By Jacques billeaud and Chris Grygiel Associated Press
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 is striking when compared with the usual opinions about the regions — rain 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, bone-dry conditions and lightning have led to numerous large wildfires and left the area ripe for more, particularly in Washington state.
In Seattle, a rain shower Sunday night dropped the first measurable moisture since July 23 at Sea-Tac Airport. The moisture ended a 48-day dry stretch, the second longest on record.
Meanwhile, 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 northern Arizona in their homes, and broke a dike in southern Utah, leading to evacuations.
In the Las Vegas area, the heavy rain Tuesday also delayed flights and even prompted helicopter rescues of some motorists.
On Wednesday, crews planned to resume their search for a landscape worker who was possibly swept away during a downpour at a Las Vegas-area golf course. Police said the man was last seen a little after 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Desert Rose Golf Course near Sahara Avenue and Nellis Boulevard. Photos showed the backhoe he was using was almost completely submerged in floodwaters.
More than 1.75 inches of rain were reported in downtown Las Vegas. That puts the region on pace to exceed the 4.5 inches of average
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 during the 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 the southern portion of the state, the Tucson International Airport 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. Other cities in southern Arizona, however, have seen two to three inches above their rainfall averages.
J.J. Broston, a science and operations officer for the National Weather Service in Tucson, said some Arizonans might have the impression that this summer was extremely wet because of the frequency of rain that they can see from their homes, but rain falls more diffusely across a region — and this year has been a wet year but not record-breaking.
“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.” Meanwhile drought-striken New Mexico is anxiously awaiting the leftovers from the storms that have already drenched Las Vegas and other Western cities.
Meteorologists said the upper level system moving in from the West was expected to collide with a cold front moving down through the heart of the state.
This is kind of a unique setup in that we’ve got monsoon moisture in place for these storms to work with,” said David Craft, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “We are expecting the potential for anywhere from half an inch to an inch and a half of rain across much of northern New Mexico and central New Mexico.” The rain isn’t expected to fall all at once so forecasters have opted not to call for any flood warnings.
In the Pacific Northwest, firefighters dug lines and lit backfires Wednesday in an effort to contain several fires burning across 170 square miles of Eastern Washington after cooler weather overnight helped keep the lightning-sparked blazes from growing.
But the threat of new fires in the state lingered. The National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch for the Cascades’ west slope and the Puget Sound basin Wednesday night and early Thursday. It issued a red-flag warning for critical fire danger for southwest Washington, including Vancouver.
Near Grand Coulee Dam, three homes and nine outbuildings were confirmed lost to two fires that have burned a combined 78,165 acres, or roughly 122 square miles of grass and brush. The homes likely burned when high winds pushed the fire Monday evening, but firefighters were unable to begin assessing the damage until Tuesday, fire spokeswoman Karen Ripley said.
The fire was 20 percent contained early Wednesday.
“Most of the area is very light fuels — brush and dry grass, and it can’t get any drier — so with favorable winds, we should be able to get on top of it pretty quickly,” Ripley said.
August and the first half of September are the driest part of the year for the region, meteorologist Brent Bower said.
This year, though, it’s a bit drier than usual.
“If you’re looking for good summer weather, and if that’s defined by dry and sunny, August and September is what you’re looking for.”
He says wet systems are staying away from Seattle, but he expects rain to comeback as September progresses. But for now, the sun will keep shining over often soggy Seattle.
“There really is no rain in the forecast,” he said.