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Thursday, November 30, 2023
Nov. 30, 2023

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Off Beat: On clouds and dubious long-term weather predictions

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

When the Farmer’s Almanac recently declared Washington the cloudiest state in the nation, more than a few east-siders took notice.

People who live east of the Cascades, of course, know a very different climate than those of us on the Northwest’s wet side. The Tri-Cities, for example, claims to enjoy 300 days of sunshine each year.

Washington State University even felt compelled to issue a response to the ranking it said drives the misconception that “all of the state is draped in leaden gray.” The college’s main campus is in Pullman, near the Idaho border.

“Yes, a section of Washington is one of the cloudiest regions in the country, but there’s more to the story than our cloudy coastline,” WSU meteorologist Nic Loyd said in a statement. The school also noted the curious timing of the dubious title, given that the state is still in the midst of a historic drought.

The same list ranked Oregon as the No. 5 cloudiest state. But its description included a geographical mix-up when it referred to “eastern cities like Medford and Burns” in pointing out Oregon’s sunny side.

Despite an unusual year, cloudy skies are a familiar sight in Clark County. Vancouver sees about 40 inches of rain annually.

WSU’s rebuttal wasn’t the first time a less-than-scientific weather proclamation or prognostication has been called into question. In 2013, two Portland TV meteorologists took a closer look at four years of winter forecasts in the Old Farmer’s Almanac (a separate publication from the Farmer’s Almanac) and decided to see how they stacked up against what actually happened.

The result: Not so good.

What’s in store for this winter? A strong El Niño pattern in the Pacific Ocean means there’s a very good chance the Northwest will be warmer than normal, according to the federal Climate Prediction Center. The region may also see less precipitation than usual, but that’s less certain.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac, for what it’s worth, predicts just the opposite. The famed publication’s long-range forecast says winter will be cooler and rainier than normal in the Northwest, with above-normal snowfall.

The Farmer’s Almanac, which compiled the list of cloudy states, calls for “wet and mild” conditions in the Northwest this winter.

Whom to believe? That’s anyone’s guess.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

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