On a day that will start with rain and end with the potential for yet another rainfall record being broken, the Pineapple Express is gathering steam as it prepares to dump more rain Wednesday across Washington.
The storm, gathering strength as it barrels eastward across the Pacific Ocean, will make landfall in Oregon but carries enough moisture to give the Spokane area yet another soaking of between a half-inch to thre- quarters of an inch of rain.
So how big is this storm? Steve Bodnar, forecaster for the National Weather Service’s Spokane office, says it includes the remnants of an Asian typhoon and spans 6,000 miles as stretches from the U.S. coast to the Philippines.
While Spokane has broken more weather records this winter than Michael Phelps earned gold medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics, there is relief on the way.
Bodnar said the outlook for May calls for drier conditions, even though there will be some rainfall on the horizon through next week.
Cooler La Nina conditions in the tropical Pacific last winter helped energize this latest storm track, but La Nina is dissipating and may give way to an El Nino warming, reducing the chances of another extra-stormy winter seven months from now.
Bodnar’s outlook is supported by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center’s 90-day outlook for June through August, which calls for above normal temperatures and normal rainfall. The only caveat they threw into the mix was that the combination of saturated ground and deep mountain snowpack could hold temperatures down by a few degrees.
With the wet weather came dose of hardship.
Avalanches and landslides wrecked highways throughout the state. In just Spokane County the damage to roads will cost millions to fix.
According to weather records, the amount of precipitation since Oct. 1 is the most of any year since records started in Spokane in 1881.
In the countryside, farmers are planting crops late.
The toll is spread statewide.
Seattle absorbed about 4 feet of rain since Oct. 1, and some areas of Washington went 30 days without seeing the sun.
President Donald Trump last week approved a disaster declaration to help local government agencies recover from the losses in January and February in 13 counties.
In Eastern Washington, the declaration extends to Spokane, Adams, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Grant, Lincoln, Pend Oreille and Walla Walla counties.
Some of the problems have stemmed from softened ground during the thaw at the end of winter. Saturated soil is also contributing to trouble, Bodnar said.
“Any kind of rainfall is continuing the problems and renewing them. The ground is not drying out,” Bodnar said.
Spokane International Airport, where the city’s official measurements are taken, has seen 21.09 inches of precipitation since Oct. 1, almost double the normal amount.
Spokane’s average annual precipitation is 16.53 inches.
October set the stage. With 6.23 inches of rain, it became the wettest of any month on record in Spokane.
Typically, precipitation is heavier in or near the mountains, which can be seen in the thicker tree stands and understories.
Last October in North Idaho, Priest River had 9.26 inches of precipitation while St. Maries had 9.19 inches.
The snowpack in the mountains continues to be healthy at 103 to 132 percent of normal depending on the location as of Monday.
If it warms up or rains a lot in coming weeks, that snow may start melting quickly, triggering more flooding, forecasters said.
However, a healthy snowpack is good for hydropower generation, fish migrations and irrigation, all important components of the region’s economy.
In Spokane, the city had 61.5 inches of snow this past season, which was 16.8 inches more than normal.
There may be relief ahead.
Bodnar said the outlook for early May calls for drier conditions. But first: periods of showers will continue into next week.
The U.S. Climate Prediction Center’s 90-day outlook for June, July and August is calling for above normal temperatures and normal rainfall.
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