Clear skies and warm temps offer perfect viewing of Comet NEOWISE | KNKX

Clear skies and warm temps offer perfect viewing of Comet NEOWISE

Jul 17, 2020


It’s that most wonderful time of the year in the Pacific Northwest, when we get to enjoy clear skies, warm yet comfortable temperatures and 9 p.m. sunsets. Summers here are the payoff for our long, dark winters. And this week, the "perfect weather" many of us like to gloat about has finally arrived.

This summer, these conditions are coinciding with the appearance of a rare comet called NEOWISE. KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass is among the astronomy enthusiasts who ventured out at 3 a.m. to see it.

“That's right…and I saw it,” he says. “But now you don't have to get up early in the morning."

Now, the comet is positioned so it can be seen about an hour and half after sunset.  

“So 10:30, 10:45 — you can see it if you look at the northwest side of the sky. It's subtle. You have to stare to see it, but it is definitely there,” Mass says. “And once your eyes get used to the darkness, then you can see the tail stretching out to the north.”

It first appeared in mid-March and Mass says it's probably one of the brightest comets anyone has seen in two decades, since Hale Bopp in 1997.

“And if you look with binoculars, you can see the nucleus. You can see the tail. It's really a nice comet,” he says.  “So I would get out there and see it and it should be visible during the next week.”

Mass recommends getting out on a clear evening to see it sometime next week. Look for the Big Dipper if you know your constellations, then look downward and to the East.

It will be closest to the Earth on July 23, then gradually dim out.  


Another phenomenon going on right now is a more regular occurrence in the Northwest, but still kind of amazing. Mass calls it the ‘July dry anomaly’ — in which we get "super dry." He says it got a bit of a late start this year, but he’s expecting pretty much no real rain from now through the end of the month.

“High pressure is starting to build in,” Mass says. “And certainly, for the next week, it's going to be totally dry.”

What’s remarkable, Mass says, is how quickly this happens every year,

“We go from sometimes cloudy conditions in June and even some moisture around July 4th to those real depths of dryness at the end of July. And it's associated with building high pressure aloft that produces enhanced sinking over us during the end of July,” Mass says. “That's what dries it out.”

For context, consider that at this time of year, the extreme dryness in the Northwest exceeds conditions in the desert state, Arizona.

“In fact, we are drier than Phoenix or Tucson. Amazingly, during this month, they get thunderstorms due to the southwest monsoon. We don't get any of that,” Mass says.

“So we're really one of the driest places of the whole country.”

Listen to the full conversation above. 

The weekly KNKX 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 KNKX’s Environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator.  You can also subscribe to a podcast of “Weather with Cliff Mass” shows on AppleSpotify and Google.