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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Weathercatch: 2021 greets us with wet, relatively warm debut

By Nic Loyd and Linda Weiford For The Spokesman-Review

The year is off to a warm, wet start, with the Pacific Northwest the target of back-to-back storm systems during the first half of January.

As of now, it appears the active weather pattern is going nowhere fast. With the exception of a break Thursday, soggy conditions are expected to stretch into the month’s second half.

The bad part is, the world feels dreary. After all, the brightest thing around these days is the occasional splash of yellow when the sun finally appears or the red fire hydrant down the street. But there is a good part as well: no high-impact snowstorms, cold snaps or ice storms. Also, the higher elevations are getting snow. A deeper snowpack in the Cascade Range means a boost to the region’s water supply, along with better conditions for skiing and snowshoeing.

To get an idea of how wet it has been, consider that by Saturday Spokane had received 1.54 inches of rain since Jan. 1 – thereby surpassing the average amount for the month. This higher rain level came about through persistence rather than volume, with light showers or drizzle falling nearly every day. One system would clear out, only to be replaced by another. We didn’t see one sunny day throughout.

Instead what we saw was an abundance of cloudiness. In other words, plenty of steel-colored gray. The National Weather Service calculates cloud cover on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being a completely clear day and 10 being completely cloudy. Between Jan. 1 and Saturday, most days ranked at 9 or 10. Also during this period, high temperatures ran in the upper 30s to mid-40s in the Spokane area, making it 10 degrees above normal for this time of year.

This week, yet another storm disturbance plowed into the Pacific Northwest. Beginning Monday night and ending Wednesday, a meteorological phenomenon known as an atmospheric river unloaded heavy rains and winds across much of Washington, pushing the month’s rain totals even higher. The storm, loaded with tropical moisture stemming from the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii, delivered showers and wind gusts to the Inland Northwest. We were spared the repeated rounds of downpours that deluged Western Washington and Oregon.

The multiple storm systems funneling into the Northwest since Jan. 1 are part of a warm southwesterly air flow from the subtropical Pacific Ocean. Had the systems originated from the North Pacific/Gulf of Alaska, temperatures would be cooler and the Inland Northwest would likely get snow instead of rain. Had the disturbances descended from the Arctic, temperatures would be frigid.

Thursday, the 14th day of the new year, offers our best chance to enjoy some long-awaited sunshine before another wet-weather system comes our way Friday. This abnormally warm-and-wet pattern is expected to start dissipating later next week, as temperatures turn more seasonally cool and snowflakes could fly once again.

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