December 22, 2008

The Break

Yesterday was a significant snow event for the region with the lowlands receiving 3-8 inches in general, on top of the considerable snows of the past week. The last week or so has turned into the most snowy, cold period since the great event of the last week of December 1996. Take a look at the temps at Sea-Tac compared to normal (graph). Our HIGH temps have been below the normal mins (blue line) for nine days now. However, 1996 made what we are going through look like child's play...many locations had nearly two feet on the ground after two major house at 23 inches on the ground on Dec 29th and earlier that week the worst ice storm in 50 years hit the southern Sound. The snow was followed intense warm rain that melted the snow causing flooding and landslides.

For the next two days we will be in a break from the action. This morning a few light snowshowers remain (see radar), mainly over SW Washington. These will lessen during the next few hours and the remainder of the day and Tuesday will be generally dry. The low center is now moving south of us and this will pull some cooler air back into the region (see plot of model pressure and temperature at 7 AM)
Another strong Pacific system will be moving towards us Wednesday, but temperatures will be warmer than the last go around...which will place us in the familar snow turning to rain, marginal temperature situation that local meteorologists love. I will look at the storm in more detail later in the morning.....


  1. The break will be a good time to clear the gutters, shovel the walks, and generally get ready for the thaw. 9.5 inches total in my Shoreline area.

  2. Thanks Cliff. I'm glad you mentioned the results of a quick melt off. Looking out side here at all the snow (Alki flats) it has the potential to be a big mess.

  3. No break in sight here. It snowed all night in the foothills east of Port Angeles, and is snowing harder
    this morning. We have 4 inches of new snow. Heavy
    wet snow.

  4. It would be interesting to see more info on how this event compares with '96. I was here then (lifelong resident) but while I remember it being bad, I don't remember it being *this* bad. (Always worse when you're in it maybe) :)

    In terms of duration, temps, snowfall, etc. I wonder how they match up day by day?

  5. Out in East Woodinville, we have over 10" of new snow since yesterday morning.

  6. Aaahhh, 1996....the year I worked top shack at an outer lift at Stevens Pass. The groomers never came to the outer lifts. There was a base that year of over 20'. I shoveled a lot of snow that year.

  7. I lived in Ballard during the '96 storm -- we had 12" of snow one day and then 12" the next. I have a picture somewhere of a yard stick in the snow at the 24" mark.

    I don't remember the '96 snow lasting this long, especially since I'm not sure I'm going to get to work at all this week after missing 3 days last week.

  8. Cliff thanks for such a great blog and all the input from others is nice too. Here in Port Townsend we had 2-3 inches of new snow. The sky is dark gray this morning and a few flakes are starting to fall but calm no wind. I remember 96' happening all at once not building up over a week of old snow/ice. Hopefully it will take a week to melt off.

  9. I appreciate a local meteorologist providing a place where people can post their weather observations and help build a sense of community, but if you really want to track weather as it moves through our area I would suggest going to Weather Underground (, clicking on their Wundermap and customizing it for your location and purposes. Seattle has a rather high density of Personal Weather Stations (PWS) on that site allowing you to see conditions in your neighborhood. I found it indispensable over the past week.

    Weather Underground (and can update their sites more frequently than Cliff - and certainly recently have been just as accurate. They also provide climatology and a historical perspective.

    For people who like to walk in the snow, the neighborhood weather stations that wunderground uses make good destinations and you can play "find the anemometer" with your companions.

  10. I just measured 10 inches in Bothell!

  11. 16" on the ground here in Olympia.

  12. Thanks Cliff. We really appreciate your updates.

    Got about 4-5 in new snow yesterday in W. Bellevue. Over the last 5 days...We have had 8 in (Thurs), 5-6 in Sat and 4-5 in Sun. And nothing has melted.

  13. "However, 1996 made what we are going through look like child's play..."

    I have to disagree, mainly because after the heavy snow in '96, it started raining shortly afterwards, whereas this has been going on for 10 days now, with the possibility of more on Tues/Wed.

    I never thought I'd be looking forward to a few days of rain.

  14. In 1996 I lived in Fairwood (Renton-ish) and I remember the worst part not being the snow, but the 2 or so inches of ICE that stuck around for 10 days. Not only were the roads covered, but the trees had thick coverings as well, which caused mass power outages in the area as the heavy branches began to fall. The power was out for, I think, 5-7 days in our neighborhood. And, the landslides were really bad in our area when everything WAS melting...

    Thus far I haven't heard of any major power outages, and it has been so cold that we haven't had a lot of ice from melting and refreezing snow. So, in a lot of ways, the 1996 storm was worse. But, I suppose we'll see what happens as this begins to melt (or more snow/freezing rain falls).

  15. CliffMassWeatherBlog - Question - do the models (global or MM5 local) take into account snow cover? This usually isn't something that we have to worry about here but there is such a coverage of snow from Canada to Oregon and east effecting surface temperatures. If there is any clearing at night, temperatures will plummet and we could be really locked in the freezer ... at least at the surface.

