Climate protection: Summer droughts getting longer

Nick Maxwell

We’ve been having clear blue skies and crisp frosty mornings for over a week, and then Friday night, we got heavy rain – about a half inch. By Sunday, we were socked in.

The restart of the rain got me back thinking on the timing of rain in Western Washington. It got me to look again at weather data from the Global Historical Climatology Network — a public database of readings from weather stations around the world.

Here is what the historical record shows about rain in the Edmonds/Lynnwood/Mountlake Terrace from 2019-2023:

The summer drought stands out in that chart. From mid-February to mid-June, each seven-day stretch has about 0.4 to 0.9 inches; not a lot less than a vegetable garden might need. The rain drops to 0.2 inches per week in mid-June, and doesn’t come back until mid-September. Those are the daily averages from 2019-23.

Here are average inches of rain for 7-day stretches from 2008-12:

A decade ago, the drop going into summer was more gradual, reaching about 0.4 inches by July 4. The drought then stayed at roughly 0.4 inches for about a month to mid-August, when the rain started coming back. Over the last 10 years, our summer rainfall per week has been cut in half and our drought lasts longer.

This longer drought has consequences. Last year, people discovered they had to water trees that had never needed watering before. Some landscaping trees were lost. The Bolt Creek Fire on the Western Slope near Skykomish brought life-threatening smoke to our area in 2022.

The Bolt Creek fire started on Sept. 9, after the rains would have returned if it had been 2008 or 2012. In 2022, the rains did not return until Oct. 22, and the Bolt Creek fire lasted until Oct 31.

Those charts above show five-year averages. Here are the inches in the first week of September in each year:

A common rule is that vegetable gardens need watering if there has been less than an inch of rain in the last week. From 2008-16, there were four years when you did not have to water on Sept. 7. From 2017-23, there was a consistent 0.1 inches of rainfall each year in the first week of September. From 2017 to now, you had to water every Sept. 7.

Here are the inches of rain in the last week of August.

For the last week in August, the last year with significant rain was 2015. For the first week of September, the last year was 2016.

Altogether, our summers have about half as much rain each week as they did a decade ago, and the summer weeks of drought are lasting about a month longer.

This somewhat matches what University of Washington climatologists are seeing. The Climatologist of Washington State, Nick Bond, reports “We are seeing a somewhat extended summer in recent decades compared to the historical past.”

And at the same time, Bond cautions against drawing strong conclusions from a weather pattern that has shown up in only seven years so far.  There is a reasonable chance that this seven-year stretch is only temporary and cannot be relied on to show up in the future.

I can live with our recent summers if that is how things are now. I hope we don’t have the heavy smoke we had in 2022 again. What is most important to me is to avoid having this all get worse and leaving our children and grandchildren with summer droughts that are even longer and smokier.

The news in November seemed full of progress towards stopping the global overheating that is probably lengthening our summer droughts. Globally, the wind and solar portion of new additions to electricity power generation grew from 35% in 2012 to 80% in 2022. Global solar electricity generation capacity grew ten times from 104 gigawatts in 2012 to 1,054 gigawatts in 2022.

Wind power generation grew four times from 529 terawatt hours in 2012 to 2,139 in 2022. Electric vehicles grew 70 times from 0.2% of global new car sales in 2013 to 14% in 2022. In the U.S., heat pump sales more than doubled from 1.7 million in 2012 to 4.2 million in 2022.

In 2022, Americans bought more heat pumps than natural gas furnaces. We are on a track to stop the carbon dioxide pollution that is heating the planet and probably lengthening summer droughts in western Washington. People around the world are doing their part.

Not everybody is on board yet. The legislative season is coming soon, and that will be followed by the general election at the end of 2024. On November’s ballot, there will be an initiative to stop Washington State’s program to reduce our carbon dioxide pollution by 95% by 2050: the Cap-and-Invest program.

