Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Snow or no snow, Northwest spring began months ago

photo (7)_0.JPG
Bellamy Pailthorp

Snow on the third day of spring has some people wondering: what gives?

Well, actually, spring here began a long time ago, says KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass.

“The problem we have here in the Northwest is spring lasts too long,” says Mass, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.

According to Mass, our spring begins right after the worst of winter, which hits us in November and early December. 

“And summer doesn’t start to start until the middle of July here. So it’s a gradual improvement,” he says.

Northwest spring stretches from January to June

So our spring extends from January to June? Pretty much, says Mass. Evidence: look East, young man.

“Compare that against the East Coast. There, it’s completely different. They have a real winter in December and January. And they can have snow all the way until March,” he says.

But come April, the East Coast switches gear.

“They really switch out of it very quickly. So by the time they get into April, they can get 70s and 80s. And May is getting to be a nice month, and June — well, that’s real summer. But it’s not like that around here.”

Why so slow?

So what’s the difference? Why are we so slow to improve?

The answer, Mass says, is the Pacific Ocean. 

“Upstream of the East Coast, they have all this land. It’s a continental area that warms up quickly.  So temperatures start coming up very rapidly.

“But for us, we have this ocean. And this ocean doesn’t warm up very much at all; (it warms up) very, very slowly. The air’s coming up over the ocean,” says Mass.

So in sum, don’t expect any real warmth anytime soon. But the good news is things will dry up this weekend.

Weekend forecast: Drier with ‘considerable amount of sunshine’

“We’re expecting a generally dry weekend with temperatures slowly warming up, maybe around 50s,” says Mass, adding the showers will start to fade out late in the day Friday.

“And we should see considerable amount of sunshine,” he says.

The one exception is the coast, which will see some clouds and a chance of light showers on Saturday. By Sunday, though, the coast should be all clear. 


Do you have a weather question? Cliff Mass and Keith Seinfeld occasionally answer reader questions on the air. Share yours here.

The weekly KPLU feature "Weather with Cliff Mass" airs every Friday at 9 a.m. immediately following BirdNote, and repeats twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KPLU’s Science and Health reporter Keith Seinfeld. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, and a popular weather blogger. You can also subscribe to a podcast of “Weather with Cliff Mass” shows.

Keith Seinfeld has been KPLU’s Health & Science Reporter since 2001, and prior to that covered the Environment beat. He’s been a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Related Content