Spectacular summers make rainy season worth it

Wet months and dry are all pretty temperate here

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Residents of the Northwest’s wet side — west of the Cascade Range — like to 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 2012, a stubborn dry spell put Southwest Washington in uncharted territory. The three months from July 1 to Sept. 30 produced the least rainfall on record for Vancouver and a handful of local cities. In one 83-day stretch, Vancouver recorded 0.04 of an inch of rain.

As far as temperatures go, summer in Southwest Washington generally falls in the comfortable category. But the mercury can climb above 100 on occasion. Vancouver saw two such days in 2012, both in August.

Of course, the Northwest is known best for its rain — a reputation that’s well-earned.

Vancouver sees about 42 inches of rainfall per year, and close to 300 days of at least partly cloudy skies. Eastern Washington and Oregon, mostly shielded by the Cascades, are much drier, and their temperatures less moderate.

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

In 2011, the National Weather Service in Portland 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.

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 all-time high temperature, 108 degrees, was recorded less than four years ago, on July 29, 2009. Its all-time lowest — 9 degrees below zero — happened Dec. 14, 1919.