How Unusual Is the Recent Dry Period?

From the Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Cliff Mass

I have gotten several nervous emails from folks concerned with the relatively dry period of the past month over the Pacific Northwest.

Are such dry conditions unprecedented?

Are late springs getting drier?

Is global warming behind it?  Or El Nino?

I will try to answer the questions below.

Let’s check the numbers, starting with Seattle.  Below I have plotted the total precipitation for May 1 through June 5 for SeaTac Airport and added a best-fit trend line as well.

You will note that our recent period was dry, but not the driest by far.

In fact, a list of the driest May 1-June 5 periods shows that this last month was the 11th driest since the late 1940s.

Now check out the trend line.  There is NO indication that the May 1-June 5 period is getting drier.  In fact, the long-term trend is towards wetter conditions.  This suggests that progressive global warming was not the origin of our lack of rain.

What about the other side of the Cascades?  Let’s consider the long-period observation location at Kennewick in the Tri-Cities.

Similar story to Seattle.  We have had a dry period, but it has happened before many times, and the trend is towards a WETTER late spring.

According to the records, this recent period was the 10th driest on record at Kenniwick.

The bottom line is that we had a dry period, but such dryness in late spring is not that unusual and there is no trend towards drier conditions in May and earlier June.   No suggestion that global warming/climate change is the cause.

What about El Nino?   

El Nino conditions in the tropical Pacific have only really developed during the past month, but let’s check out the NOAA Climate Prediction Center historical precipitation anomaly from normal for April to June during El Nino years (below).  A very mixed bag over Washington State.  Wetter than normal over the Southwest.

Now if I blog about the lack of precipitation,  you KNOW what is going to happen in the future.  

Below is the latest total precipitation forecast through Friday at 5 PM.  Lots of precipitation (many from thunderstorms) east of the Cascade crest, with perhaps a few errant showers getting into western Washington.  Bountiful precipitation in northern California.

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Rud Istvan
June 8, 2023 2:19 pm

Weather. Not climate change. That Cliff Mass has to keep reminding Seattle people of this shows the low state of Washington State public intelligence.

Or, as the late George Carlin joked, ‘Think how stupid the average person is. Then remember, half are below average.’ (Yes, I know he should have said median, but it’s his joke his way.)

Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 8, 2023 3:20 pm

Their choice of governor affirms your remark.

Kit P
Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 8, 2023 4:29 pm

Rud you are either very stupid or prone to wild leaps of logic. I would suggest a TV weather person might be the smartest person at the TV station but that is a very low bar anywhere in the US.

I have lived and worked many places but retired to Washington State for the good climate and the good goverment. Please do not judge any state by its largest city that controls state goverment.

I call it the never green state because most of the state is semi-arid, I have a sailboat in eastern Washington and a RV lot by the Pacific Ocean where I am today. Even the small rain forest part of the state does not get much rain. Seattle has more sunny days in February than Sacramento.

Since I am retired, I go south in the winter and visit family in the desert south west and Shreveport, LA. Only one place do I turn on the TV for the weather but that is because of tornadoes.


Tom Abbott
Reply to  Kit P
June 9, 2023 4:12 am

“Rud you are either very stupid or prone to wild leaps of logic.”

Rud is neither.

Don’t get your feelings hurt. When Rud said half of Washington State’s citizens were below the median in intelligence, that doesn’t necessarily mean he was talking about you.

michael hart
June 8, 2023 4:11 pm

Relax. We’re having a dry start to June in the UK too. It’s what November is made for.

When I studied in Seattle I queried (yes, that’s a proper word) a Professor on my committee about the local weather. He said it turned sunny around July 4th, and wasn’t wrong for many years.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  michael hart
June 8, 2023 5:21 pm

It gets sunny in April/May. By June the rains have stopped for the most part, and everything dries out. When I moved out here in April 2002, I was alarmed that my lush lawn was all brown in less than 2 months. Oddly enough, almost every July 4th it’s 60, foggy and wet.

The following year, we went 88 days without rain through the summer. It’s pretty normal.

Reply to  michael hart
June 9, 2023 2:45 am

May be having a dry start but it’s been a cold start. Heating has come on most mornings as the temperature has been 10C in the mornings although it warms to the 20Cs through the day.

June 8, 2023 4:51 pm

Very nice.

Jeff Alberts
June 8, 2023 5:17 pm

I’m about 70 miles north of Seattle, on north Whidbey Island.

The only warmth about May were two days in the 80s. the rest of it was mostly 60s, with a few peeks into the low 70s. Nothing out of the ordinary in any way.

People need to get a life, and stop jumping at every tiny little weather blip.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
June 8, 2023 6:06 pm

We here in the Front Range of Colorado received nearly half a year’s worth of rain in May.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Scissor
June 9, 2023 4:31 am

The drought-stricken areas of the south-central U.S. (western Texas and Oklahoma and southern Kansas) are finally getting some good rain from this current weather pattern.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
June 9, 2023 4:23 am

“People need to get a life, and stop jumping at every tiny little weather blip.”

That’s the only game in town for the Climate Change Alarmists. Attributing every weather-event cause to CO2 is the only tactic they have left because they have no real evidence of any effects of CO2 on the atmosphere.

For those who don’t know: There is no evidence connecting CO2 to any extreme weather event. Saying it is so, as the Climate Change Alarmist do, does not make it so.

The Climate Change Alarmists don’t have that crucial requirement: Evidence.

So they just make things up and attribute every extreme weather event to CO2, even though similar extreme weather events have occurred since the beginning of time.

