Cascadians suffering through this winter’s unending rain may hearken back to the balmy winter of last year, when the rains didn’t really begin until spring. Last year’s freak weather, however, together with changes in ocean current behavior, may have been an advance signal of climate change with decidedly unpretty results for coastal ecosystems, particularly for birds. 

By summer of 2005, food was so scare that murres starved to death by the thousands on the Olympic Coast, while Washington’s colonies of glaucous-winged gulls produced less than 1 percent of their annual chick numbers. Up and down the West Coast, from Vancouver Island to central California, researchers reported bizarre ocean conditions, bird die-offs (with no analogy in historical records), and extremely low stocks of some key fish. 

A cadre of 45 scientists recently convened in Seattle to figure out what caused the bird deaths. It’s possible that last summer’s ecological catastrophe was just a freak alignment of several weather factors, but there’s increasing evidence that it bears the fingerprints of climate change. Read all about it in a top-notch piece of journalism by Robert McClure in the Seattle P-I.