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What gives? Seattle sun, Vegas rain

Taylor Bradley walks across a flooded street behind the Flamingo hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nev., on Tuesday.
Taylor Bradley walks across a flooded street behind the Flamingo hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nev., on Tuesday.John Locher / Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Heavy rains and flooding in the Southwest? A near-record dry streak in Seattle?

The seemingly counterintuitive weather is not necessarily unusual for this time of year, but it is striking when compared with the usual opinions about the regions — rain in the Northwest and sunny skies in the Southwest. But late summer is typically the sunniest, driest part of the year in Washington and Oregon, while the Southwest monsoon season stretches into September.

In the Pacific Northwest, bone-dry conditions and lightning have led to numerous large wildfires and left the area ripe for more, particularly in Washington state.

In Seattle, a rain shower Sunday night dropped the first measurable moisture since July 23 at Sea-Tac Airport. The moisture ended a 48-day dry stretch, the second longest on record.

Meanwhile, summer thunderstorms that struck parts of the Southwest this week flooded homes and streets in the Las Vegas area, inundated mobile home parks in Southern California, stranded some Navajo Nation residents in northern Arizona in their homes, and broke a dike in southern Utah, leading to evacuations.

Rainfall levels in Arizona so far in the monsoon season that runs from June 15 through Sept. 30 have generally been just above average.

In the southern portion of the state, the Tucson International Airport recorded 5.97 inches of rain this season. That's a half inch above the average so far in the season, but pales in comparison to the record of 13.84 inches in 1964. Other cities in southern Arizona, however, have seen two to three inches above their rainfall averages.

J.J. Broston, a science and operations officer for the National Weather Service in Tucson, said some Arizonans might have the impression that this summer was extremely wet because of the frequency of rain that they can see from their homes, but rain falls more diffusely across a region — and this year has been a wet year but not record-breaking.

"For the most part, people are looking at rainfall from their own individual perspectives, and if it rains at their homes, they think it has been a wet monsoon (season)," Broston said. "From the Weather Service's perspective, we are looking at a larger area."

Meanwhile drought-stricken New Mexico is anxiously awaiting the leftovers from the storms that have already drenched Las Vegas and other Western cities.

In the Pacific Northwest, firefighters dug lines and lit backfires Wednesday in an effort to contain several fires burning across 170 square miles of Eastern Washington after cooler weather overnight helped keep the lightning-sparked blazes from growing.

But the threat of new fires in the state lingered. The National Weather Service issued a fire weather watch for the Cascades' west slope and the Puget Sound basin Wednesday night and early Thursday. It issued a red-flag warning for critical fire danger for southwest Washington, including Vancouver.

Near Grand Coulee Dam, three homes and nine outbuildings were confirmed lost to two fires that have burned a combined 78,165 acres, or roughly 122 square miles of grass and brush. The homes likely burned when high winds pushed the fire Monday evening, but firefighters were unable to begin assessing the damage until Tuesday, fire spokeswoman Karen Ripley said.

The fire was 20 percent contained early Wednesday.

"Most of the area is very light fuels — brush and dry grass, and it can't get any drier — so with favorable winds, we should be able to get on top of it pretty quickly," Ripley said.

August and the first half of September are the driest part of the year for the region, meteorologist Brent Bower said.

This year, though, it's a bit drier than usual.

"If you're looking for good summer weather, and if that's defined by dry and sunny, August and September is what you're looking for."

He says wet systems are staying away from Seattle, but he expects rain to comeback as September progresses. But for now, the sun will keep shining over often soggy Seattle.

"There really is no rain in the forecast," he said.