Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Weathercatch: Grateful for a full plate of decent weather conditions

Barb Kehr, left, and Heleene Murphy merrily stroll along a pathway in Comstock Park on Wednesday. The two said they are part of the Wednesday Women Walkers, which has met for the past 25 years. On this day, the two ladies broke off from the dozen or so walkers to travel a shorter route around the park. After the entire group finishes, it heads for a meal. “The highlight (of the gathering) is lunch,” Murphy said.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Nic Loyd and Linda Weiford For The Spokesman-Review

When it comes to our region’s weather, gratitude can be tricky. Look no further than social media memes and posts to see that it’s a favorite punching bag: too cold, too hot, too windy, too rainy, too much snow, not enough snow.

Overall, however, our weather conditions tend to be more inconvenient or inclement than dreadful or dangerous. In fact, compared to many parts of the world, the Inland Northwest has a lot to be grateful for.

Australia, for example, once reached a high of 120 degrees in November, though at least in the southern hemisphere the month is normally warm. Not only does much of the country experience periods of extreme heat, but also intense rainfalls and flash floods. Conditions are so challenging that a weather rant hotline was created for residents to vent their complaints.

Here in the United States, the Gulf Coast is notorious for its “heavy heat,” caused by air thick with humidity. It’s bad enough that high humidity makes the air feel hotter. But it also places more strain on the body since it lessens the ability for perspiration to cool the body down. By contrast, our region’s summers boast of “dry heat,” where relative humidity levels run very low. What’s more, hot, mostly sunshine-filled days give way to much cooler nighttime temperatures.

Other weather conditions set us apart as well. Hurricanes don’t strike the Inland Northwest, and tornadoes rarely do. Even severe thunderstorms are scarce.

Furthermore, unlike the Midwest and northern Plains states, we enjoy relatively benign winters. Sure, we occasionally get pummeled by big snow, ice and wind storms, but true blizzards – at least three hours of blowing snowfall, cold winds and low visibility – are extremely rare. The last time a blizzard struck Eastern Washington was on Jan. 13, 1950, when up to 5 feet of snow paralyzed the region and temperatures plunged to as low as minus 25.

Speaking of cold, it’s not unusual for the thermometer to hit minus 30 degrees in places like Alaska, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. But it is unusual in the Inland Northwest. The last time it got that frigid was 135 years ago. On Jan. 15-16, 1888, the mercury dropped to minus 30, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Spokane. Yes, our winter weather sometimes gets very cold, but on average, temperatures seldom drop below zero.

Finally, a precipitation-loaded storm swept across much of the eastern U.S. beginning on Monday, delivering everything from severe thunderstorms and drenching rain to snow and gusty winds. Of course, all of this occurred during the busiest Thanksgiving travel period in years, according to AAA. On the flip side, holiday travelers in our region encountered no atmospheric drama. Other than some light scattered rain and pockets of fog on Wednesday morning, it’s been smooth sailing. Severe thunderstorms and blowing snow in November? Hardly a chance.

The weekend forecast calls for partly sunny skies with highs near 40 degrees. Then we’re looking at a dry but cooler weather pattern into the weekend, when highs should dip into the mid-30s.

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