January 26, 2013

Status and Outlook for Northwest Snow

I am getting a number of folks asking about whether there will be lowland snow this winter.   Even the Seattle PI had a story about the fears of a snowless winter.  I know Mayor McGinn and his staff would be disappointed...they are READY for snow, with lots of trucks, deicer, and road sensors providing real-time data. 

But first, what is the status of the regional snow pack during this neutral year (not El Nino nor La Nina).  This graph shows the story.  In general, Washington and Oregon are quite close to normal, which is not surprising during a neutral year when the tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures are close to normal.  A bit above normal snow in the Sierra Nevada, but woe to poor Colorado...quite a bit below normal there.

After bountiful snow during late fall, with deep powder to die for, things went downhill in January.   During the second week we had a period of warmth, high-freezing levels, and rain in the mountains.   There was melting and consolidation of the snow pack and then it got colder.  The result?  CASCADE CONCRETE.  A few inches on top did not help much.  Then it got warm with the big inversion situation and more melting.  And now it got colder. More refreeze.  CASCADE CONCRETE PLUS. When it gets warm you get "spring skiing" on slush.

 I love how the ski areas put a positive spin on bad snow.  Here is the latest  Snoqualmie Summit report:

"the conditions were very soft and great for carving, so this morning's groomers should be super sweet"

Perhaps for ice sculptures....

But I have good news for you skiers.  We have a trough over us, winds are turning northwesterly in the lower atmosphere, and during the next few days there should be a considerable addition of powder.  To illustrate here are the UW WRF model snow forecasts for the next two 72 hour periods.   A foot or two is possible in the Cascades.  And after this period it should dry out until Sunday.   Good skiing may be available next Saturday.

For lowland snow lovers, the situation does not look too good during the next week.  Snow levels will decline to perhaps 1000-1500 ft--not good enough.  And northwesterly flow rain shadows many of you.   But there is still time....the lowlands can get significant snow into the first week of March, but after that the chances drop quickly. 


  1. Thanks, Cliff, for doing this blog. It is where I always go first for weather info when something weather-related is scaring me. You are always reality-based rather than some of the media which seems to be drama-based.

  2. I love love love this blog! I am fascinated by weather and my husband just doesn't get it! I really should have been a meteorologist. I moved here from FL 1 yr ago and WOW is the weather different. I grew up in NYC and WOW is the weather different here. I lived in the midwest for 10 years and HOLY COW is the weather different here. I find it all soooo interesting. Great blog! Glad I found it :)

  3. The way cold height anomalies are anchored over the E US, I doubt there will be any lowland snow for the rest of winter.

  4. I am not in the least desparate for lowland snow. The ideal snow falls on ski areas and watersheds, and misses all roadways. :)

  5. Any theories on why this winter has been so uneventful? I haven't had a single decent windstorm at my location, and very little snow either (about 10% of average). If I recall right, ENSO neutral winters are typically the stormiest, with near average snowfall, but it certainly hasn't come to pass. The overall pattern seems reminiscent of El Nino (cool and rainy in Nov-Dec followed by strong inversion and dry January).

  6. My dogs started shedding last year on January 18th. I was able to pull tuffs of fur out of them. No shedding yet this year.

  7. Hi Cliff - Moved from Seattle (UW) to retirement on the east coast in the fall of 2010 but continue to check your blog daily. Haven't found better user friendly descriptions of weather and related diagnostic technologies anywhere. Your tops in my book. Many thanks.


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