June 8, 2023 7:23 pm

My prediction: This is going to be a record El Nino

June 8, 2023 11:26 pm

More or less the same may precipitation trends since 1881 in Germany according to the DWD :

June 9, 2023 2:43 am

Isn’t there a desert not far to the north of Seattle in the Osoyoos area of Canada?

Beta Blocker
June 9, 2023 10:07 am

I live in the southeastern part of Washington State in a place which is your basic wide spot in the road which you would miss altogether if you didn’t already know it was there. My place is close enough to civilization that my commute into town isn’t all that hard, relatively speaking.

I post a few extended comments every month on the Cliff Mass blog. The Blogger commenting system doesn’t allow ‘Beta Blocker’ as a user name, so I use ‘Betah Blocher’ instead. 

Most of my commentary concerns the future availability and reliability of electric power in the US Northwest. Next to no one in this region, relatively speaking, has an understanding of where the reliability of the Northwest power grid is going with the Net Zero transition.

At any rate, here is an example of one of my more trenchant extended commentaries. It was posted in September of 2022 to a Cliff Mass article titled “The Birds Know That Fall Is Here”.


Betah Blocher September 16, 2022 at 8:54 AM

I was in Seattle this week [mid-September 2022] for a checkup on my joint replacement surgery done in May, 2022. We traveled there from eastern Washington for my appointment at UW Medicine.

When we were driving along I-90 near Ellensburg headed west towards Seattle, we observed thousands of birds perched wing-to-wing on the power lines next to the highway.

What was going on here? Were all these birds getting ready for a replay of a famous Alfred Hitchcock horror movie from 1963? (‘The Birds’ didn’t quite reach the intensity of ‘Psycho’, but it was close enough for a good Hitchcock horror flick.)

Anyway, it is thought that when birds exhibit this behavior in the fall, it’s a sign that a harsh winter is on its way. We can only hope for this knowing that here in eastern Washington, harsh winters keep the insects down the following spring and summer.

OK, we knew we were getting close to Seattle by observing the number of Tesla cars which were traveling on I-90, and later on I-405 and 520.

The closer we got to Seattle, the higher became the Tesla Car Concentration (TCC) as measured by counting Tesla Vehicles per Thousand (TVpT). We knew we were getting close to the city limits when the TVpT count began to rise sharply.

After my appointment, we had dinner in Bellevue with a long time friend whom I worked with when I was employed at Boeing twenty-five years ago, the pre-merger version of Boeing.

My friend is greatly concerned about climate change, especially that the Marshall Islands, a place he likes to vacation at occasionally, are threatened by sea level rise.

I told him that sea level is rising only slightly faster than the historical average for the past century, and that there is evidence that coral islands such as those that make up the Marshall Islands actually grow in response to sea level rise. He was unimpressed by this news.

The topic of discussion then turned to the decision by Washington State government to ban the sale of new gasoline powered cars by 2035, and the issue of where the electricity needed to power all these new electric vehicles will come from.

I could only offer my opinion that since we will have less electricity in the year 2035 than we have today, then we won’t be buying all the new EV’s here in Washington state the climate activists are planning on.

As the price of gasoline continues to rise, and as the supply of electricity in our state begins to fall, we will be relying more and more on public transportation to get us from Point A to Point B.


I was in Seattle again in mid-February, 2023, for another periodic checkup at UW Medicine for the joint replacement surgery done in May, 2022. Traffic in Seattle is back to pre-pandemic levels — with a vengeance.

Many of the people driving all these gazillions of gasoline powered cars believe their ICE vehicles can be replaced with EV’s relatively quickly with little or no pain. Some number of others who are skeptical believe that the legislation dictating no new ICE cars after 2035 will eventually be reversed.

I have news for everyone in this state who thinks the ICE new vehicle ban will eventually be abandoned. The legislature and the incoming new governor in 2025 — who is certain to be Bob Ferguson, a radical climate activist — will be standing fast on the no-ICE requirement, and may even attempt to accelerate it.

As for myself, they can take my 2010 Mazda 6 from me only after they unwrap my cold dead fingers from around the steering wheel.

June 9, 2023 10:59 am

Here on mid Vancouver Island May was ok, June has started off well, dry and warm, but, it will rain soon as the school year is coming to an end and the kids have their annual sports days. Happens every year. I check out the RCAF weather maps from Comox AFB every morning and it appears that this year will be no different.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Nansar07
June 10, 2023 7:47 am

I’m not far from you, on north Whidbey. I can’t say June has been warm, hasn’t gotten into the 70s here yet.

As for the rain, you were spot on. 2 weeks with none, and now graduation weekend (for our area anyway) and it’s been drizzling for going on 2 days now.

June 9, 2023 3:13 pm

My models predict Seattle will be a desert in six months because it’s worse than we thought.

Steve Z
June 12, 2023 12:59 am

Several observations about the drought in Seattle…

(1) It started last September, which is the first month of our rainy season.

(2) The main issue is La Nina – not El Nino. February, March, and April were much colder than normal. May had a widely reported record heat wave, but the rest of May, and so far June, have been cooler than normal.

(3) We have had a large mass of unusually cold water pressed up against the West Coast from Vancouver Island to the Baja Peninsula for almost the last nine months. Normally, our rainy weather comes from the Gulf of Alaska and further west, but that sea water has been unusually warm since last Fall.

(4) California had record rain and snow fall during the same period that Seattle fell into drought. I cannot help but wonder if those two weather events are related.

(5) In spite of the drought, on many nights during April and May we had light rain that left small puddles until dawn. The drought is real, but the ground is not dry or baked at all.

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