Whatever carbon dioxide concentrations we get to are what we will have for hundreds of years. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren get the carbon dioxide levels we create now. A vote to maintain carbon dioxide emissions is a vote for longer summer droughts for our grandkids. 2024 will be a year to talk with your neighbors, vote and protect our children.

This is something to do with other folks. During the coming legislative session, there will be a flow of bills considered in the State House and Senate.

On your own, you’ll have a hard time keeping track of what is being considered. You’ll miss bills you wanted to comment on. If you already belong to an organization that helps you get heard in Olympia, check in and make sure you’re ready for the legislative season.

If you don’t belong to some sort of community organization, now is a good time to join in. For decades, many Americans have not joined in the way their grandparents did. The result is many Americans don’t have those communities where everyone knows their name.

Those communities are open to you. All you have to do is find them, show up, and join in.

— Nick Maxwell is a Climate Reality seminar leader in Edmonds, a Rewiring America local leader, and a climate protection educator at Climate Protection Northwest.

  1. Thanks for sharing Nick. The debate about climate change can seem remote and unimpactful to many people but this data helps to bring it home.

  2. As a life long resident of western Washington and someone who works outside I like it a little warmer and drier now than when I was younger. Seems this pattern is going to continue for hundreds if not thousands of years regardless of what mankind does at some point we will likely face another ice age where much of the state will likely be covered in ice some speculate without all these green house gas emissions we might have slipped into another ice age cause the longterm trend has been colder for the last 5 thousand years until just recently. One thing is for sure the climate will change over time and what we think we need to do now will might backfire on us in the future. Until then I am going to enjoy the current trend.

    1. Actually, the way carbon dioxide works is that it provides the heat it provides. If the amount of carbon dioxide in the air stays steady, the heating from carbon dioxide stays steady. The result is that when we stop burning gasoline, natural gas, and coal, whatever climate we got to, that’s the climate we will have for hundreds of years.
      Current trends are that we’ll stop around about 2050. By that time, heat waves like the 2021 Western Washington heat wave with its 109 degree temperatures will have become regular occurrences. If you like 109 degrees or higher, Edmonds will be the place for you.
      Alternatively, we can aim for stopping global overheating sooner. The sooner we stop, the less our children and grandchildren suffer.
      (One, of many, online resources about this: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/04/its-over-for-fossil-fuels-ipcc-spells-out-whats-needed-to-avert-climate-disaster)

      1. Ahh so the affluent who can pay money and suffer not for the forced government spending to benefit their grandchildren should be in charge of setting policy. Do you know the future? I have made reference many times to government policy affecting in a disproportionate manner our current poor and yet you refuse to address this. Should I suffer so your grandchildren can have a fraction of a degree cooler temperatures? All while the biggest polluters can can continue their best life. I don’t doubt a warming planet or that man is a contributor but all your answers persecute the poor and have no affect on the affluent. Guess what people like me already have lower carbon footprints than you yet we are the one’s that have to pay the highest price for your policy that guarantee no better future except your increased wealth. Shame on you. I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt but it has become clear you are the enemy of my ability to survive without becoming a carbon burden on society. Frankly my friend you are heartless in your pursuits.

  3. Global warming, ACCC ( Anthropogenic Catastrophic Climate Change ) , droughts, wildfires, too much snow, not enough snow, rising sea levels, atmospheric rivers ( formerly Pineapple Express which was too friendly a name ) . All of these used to instill fear into the masses in the western nations to control them and make them accepting of the Marxist / Communist model of central planners deciding for everyone while they do not participate ( Socialism is for the people, not the socialists ). I have spent almost all of my 75 years in the PNW and my personal observation is the “climate” is pretty much th same while the “weather” is different every day, week, month and year. If Nick and his ilk really want to work for environmental improvements, they would be screaming to the PRC, India, most of the rest of Asia as well as all of Africa, South America, Mexico et all to clean up their environmental acts. That will not happen as this, as I said, is about control not the climate.

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