Seattle is sun-splashed while Southwest deals with rain

Late summer often flips West's weather on head

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SEATTLE -- Heavy rains and flooding in the Southwest? A near-record dry streak in Seattle?

The seemingly counterintuitive weather is not necessarily unusual for this time of year, but it's striking when compared with the usual opinions about the regions -- overcast and rainy in the Northwest and sunny skies in the Southwest. But late summer is typically the sunniest, driest part of the year in Washington and Oregon, while the Southwest monsoon season stretches into September.

In the Pacific Northwest, high temperatures and bone-dry terrain have made for dangerous fire conditions, particularly in Washington state. More than 1,600 firefighters labored Wednesday on seven large fire complexes in Eastern Washington that were fanned by high winds earlier this week.

Meanwhile, intense summer thunderstorms that struck parts of the Southwest this week flooded homes and streets in the Las Vegas area, inundated mobile home parks in Southern California, stranded some Navajo Nation residents in Arizona, and broke a dike in southern Utah, leading to evacuations.

The conditions may be leaving residents reeling, but they're par for the course this time of year, experts say.

Arizona, for example, has seen much flooding in recent months, with normally dry washes rushing like rivers in parts of the state. Some residents might have the impression that this summer has been extremely wet because of the frequency of rain that they can see from their homes, said J.J. Broston, a science officer for the National Weather Service in Tucson.

But rain falls more diffusely across a region -- and this year has been wet but not record-breaking, he said.

"For the most part, people are looking at rainfall from their own individual perspectives, and if it rains at their homes, they think it has been a wet monsoon (season)," Broston said. "From the Weather Service's perspective, we are looking at a larger area."

Rainfall levels in Arizona so far in the monsoon season that runs from June 15 through Sept. 30 have generally been just above average.

Metro Phoenix and surrounding areas have seen 2.35 inches this season, up from the average of 1.4 inches but nowhere near the record of 9.56 in 1984, according to the National Weather Service.

In southern Arizona, Tucson International Airport has recorded 5.97 inches of rain this season. That's a half-inch above the average so far in the season, but pales in comparison to the record of 13.84 inches in 1964.

In the Las Vegas area, heavy rains this week delayed flights and prompted helicopter rescues of some stranded motorists.

Crews on Wednesday planned to resume their search for a landscape worker who was possibly swept away during a downpour at an area golf course. Police said the man was last seen Tuesday afternoon; photos showed the backhoe he was using almost completely submerged in floodwaters.

More than 1.75 inches of rain was reported in downtown Las Vegas after Tuesday's showers. That puts the region on pace to exceed the 4.5 inches of rain it normally gets in a year.