March 11, 2017

The coldest winter in a generation for the Pacific Northwest

The complaints have been endless: folks are tired of the cold, wet weather over the Pacific Northwest.   Many suggest this has been the coldest winter they can remember.

And if they are less than 32 they may be right--this may be the coldest year they have experienced.  The coldest winter in a generation!  And I will try to prove it in this blog.

Lets "warm up" by looking at the departure from normal of maximum temperature for the past two months.   Holy icicles!  Most of Washington State has been 4-6F below normal, and 6-10F below normal in eastern WA.  Eastern WA has been crazy cold and snowy this winter.

You know that "hotbed" of political intrigue in our state capital of Olympia?  Thursday evening's 53 F at Olympia broke a stretch of 19 straight days without reaching 50 F from 18 Feb - 8 March 2017.  By contrast, during the same 19 day period a year ago in 2016, 17 of those 19 days reached 50 F at Olympia.  What a difference a year makes.

The Midwestern Regional Climate Center has a Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index (AWSSI) that will take your (cold) breath away (see below).  This index consider such parameters such as cold and snow and how conditions have deviated from normal.  Seattle has had severe winter conditions and eastern Washington/eastern Oregon/Idaho have experienced an EXTREME winter.  As bad as it gets.

This is getting scary.  So let's do some analysis ourselves and determine how unusual the December through February temperatures have been for our region. And let's use numbers from the official NOAA ESRL web site (which I hope the current administration doesn't defund).  

Here are the average maximum temperatures (for Dec-Feb) for the past 70 years.  OMG.  This year was the coldest since 1985!

What about the high temperatures in the Columbia Basin around Richland?  This winter was the coldest since  1985 (although 1993 came close) and only the stunningly cold winter of 1949 exceeded it in a significant way.

So why have we been so cold?

The first thing a meteorologist does is to check out the atmospheric circulation anomalies (difference from normal).  Has the atmospheric flow been unusual?   The answer is yes!   This figure below shows the upper level (500 hPa) height anomalies (like pressure anomalies).  A large negative anomaly (which means low pressure or heights) over the Northwest and a higher than normal pressure over the Gulf of Alaska.  That pattern brings colder air into our region (and stronger flow into California, thus their bountiful rain).

This pattern suggests an alternating series of highs and lows, which implies a "wave train" propagating out of the tropics.   That in turn was probably produced by anomalous convection (thunderstorms) in the tropics.  There is no reason to suspect global warming is associated with this. And no reason to suggest that this cold winter over the Northwest is a reason to be skeptical about human-caused global warming.

And, one more thing.   An anti-blob has been in place off our shores, with colder than normal sea surface temperatures shown by the blue colors on the following graphic (the sea surface temperature anomalies for the past three months).  That cold water was probably the result of the anomalous wind pattern.  Cold offshore water probably helped to cool our temperatures by a small amount.

The cold winter has definitely had an effect on plants, with a lot of spring foliage changes being delayed (such as the cherry blossoms around campus).


  1. Cold and wet delays, the parade of tasty spring salad greens.

    As far as having an ubundance of local garden produce, the BLOB kept us well fed and was a good friend to folks who enjoy local produce. .

    The Anti-blob, will deprive us, of our earliest field grown greens!! Boo... More imported nasty greens from California and Mexico.. yuck!

    Thanks for the report Cliff!!!

  2. It was a pleasure reading this from Ronda Spain. My wife and I escaped Tacoma two weeks ago to find sun and be able to ride our bikes without having to wear fleece and gore Tex. It's been 75-80 here. And very affordable thank to the strong dollar.

  3. Even though I still find this easier to tolerate than the Blob's long hot summers, I sheepishly have to echo the "When does this end?"

    I'm in no hurry for it to be 80°, but 60° and not raining would sure be nice... :)

  4. Curious why a cold and wet winter has only been an 'average' snow year. What is the magic needed for a winter like '10/'11?

  5. Cliff, remember, no matter how gets, either here in the NW, or across the Globe, and, no matter how long that cooling lasts, no scientist is EVER allowed to challenge the Politically Correct hypothesis of man-made.Global Warming. Only if and when your Political masters say it is alright may you ever dare even question this precept.No debate and no thinking is allowed on this subject.

    1. Nonsense. A small number of legitimate climate scientists disagree. A very small number. Deniers like to pretend there's a large number of them. Or that scientists, for some bizarre reason, are engaging in a gigantic hoax.

    2. I'm hoping this is meant as a satirical comment.

    3. Thing is for the Global Warming Theory to be debunked. A new theory must be made.

  6. Although anecdotal, I have been watching the upper air flow, 250hpa, and it originates from Siberia goes over the North Pole across Alaska and right to Washington State for the last 90+ days. My question is why and when will it shift?

  7. We didn't have a single decent cold snap or snowfall in North Seattle this winter. Never got below 20, either. Just consistently cool weather to make the mean temperature low compared to other winters. Nothing like 2008. Sad!

