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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Pacific NW

Weathercatch: Two stints of unusual springtime heat surprise region’s residents, tulips

May 24, 2023 Updated Thu., May 25, 2023 at 6:15 p.m.

The morning sun highlights blooming tulips around a yellow fire hydrant in Nina Palic’s front yard on May 2 at the corner of 37th Avenue and Arthur Street.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The morning sun highlights blooming tulips around a yellow fire hydrant in Nina Palic’s front yard on May 2 at the corner of 37th Avenue and Arthur Street. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo
By Nic Loyd and Linda Weiford For The Spokesman-Review

Not one, but two heat waves during the peak of spring must have left our region’s tulips befuddled.

It’s rare that their annual springtime bloom occurs in 80- to 90 -degree weather. Tulips usually display flowers when temperatures hover in the 60s.

Not this spring, however.

Since late April, two rounds of record-breaking heat gripped the Pacific Northwest. The most recent eased last Sunday as a cold front passed through bringing a big temperature drop on Monday.

Our first shot of abnormally warm weather lasted April 27-May 4, when high temperatures ran mostly in the upper 70s to mid -80s. In Spokane, the mercury climbed to 84 on April 29 and then a record-breaking 85 on May 2. The average high temperature for that time of year is 63.

After a short break, the second heat wave emerged on May 12, toppling numerous records across the Pacific Northwest and western Canada during its 10-day reign. On May 19, temperatures climbed to 88 in Spokane, breaking the old record set in 2006. That same day, Lewiston hit 92, beating its record of 90 set in 1928. On Saturday, Spokane experienced its first 90-degree day of 2023. It also broke a record for that date, beating the previous record of 86 set in 1889. On average, Spokane doesn’t reach 90 for the first time until another month or so. Last year, it was June 27.

This spring, we sweltered with plenty of company. Not only did Seattle and Portland break several daily record highs in a row, but Portland broke a record for having five 90-degree days in May, the month’s most days since records began there in 1878. The most remarkable heat record fell in Squamish, British Columbia, where the high temperature reached a scorching 96 on May 14, which was hotter than Las Vegas.

Also in British Columbia, organizers of the Bloom Tulip Festival in North Okanagan announced in mid-May that the annual event would close two weeks early.

“The extreme heat has not been kind to our fields and the tulips are getting crispy,” they wrote on Instagram.

Both hot spells over the past few weeks were caused by an atmospheric condition called a heat dome, when a large ridge of high pressure traps heat over a region like a lid on a pot and pushes warm air toward the ground. Following a relatively cool early spring, it’s safe to say that the galloping arrival of summer-like temperatures felt abrupt to tulips and humans alike.

After returning to normal spring weather this week, temperatures are expected to climb to about 80 degrees Friday, just in time to make germinating sunflowers happy. As for Memorial Day weekend, Spokane-area residents can expect highs to run in the mid-to-upper 70s, overnight lows in the mid-50s and a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms.

Nic Loyd is a meteorologist in Washington state. Linda Weiford is a writer in Moscow, Idaho, who’s also a weather geek.

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