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Why no summer? Will it end?

Lower than normal pressures (in blue) and higher (in green) correspond to where temperatures are below and above normal.
National Weather Service, 7-15-11
Lower than normal pressures (in blue) and higher (in green) correspond to where temperatures are below and above normal.

Grouchy Northwesterners are starting to call this 'The year of no summer.' While we may be secretly glad to miss the heat wave that’s punishing the Midwest, we're wondering why we’re stuck with clouds … and when will it end?

When I talked to experts, the first thing they told me: It is no coincidence.

The record heat in the Midwest and the cool temps along the west coast – those are related. There’s a ridge of high pressure in the atmosphere along with a low pressure trough, and they're stuck in place, keeping the current weather pattern.

In fact, the pattern has been in place for six months, says Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

"Originally the explanation was La Nina, but La Nina is gone now. It’s really weakened. So something else is keeping this in place, and I don’t think any of us knows why that is."

The low pressure zone in the skies off the west coast is keeping it cloudy. For nearly two weeks, since July 7th,  high temperatures at Seatac have been a bit below average, which would normally be about 75 degrees this time of year.

And, as Mass reminds us, the next few weeks should be the hottest and driest part of summer.

"That’s what makes people so upset, we’re going into the dry period. They know it. And we keep on getting these clouds and precipitation."

When will it get hot?

Mass says forecasts are only accurate for about a week into the future. While the high/low pressure pattern's not changing soon, it could happen next week. 

In fact, there’s a glimmer of hope from one of the longer-range computer models at the National Weather Service. It says the Northwest could get "normal" summer weather – with highs near 80 – at the end of next week.

Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was 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.