Once the rain breaks, summer is worth the wait

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

 

Portrait

For more information on life in Clark County, visit www.columbian.com/portrait.

Residents of the Northwest’s wet side like say summer doesn’t really start until after the Fourth of July.

That’s when the long rainy season breaks, and gives way to one of the nicest three-month periods you’ll find anywhere -- nice and sunny, but not too hot or humid.

In 2011, Southwest Washington’s weather followed suit with a late start to summer that you might call abnormally normal.

Vancouver waited until Aug. 20 to record its first 90-degree day -- almost two months after the official start of summer, and much later than average -- and saw just three more such days before the end of the month.

But the heat carried over into September and put 2011 into the record books. Vancouver saw six consecutive days above 90 -- Sept. 6-11, the longest streak of 90-degree days ever recorded in September. The previous record was five straight, set in 2003, according to the National Weather Service.

Summer temperatures can climb above 100 on occasion. But 2011 never cracked the triple-digit line.

Of course, the Northwest is known better for its rain -- a reputation that’s well-deserved most of the time.

Vancouver sees about 42 inches of rainfall per year, and close to 300 days of at least partly cloudy skies. Eastern Washington and Oregon, by contrast, experience much drier -- though often colder -- weather mostly shielded by the Cascade Mountains.

During a Southwest Washington winter, rain is a certainty. But snow is a different matter. Conditions have to be just right, and can be notoriously hard to predict.

The National Weather Service in Portland recently upgraded its forecasting toolbox with the addition of “dual polarization” radar technology. The new system sends back both horizontal and vertical radio waves to better “dissect” approaching storms, warning coordination meteorologist Tyree Wilde said last year.

It’s not uncommon to see flakes falling in the higher elevations of north and east Clark County. But in Vancouver, with an elevation of around 200 feet, snow days are generally few and far between.

Vancouver’s mild climate isn’t without occasional extremes. The city’s all-time highest temperature of 106 degrees was recorded less than three years ago, on July 29, 2009. Its all-time lowest -- 9 degrees below zero -- happened Dec. 14, 1919.