  8. Kinda curious why, once again, we have a stronger wind storm today, with no advisories or warnings, compared to yesterday where we barely anything.

    Is Auburn in some kind of anti-meteorologist vortex?

    We had this about a month and a half ago too, wind so strong it broke several things in our garden and carport (took about 24 screws to fix!), but nothing in the news or weather reports about wind.

    I'm still very curious about the information regarding how often initial storm predictions result results much less than initially predicted. How often do we get storms that are actually stronger than initially predicted? Higher winds, more snow, etc.

    Although I do enjoy a relatively accurate rain prediction.

  9. I don't doubt for a minute that this has been an extraordinarily cold winter. What makes it interesting (and forgettable) is that at least in South King County where I live we have only had one real snow event, and the impact was pretty minimal with main roadways bare and wet by later that same day. However, a friend of mine who lives at 1800' elevation would disagree. He's had almost continual snow cover since November. The previously mentioned cold winter, 1985, saw sub freezing temperatures and snow for several days straight in November. I can remember other years with much worse snow and cold events, but this one has certainly taken the cake for being chronically cold and wet.

  10. "There is no reason to suspect global warming is associated with this." I can think of one reason: the research suggesting that arctic warming is allowing the jet stream to swing more wildly, resulting in this kind of "polar vortex" effect. I know that research has been criticized, but it's a reason...

  11. Well I'm 32 and I've been saying the same message all year. While its was cold in Eastern Washington, it's been colder many times before. But the persistence is remarkable. This is a memorable winter in these parts. I know Seattle missed out on the snow, but when you can recall a season and the date 20 yrs from now, which we will do here, it' is worthy of your recognition.

    Another stat. While it has also snowed a lot more in the past, the way the snow has stuck around is a record. I live in a lower elevation 1500'. Notorious for Chinook snow eating winds. Well we usually have the fields harrowed, plowed up by this time of year. 2 days ago still had a foot and half of slush. Tonight maybe 2 inches. Predict full melt out on Monday. Winds hit. Local flooding occurring. Still, just once I've seen snow on the ground in March, let alone a foot on March 10th.

    Lots of water still locked up in the lower benches of the mountains. Hard, rocky, sagebrush soils. Next couple days will be interesting.

  12. There has been some crazy strong wind gusts up here in edmonds this evening. No warnings or anything and my local station on wUnderground doesn't seem to measure wind very well.

  13. earthwater,
    That research is very weak....I have studied it carefully....and is generally not accepted as valid in the atmospheric sciences community. My own research has shown the opposite...less amplification of wave patterns as the earth warms...cliff

  14. To Faber and others, I always consider "Unknown's" comments to be satirical. There is no other rational way to explain them, and this is a blog that adheres to logic.

    A dry sense of humor is highly valued in my world. Always good for a smile and something to look forward to.

  15. Things just got a lot chillier on here.

  16. Coldest winter in 32 years? Horse Hockey!
    Dec 20, 1990: 14
    Dec 21, 1990: 12
    Dec 28, 1990: 12

    I'm pretty sure Cliff was in Seattle in December, 1990. He should remember the frozen impassable I-5 and the thunder snow.

    This year:
    Dec 17, 2016: 23
    Jan 6, 2017: 20
    Feb 1, 2017: 29

    Monthly record lows:
    November 1939: 0
    December 1968: 6
    January 1950: 0
    February 1950: 1

    The monthly averages are low because the cold has been persistent but winter-time dormant plants are sensitive to the lowest temperature not the average, like the anti-freeze in your radiator.

    I haven't heard of any water pipes bursting because of the severe cold this winter. Go back to 1990 and home water pipes burst all over western Washington, mine did.

    As for Unknown, he/she is defending a political agenda not science. Don't bother to read his posts.

  17. "Curious why a cold and wet winter has only been an 'average' snow year. What is the magic needed for a winter like '10/'11?"

    Snoqualmie Pass cumulative daily snowfall, and snowpack on the ground, both are ahead of '10/'11. So are many locations across the state.

    Also, on the comments suggesting Seattle has been short-changed on snowfall:

    Seattle is currently at 11"+ snowfall this winter. That is 2x the norm (5.9"). I understand that different locations experienced varying amounts, but that is true any year. The fact is that the overall Seattle area has had significantly more snow than average this winter.

    It is 100% not true that "it used to snow a lot more here". What it does a lot here - and has done since the first records started being kept - is rain.

    Btw - and ok, this is not Seattle, but an older post from Cliff on Lewis and Clark overwintering in the wet near Astoria. Some good Sunday reading...

  18. Terribly cold year. Must be the global warming. Used to be that the AGW cult would wag fingers about the difference between weather and climate, but I'm afraid those days are long gone. These days, the cult blames every departure from average -- downward or upward -- on global warming. These are desperate times in AGW land.

