Are we seeing more lightning in the Inland Northwest?
SPOKANE, Wash.– It’s one of the wetter spring seasons in recent memory, but that’s not all that’s different about the weather in 2022. Data from the National Weather Service shows that parts of the Inland Northwest saw more lightning than average in the first several months of the year.
Through June 10th Spokane averages around 230 lightning strikes in any given year. Most of that comes mid-May and later. This year however storms got off to an early start. Severe storms spawned two tornadoes in the Spokane area along with prolific lightning. Storms have shown themselves at least once a week ever since. This year Spokane County is up to 330 lightning strikes so far in 2022. About half of those strikes came during severe thunderstorms on June 3rd and June 5th.
Thunderstorms don’t hit everyone though. In Kootenai County, there have been 132 lightning strikes this year. The average through June 10th is 181. Maps of strikes from the June 3rd and 5th storms show the all-or-nothing nature of lightning (and rain too) between where storms develop and track and where they do not.
Higher lightning counts in the Northwest would buck a trend since the National Lightning Data Network began publishing yearly lightning for each state in 2019. Washington lightning fell from 258,000 strikes in 2019 to 168,000 in 2020 to only 55,000 in 2021. The 66 percent drop in lightning in 2021 was largely a result of the record-dry spring and summer east of the Cascades. Idaho lightning counts are more dependent on storms in South and East Idaho and don’t usually reflect what’s happening in the northern part of the state. Conditions that promote thunderstorm development increased slightly in the last 50 years in the Columbia Basin and the Cascades. This is in contrast to much of the West which has trended toward progressively drier and less stormy conditions.
Compared to 2021, even average lightning counts will probably seem like a lot this summer. As long as the wet pattern we are currently experiencing sticks around (71 days and counting), so will the higher odds of lightning around the region. Whether or not this trend will transfer to more dry thunderstorms in the heart of fire season later this year remains to be seen.
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