2014 likely to tie record for warmest year in Bellingham

The year will end on a chilly note, but even so, 2014 should be a record warm year for Bellingham.

Taking into account the cold forecast through Wednesday, Dec. 31, the average temperature for the year at Bellingham International Airport will be 52.4 degrees, tying the record for the warmest year on record, set in 1958. Weather data has been collected at the airport since 1949.

Whatcom County had a sunny and dry summer, but it wasn’t as hot as the summer of ’58. The temperature hit 80 degrees on 18 days this year, which is more than average (10.1 days) but not close to 1958, when the thermometer broke 80 degrees 33 times.

Warm nights lifted 2014 to a likely tie for warmest year on record. The average low temperature in Bellingham this year should be 44.9 degrees, beating the old record of 44.4 degrees set in 1992 and 1995.

Another record set in the county this year is one the people who run Mt. Baker Ski Area could do without. Although precipitation in Bellingham has been near normal in November and December, conditions weren’t ripe for a good snowfall on the mountain until late December. On Dec. 15, the snow cover at Baker was 6 inches, the lowest on record dating back to 1926. The average snow depth on that date was 68 inches.

Despite the singular year Bellingham had with temperature, in many respects 2014 was a typical weather year. As of Friday, Dec. 26, precipitation was on track to total 37.5 inches, which would be close to normal at 4.7 percent above average.

Also, a lot of the usual meteorological suspects showed up in 2014.

The county got two good blasts of frigid air from the Fraser River Valley, dropping overnight temperatures to 20 degrees or below in early February and the end of November.

Bellingham and environs got one good snow: a half-foot or more on Feb. 23, about as big as a storm in January 2012. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the snowstorm was that it almost single-handedly eliminated the risk of drought for Western Washington. State officials were mulling the possibility of declaring a drought, until the late-February storm brought mountain snow levels to normal.

Back-to-back storms earlier this month brought top winds exceeding 50 mph four days in a row, Dec. 9-12. A storm with gusts as strong as 67 mph on Dec. 9 blew a container ship off its moorings at Bellingham Shipping Terminal. The Horizon Fairbanks, a prominent piece of Bellingham’s waterfront landscape, grabbed the attention of those along the waterfront as it turned more than 90 degrees and came to rest in sediment at the bottom of the Whatcom Waterway channel, its stern still tied to the dock. Tugboats were able to put the more than 600-foot ship back in place within a few hours.

Two days after the Horizon mishap, Bellingham residents witnessed another uncommon weather scene. An especially high tide combined with a strong low-pressure center to flood Boulevard Park on Dec. 11.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting above-average temperatures in 2015 for the Pacific Northwest.

The complicated ensemble of factors that go into long-range temperature predictions can only indicate whether above-average temperatures are more likely than lower temperatures, less likely, or equally likely. Western Washington’s chances of being warmer than normal in the first three months of 2015 are better than 60 percent.

One of the factors contributing to the higher temperature forecast for early 2015 is the onset of El Niño.

“The years we have El Niños, we usually see a warmer than usual winter,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Johnny Burg. “It looks like there’s one developing right now.”