Did a Volcano Rain on Seattle on the West Coast?

January 29, 2016
Small Eruptions

It rained on the grateful West Coast! Then people noticed something very weird. 

The rain was filthy!

Yuck! in early February the West Coast was hit with really dirty rain! Source: National Weather Service

USA Today kindly called it “mystery milky rain”. Whatever you called it—the raindrops were filled with crud!

Of course, that isn’t the only problem the West Coast was having with rain. The Pineapple Express, a strong stream of tropical water was hosing Washington, Oregon and Northern California. There were floods, landslides and hurricane force winds blasting as far east as Nevada. Tens of thousands of people lost power.

A stream of moisture from the tropics, called a Pineapple Express, hit the West Coast. Source: NOAA 

Afterwards, when residents went outside to clean up the messthey found a real mess. The water left everything smeared with gritty grey-white residue.

What happened?

Scientists are not positive, but the sunny West Coast probably got hit with volcanic rain!

Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula is covered with volcanoes and lately they have been very active. If a volcano is big enough, the debris can enter the stratosphere and linger long enough to block out incoming sunlight and cool the earth. More commonly, however, the ash and debris, (much of which is microscopic in size) just floats in the air for a while. The debris collects water and finally the raindrop holding the ash rains down to earth.

Debris from Russian volcanoes frequently get caught up in storms and carried downwind to North America.

Last month, Russia’s Sheveluch volcano exploded up to 20,000 feet into the air. At the same time, nearby Karymsky and Klyuchevskoy have also been active. They have poured a lot of junk into the air over the North Pacific and it looks like the Pineapple Express storm may have swept up some of the debris. The ashy droplets mixed with the tropical rain and visited the West Coast. Unfortunately for residents with smeared, dirty cars and windows, it looks like the ashy moisture decided to drop in and stay.

So treat that dirty rain with some respect. It may be a little visitor from Russia!

Were any of you caught up in the storm? Share it here.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.