    With the next system coming in with milder ocean air 12/24-12/25, I wonder if it is enough to warm the surface much above freezing. If warmer air only comes in at 1,000-2,000 feet we could be looking at a very sloppy mess of mixed snow and rain with temps still in the low 30s.

  16. Hi Cliff - same question as above as to whether the snow albedo is a factor in surface temperature predictions.

    I'm putting your book on my Christmas list! I just love this stuff.

  17. Some answers:

    Yes, the high resolution local models consider the snow on the ground and attempt to keep track of it.

    Regarding the weatherunderground site. It is a great place to secure local weather observations from local observers. The forecasts on it are not particularly good and come from an automated system of theirs. The observations vary substantially in quality (these are not official NWS obs) keep that in mind.....cliff

  18. I had no idea this blog existed until a friend linked it!

    Wow! :D!

    I am elated with reliable weather news!!!

    Thank You for your work Mr. Mass!!!

    I am now a fan! ^_^

  19. Cliff, actually weather underground does have NWS observations. Both in realtime and for climatology. I just used that site to access December 1996 daily observations for KSEA.
    They tell you when you are not viewing "official" data or data sets.
    But of course the radar (which is what makes Wundermap so good) is official.

  20. Just want to chime in that weatherunderground sucks!!!

    Its good for current observations. But I would never rely on their forecasts. That includes accuweather.

  21. Curious about the water content of all this snow, I took a core sample of the 22 inches on my deck in White Center. It melted down to about 3 1/2 inches of water.

    Given my basement's tendency to flood when the soil gets saturated, what are the prospects for a gradual thaw versus a rapid melt accompanied by heavy rain?

  22. I'm trying to predict which members of my family will be able to get to my house on Capitol Hill for brunch on Wednesday morning. They are coming from various locations in a 20-mile radius. Do I note the rain and melting in the forecast and say probably everyone can make it? Or is there some non-drivability factor with that melting process? I realize I probably won't know until an hour before the meal, but I wish I could look at the forecast and predict how much effort to put into it.

  23. I would use WeatherUnderground with caution. Yes, there are some official sites included but the others can be highly suspect at times (i.e. quality control). Forecasts I would avoid entirely.

    A great source of info (obs and forecasts) can be found on the UW-ATMS site.

    Main site

    Some specific obs links so you don't have to wade through it all.

    Western WA

    Puget Sound

    and much more data if you want to spend some time browsing around.

    Best prob. to bookmark the most used links or set up your own Wx webpage and link to them there.


  24. Add me to the "melting/flooding basement" worries crowd. The 96 storm left me with a foot of water sloshing around in my basement. Not good times!

  25. Yes, I too would be highly suspect of websites that provide weather information with no quality control. Not that readers of this blog would ever want to visit such a site.

    BTW, 12.32 inches at my home in Stanwood and my sister said she measured 8.79 inches in Kent.

  26. We measured about 8" here in Des Moines. We are right by the water, though, and I'm seeing cars with a lot more coming down the hill.

    It's gorgeous!

    I'm curious -- my mom is a notorious exaggerator and claims that she has 2 FEET of snow at her house on Clyde Hill. I'd love to hear from anyone else in that area to see if that's anywhere near accurate?

  27. I shouldn't have said that about my mom. She probably does have that much. I just heard someone on the radio saying they had 4' in Marysville. Never doubt your mother!

  28. Snow melt is starting in W.Seattle; we've got water in our basement. Usually that only happens when we have a prolonged rain that has saturated the front yard. btw, we measure 11" of snow right now.

  29. Cliff, thanks again for all of your great updates and blog entries.

    I'm looking forward to your update about this Wednesday's possibilities. However, I was wondering if there's a chance of a convergence zone on Wednesday over the south snohomish area? It seems with the system coming out of the north drawing in the warmer air out of the south, could this create another heavy snow chance along the usual spots?

  30. I am noticing quite a bit higher temperatures here in Bothell than in the weather forcasts. It is 39 deg. (maybe a deg. or so high from the house effect) and the snow is beginning to fall from the trees. Has something changed?

  31. Cliff - I look forward to hearing you on KUOW's The Conversation today at 1. Thanks for keeping us weather junkies fixed!

  32. I'm north of the border in Abbotsford, BC. I agree with you that December '96 was far worse than anything we've seen so far this month, at least on this side of the border.

    The biggest difference seems to be how localized the snowfall accumulations have been this time, compared to the '96 event which had widespread reports of 1-2 feet, and as much as 4 feet in some spots.

    Currently we have only about 4" on the ground here in Abbotsford. In 1996 we had 28" of snow on the ground before it changed to freezing rain, which put a half inch of ice on top of everything.

    I expect this coming Wednesday's storm will be another with widely varying snowfall amounts.


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