches below the normal 37 inches of rain we get in an average year. And while people think it rains all the time in Seattle, at least in 2013, we had several stretches of dry weather, including streaks of 14, 12, 9, 35, 9, 14, 9 and 9 days. While dry streaks aren't unusual in the summer, the 14s and and a pair of 9s happened during the rainy season months.

Seattle set 4 new record highs (87 on May 6, 89 on July 1, 93 on Sept. 11, 58 on Nov. 27) and tied one other (60 on Nov. 12). We tied one record low of 23 set Dec. 5, making it two full years since we last set a record low temperature. We also set four daily rainfall records, the greatest being the 1.71 inches on Sept. 28 that set the all-time monthly record.

From the weird weather file: Seattle recorded its highest ever atmospheric pressure in May at 30.60 inches -- and set its all-time record low atmospheric pressure for September at 29.20. Also weird -- except for May -- every month's rainfall in 2013 was exact opposite as far as whether it was above or below normal than its tally in 2012.

2013 Year End Statistics For Seattle

  • Annual Rain: 32.56" (average: 37.49")
  • Number of days with measurable rain: 152 (average: 154)
  • Number of sunny days (0-30% cloud cover): 45 (average: 58)
  • Number of partly cloudy days (30-70% cover): 170 (average: 81)
  • Number of overcast days ({>}70% cloud cover): 150 (average: 226)
  • Number of days 80 degrees or hotter: 40 (Average: 25)
  • Number of days at 85 or hotter: 15 (Average: 10)
  • Number of days at 90 or hotter: 2 (Average: 3)

Chart of monthly temperatures and rain:

Have a great 2014!

Keep track of the weather in Seattle through 2014 by following Scott via Twitter @ScottSKOMO and on Facebook at "Scott Sistek KOMO"

Previous Years' Recaps: