May 2017 was gloomier than your average May

June 2, 2017

It’s not your imagination. May 2017 was definitely grayer and rainier than in average years.

As of May 28, the month’s rainfall, measured by Accuweather in Georgetown, stood at 4.71 inches. That’s almost an inch and a quarter more than a typical May’s 3.5 inches of rain. For the year, though, we’re still behind on total rainfall by about three inches.

According to Accuweather meteorologist Tom Kines, there were 14 days of measurable precipitation in May and four more days with a trace of precipitation. “That amounts to a decent amount of cloudiness in the month,” said Kines. “The month of May was a gloomier weather month than normal.”

Kines said while we enjoyed sunnier days at the end of this work week, “another six to 10 days” of the gloomier weather is possible before the weather pattern that has brought us Seattle-like weather breaks. “Once the summer months kick in, I expect temperatures and precipitation to average above normal.”

What is the weather pattern that has brought us so much wet, foggy and gray weather?

“We’re getting frontal boundaries that stall close to us, and we’re getting wind flow off the ocean and of course that’s a great source of moisture. It all depends on where those weather systems take up residence. Right now we have a high-pressure system off the northeast coast. High-pressure systems have a clockwise wind flow. For us that means easterly or southeasterly winds coming at us off the ocean. It’s fairly typical for this time of the year. The more cruddy weather is usually in New Jersey and into New England, and they’ve had their share of cruddy weather as well. This year that high-pressure system is a little farther south and that’s why we’re getting it.”

This week for example, most of the wind has been out of the east and our highs each day are right around 62 degrees. Guess what temperature the ocean off our coast is. Surprise, surprise: 62 degrees. That big old ocean affects our weather mightily.

And the Bermuda high

The other factor at work is another high-pressure system out over Bermuda and more southerly waters. That system is in place most of the time and is called a Bermuda high.

“In the summer months, the Bermuda high takes over and we get a more southerly and southwesterly flow of air,” said Kines. “More of a land component. It’s starting to get stronger now and flexing its muscles.

“When it really gets in place it brings us our heat waves and high humidity typical in the summer.” As it turns out, Kines said that usually happens right around the time summer officially begins, June 20 or 21, the time of the solstice, which is the day of the year with the greatest amount of daylight.

Kines said the Bermuda high of late spring and early summer isn’t as strong as it will eventually be, but it is strong enough to stop frontal boundaries coming across the country. “That Bermuda high slows down the progress of fronts. The systems coming from the west run out of gas when they get to the ocean and then can hang over the coast.”

One of the finer aspects of living along the coast in the summer is the regular sea breezes that come up in the afternoon, in time to tame some of the steamiest days. “That’s just a matter of the land heating up quicker than the ocean,” said Kines. “That draws cool air in off the ocean.”

The higher temps and precipitation Kines expects this summer may also have something to do with hurricane forecasts distributed last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The season starts June 1 and continues through Nov. 30. This year is already unusual in that the first named storm of the 2017 season came back in April with Arlene. That’s very early for tropical storms.

NOAA’s best guess is that there is a 45 percent chance this will be a year of above-normal hurricane activity and a 35 percent chance of near-normal hurricane activity. The government forecasters expect five to nine hurricanes and two to four major hurricanes. They think there’s a 70 percent chance we will have 11 to 17 named storms this year.

Next up, when they come along, are Bret, Cindy, Don and Emily, all the way through the alphabet to Whitney.

In the meantime, keep on the sunny side of life, even when the gray days outnumber the bright ones. What we lose in our chilly coastal springs usually comes back to us with our sunshiny, ocean-warmed coastal falls.

  • Dennis Forney has been a journalist on the Delmarva Peninsula since 1972 and has been writing his Barefootin’ column for The Whale and then the Cape Gazette for more than 30 years. Contact Dennis at