Is it over yet? A look back at our nasty Northwest winter

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FALL CITY, Wash.--  Another deluge of winter rains is causing rivers to rise yet again in Western Washington. Four rivers are again under a Flood Warning in Western Washington, although they're expected to be back within their banks by the weekend with drier weather on the way.

Looking back on the 2016-17 winter, by nearly every measure -- it's been a nasty one.

Q13 News photo

Our slippery and sloppy winter will officially end on Monday with the Spring Equinox. But at times the snow and slush on the roads seemed like something you'd expect from a winter back east in Chicago or Bostson.

One of the reasons the snow falling gently on the Seattle Center around the Space Needle always feels so quiet and otherworldly is because we typically only see sticking snow around Puget Sound lowlands every few years.

This year, both Seattle and Portland each got almost a foot of snow during this winter. Our Cascade passes were closed time and time again, mostly due to careless drivers going too fast. But, sometimes because snow was just too much or the avalanche danger was too high.

Unlike many "La Nina" years, which typically brings sloppy weather to Oregon and Washington, this year California got hammered, too -- their epic drought concerns replaced by flooding fears. There were images of small boats ushering flooding victims near San Jose to higher ground or stairwells of Los Angeles parking garages turned into waterfalls.

"Well, it's not the first time that's happened but it is rather unique in that regard," says Ted Buehner with the Seattle National Weather Service.

The Warning Coordination

SUN VALLEY, CA - FEBRUARY 17: A bicyclist rides along a flooded street as a powerful storm moves across Southern California on February 17, 2017 in Sun Valley, California. After years of severe drought, heavy winter rains have come to the state. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Meteorologist has been with the Seattle NW for almost 40 years and has seen nearly everything Old Man Winter can throw at the Pacific Northwest.

"There's been other weak La Niña years, which typically bring cooler than average and wetter than average conditions during the winter season."

Buehner says the official climate reporting station at SeaTac as of March 15 exceeded the typical 37.49 inches of rain we see in a 'water year' that begins on October 1. But he says this isn't the first time we've gotten a whole year's worth of water in just five and a half months.

"We did it in 2014, we also did it in 2013. So it's not all that uncommon," says Buehner. "But I will admit over the last 5 or 6 weeks it's been so gray and so wet, so dreary. People are thinking, holy cow, what kind of records are we setting here?"

February at SeaTac was the second wettest ever on record. And all that rain had consequences with hillsides slipping and mud sliding.

The rains overwhelmed Seattle's West Point Water Treatment Plant near Discovery Park. In what King County officials called 'catastophic' damage from flooding at the plant after a broken pump, the facility has been sending stormwater runoff and raw sewage gushing into Puget Sound. The full impact on fish and other wildlife of that sewage mixing with the brackish water of the Sound is still unknown.

Buehner says anywhere that the river of fast-moving air at the highest parts of the atmosphere, which we call the jet stream, seemed to point along the West Coast this winter -- weather problems followed. 

With Climate Change theory, a warmer atmosphere can and would carry more moisture. In turn, rain events would be heavier and sometimes last longer.

But, Buehner says it's too soon to tell if climate change or natural variation is responsible for this winter's wacky weather.

"I would say at this point, too soon. Keep in mind we're looking at the weather from a day-to-day perspective. When we're talking climate change around the globe, it's not just years but maybe decades and even a century or more."

And it's not just the rain. The numbers show this winter was also one of the coldest ones in the last three decades. And just because winter is coming to an end, it doesn't mean our rainy season is over yet. Already we've squeezed a month's worth of rain into the first half of March. So, we're four inches toward the wettest March on record. The number to beat is 9.44 inches, set not too long ago, back in 2014.

And if this winter has been too much, keep in mind it's only 97 days until the start of summer.

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