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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Weathercatch: 2020 recap – wildfires, record snow and rain, and fleeting snowmen

The snowiest day of 2020 was Dec. 30, when 8.1 inches fell in Spokane. The winter wonderland began melting the next day.  (Linda Weiford/For The Spokesman-Review)
The snowiest day of 2020 was Dec. 30, when 8.1 inches fell in Spokane. The winter wonderland began melting the next day. (Linda Weiford/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Nic Loyd and Linda Weiford For The Spokesman-Review

Being that we just closed – or perhaps slammed – the door on 2020, it’s a good time to take a look at the standout weather conditions that impacted the Inland Northwest. Like a meteorological variety show, we saw everything from record-breaking snow and rainfalls, the thunderstorm of the decade, a rare tornado, triple-digit high temperatures, a prolonged dry spell and tragic wildfires.

Despite all that, we experienced mild wintertime temperatures. Sure, we got some heavy snow, but it never stuck around long. Kids would build sturdy snowmen, only to see them turn to slushy blobs within several days as the temperature warmed and precipitation turned to rain.

In chronological order, here’s a look at the year’s weather highlights:

January 2020 began with breezy, early springlike conditions in Spokane that evolved into a 7-inch snowfall on Jan. 10, followed by a mix of rain and snow the next day. The coldest temperature of the year was 13 degrees on Jan. 14, which actually isn’t that low at for our region. Since 1881, only two other years have seen 13 degrees as the coldest temperature – 1934 and 1953. So clearly, 2020 was characterized by a lack of acute cold.

March 31: This is the date we most longed to be indoors. Within 12 hours, the Inland Northwest experienced a snowfall, thunderstorms, gusty winds and even a rare and fortunately small tornado. To top it off, a 6.5 magnitude earthquake that occurred near Boise early in the evening caused a low rumble in our region that rattled dishes and nerves alike.

May: Spokane experienced 11 straight days of precipitation, including a historic downpour of 1.4 inches on May 20 that marked the heaviest single day of rainfall in 16 years. Not surprisingly, it is also the wettest day of 2020. On May 30, the storm of the decade barreled through our region, delivering wind gusts near 60 mph, heavy rains and spectacular lightning displays, all of which toppled trees and knocked out power to thousands of residents across parts of the Inland Northwest.

July: The thermometer hit 102 on July 31, making it the hottest day of the year. That high temperature is just a notch below the 103-degree record set for that date in 1929. The month was also very dry, with only 0.05 of an inch of rainfall on July 1.

August: Warm temperatures overall, along with drier conditions. A barely perceptible 0.02 of an inch of rain fell on Aug. 6, placing August 2020 among the driest Augusts on record for the Inland Northwest.

Labor Day, Sept. 7: In a single day, more than a dozen wildfires pushed by a rare wind event burned through parts of Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Much of the farming community of Malden, Washington, was destroyed, and two houses and a shop were leveled in Colfax. Also that day, the Pearl Hill and Cold Springs fires – the state’s largest wildfires – burned hundreds of thousands of acres of grass and brush and destroyed homes in Okanogan and Douglas counties. Warm, dry winds, combined with vegetation left parched by summer’s dry spell and warm temperatures, gave a spark or flame the ability to rapidly accelerate. Additionally, wildfires burning in Washington state, Oregon and California transformed the air over the Pacific Northwest into a chalky blanket of smoke that created poor air quality conditions.

Oct. 23: In a significant early snowstorm, 6.9 inches fell in Spokane, breaking the record for the most single-day snowfall during October. The storm downed scores of trees and limbs and led to more than 60 car accidents. The previous record was 5.9 inches of snow that fell in 1957.

November: We saw the snowiest November since 2010, only to have it melt several days after each snowfall.

December: A snowstorm brought a record-breaking 8.1 inches of snow to Spokane on Dec. 30, breaking the previous record for that date of 5.4 inches set in 1990. Then, on Dec. 31 – the final day of a dizzying year – the winter wonderland began to vanish as temperatures rose to the upper 30s and 0.11 of an inch of rain fell. The weather has been warm and wet ever since, leading to swollen rivers across the state, coastal flooding on the West Side, avalanche danger in the Central Cascades and flash flood warnings on the eastern side. 2020, with its periodic bursts of snowfall followed by mild temperatures and rain, was no year to be a snowman.

— 

Nic Loyd is a meteorologist in Washington state. Linda Weiford is a writer in Moscow, Idaho, who’s also a weather geek. Contact: ldweiford@gmail.com

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