Beginning of 2013 may be driest on record

6.10 inches of rain recorded so far; 17.34 fell in same period in '12

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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What a difference a year makes.

After delivering yet another cool, wet start to the year in 2012, the first three months of this year are on track to be the driest on record for Vancouver — or at least close to it.

Through Sunday, the city had registered just 6.10 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1. But just about any measurable rain before the end of March would lift that number above the current record low of 6.11 inches, set in 1929, according to the National Weather Service in Portland. The next-driest total was registered in 2001, when 6.90 inches of rain fell from January through March. (Records go back to 1890.)

Vancouver isn't the only city threatening a record. In Oregon, Hillsboro, Salem and Eugene may also set a new mark for the driest three-month start to a year, according to the weather service. The same period at the Portland International Airport is so far the third-driest since 1940, when records began there.

So far, this year's rainfall has come in at less than half of normal. That's a far cry from 2012, when 17.34 inches of rain fell during the first three months of the year — including a whopping 7.81 inches in March alone. Wet conditions stretched into June, continuing a familiar pattern.

"After the last two springs and late winters, this is actually pretty welcome to a lot of people," said Shawn Weagle, a meteorologist with the weather service in Portland.

A record-setting dry spell parched much of the Northwest last summer before the rainy season returned with a vengeance in October. But Mother Nature turned the faucet to a trickle once the calendar turned to 2013. There have been plenty of rainy days, Weagle said, but weather patterns delivered often lighter fare.

That's partly because a "split flow" in the jet stream at times sent more moisture from the Pacific Ocean north to Canada, south to California, or both.

"And we got sort of left in between," Weagle said.

Despite the dry start to the year, snowpack in much of the Cascade Mountains remains at or above normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. That's good news for hydroelectricity production and irrigation.

At least a chance of showers is predicted for the next several days, but nothing likely to produce huge rainfall numbers in Vancouver or elsewhere, according to the weather service. Forecasters expect clouds to dry out completely by this weekend.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.