If you’re wondering what happened to the ferocious windstorm that transfixed Western Washington as it approached last weekend, you’re not alone.
Squalls that breezed through Whatcom County overnight Saturday, Oct. 15, through Sunday, Oct. 16, seemed like a typical fall bluster, not the catastrophic blast that Seattle-based meteorologists had feared.
“We wish we knew why” the storm veered out to sea, National Weather Service meteorologist Jay Neher said Monday. “It just tracked farther west.”
It was a fake ending, a fizzle, a flat-out disappointment considering the four-day buildup as TV, newspapers, websites and social media shared the concerns of meteorologists who warned that the storm – the second of a one-two punch of severe weather that was part of a monster low-pressure system spun off Typhoon Songda – had the potential to cause widespread catastrophic damage.
Forecasters gave it a one-third chance of directly hitting Whatcom County, and warned residents to prepare for the worst. But the ominous-looking superstorm had a greater chance of skirting the Puget Sound region and pummeling western Vancouver Island instead, which it did.
A headline writer at the Vancouver (B.C.) Sun newspaper called it a “tempest in a teapot.”
As it turned out, the storm that hit Whatcom County on Saturday night was much less powerful than the first storm, which roared through Friday afternoon with gusts of more than 60 mph, toppling a few trees and limbs and knocking out power to several thousand Puget Sound Energy customers.
At its worst from 7-8 p.m. Saturday, the storm packed sustained winds of 30 mph with gusts to 46 mph and barely an inch of rain in a 24-hour period, as recorded at Bellingham International Airport. At Sandy Point, north of Bellingham, traditionally one of lowland Whatcom County’s breezier locations, a top gust of 49 mph hit at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Neher said.
Neher pointed to a statement on the weather service’s Facebook page:
“Yes, our forecast did not turn out as predicted. We are not pleased about it either. Post-storm assessments allow us to evaluate our forecasts to determine ways in which we can improve. These assessments are especially critical when our forecast does not turn out as expected.
“We hope that you do not ignore future warnings or distrust our forecasts because of this event. Although weather models, the technology, and the science are constantly improving, there is still an aspect of unpredictability in weather forecasting.”
Even so, many people took the worst-case scenario seriously, as public works officials and emergency managers made plans for a major disaster. Residents stocked up on canned goods, bottled water and batteries. Several weekend events were canceled.
Environment Canada told the CBC that it’s not easy to accurately forecast major weather events. “You think the forecast was wrong, where the uncertainty was there from the get-go,” said Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips.
Now that the storm has passed, Western Washington residents can look forward to a week of even more typical fall weather as gray skies are forecast through Sunday with rain or showers each day and highs in the upper 50s and lows in the upper 40s and low 50s.