  19. Sunsnow12.....we had extended periods of cold and dry. And a few short periods of warm and wet...that is why..cliff

  20. Cliff - Wait... I was responding to another comment (in quotes), not asking the question. And noting that Snoqualmie Pass is ahead of '10/'11. And that we doubled annual snowfall in Seattle. What part of that is not true?

  21. Even the oldtimers in the north Whatcom County ag community agree that this winter has seen more snow events (two of which were significant) and persistent cool, dreary weather than in a long while. Certainly in a generation. Still, their collective memories of far colder winters in the distant past are proved by photographs. We may at times get hammered by snow & wind, and endure what seems an endless gloom, but the days of a frozen Nooksack River are long gone.

  22. Yes, it was a coldish winter, bookended by a very rainy October and February. Tolerable, but by the end, very tiresome in my book. The switch from warmer-than-normal temperatures to colder-than-normal in early December was abrupt as this chart shows. I think if I recall right, you predicted that switch correctly Cliff.

    Also note that the eleven months in 2016 preceding December were notably warmer-than-normal, especially last spring. In fact, going further back it has been warmer-than-normal (aside from some brief breaks) for about three years preceding this lengthy cold snap. Maybe more pleasant temperatures make us notice streaks less.

    Thanks for the explanation Cliff.

  23. 'agw land' and agw denial land are both the same desperate place.. polluted planet Earth.

    Placeholder, how can uncontrolled polluting be the right direction to lead? Do you really think that we have no impact on the areas we inhabit? Or is it some kind of grammatical, legal, or political error that your poking fun at?

  24. Yes, as everyone says, the winter has been colder than average but not one of record cold.

    One must remember though that one or two years alone say nothing about global warming.

    But the rabbits are eating my crocuses more than ever. I wonder if it's because there normal natural food sources are late?

    Anyway, I hope the sun returns soon. Cliff, would you care to say anything about the 30 to 90 day forecast?

  25. Cliff,
    I have used your forecast for the last several years and have always appreciated this blog. As a avid skier, I have been studying the man made global warming topic for several years now and have come to the conclusion that this year's weather is the start of the new climate regime of solor-forced global cooling. I don't want to get into the topic of man made global warming as I have seen science that makes me believe that even if true, the sun is the REAL driver of our climate. I am curious what you think of this presentation given to our state legislators in 2013 by Dr. Don Easterbrook, Professor of Geology at WWU. I believe that global cooling is real and that our public probably should be preparing for this new climate regime.


  26. AWSSI ranked Reno as "mild". Does not compute! Wouldn't record snowfall at Mt Rose make for at least a severe winter?

  27. why do some folks here call others who disagree with them regarding climate change "deniers?" This is the language of the Holocaust, and it's nothing more than another Orwellian attempt to smear and defame anyone not in complete agreement with the dominant cultural viewpoint. Remember how it used to be called "AGW," but suddenly became "Climate Change?" This abrupt change in description is telling, mostly because it denotes a lack of confidence in those assertions. Don't feel like your slogan is working anymore? Simple, just change it and presto, there you are.

  28. @Paul

    "Over the last 35 years the sun has shown a cooling trend. However global temperatures continue to increase. If the sun's energy is decreasing while the Earth is warming, then the sun can't be the main control of the temperature."

    You can understand more about the sun's influence on our climate here:

    "To say we're currently experiencing global cooling overlooks one simple physical reality - the land and atmosphere are only one small fraction of the Earth's climate (albeit the part we inhabit). Global warming is by definition global. The entire planet is accumulating heat due to an energy imbalance. The atmosphere is warming. Oceans are accumulating energy. Land absorbs energy and ice absorbs heat to melt. To get the full picture on global warming, you need to view the Earth's entire heat content."

    You can read more about it here:

  29. @ DC
    I don't believe that there is a current warming trend. That ended in 1998. The Dust Bowl of the late 30's was much warmer than it is now. I guess it all comes down to what data you are looking at. If you watched the attached youtube video of Dr. Don Easterbrook that I previously posted, you saw that he is going by the original temp. data before it was fudged numerous times. See Wikileaks East Anglia University leaks as well the recent NOAA whistleblower about fudged data to support the UN's IPCC.

  30. This morning my microwave oven informed me that the main cause of this "anthropogenic global warming" is actually volcanoes spewing 1 trillion times more carbon dioxide per day into the atmosphere than fossil fuel burning does in ten years. I mean, I'm no Inspector Gadget, but that has to count for something...right?

  31. No Eric, the term "Denier" has nothing even remotely to due with any allusion to the Holocaust. Climate denial is a now well establish phrase, with a well established meaning.

    From Climate change denial wikipedia:

    "Climate change denial, or global warming denial, is part of the global warming controversy. It involves denial, dismissal, unwarranted doubt or contrarian views which strongly depart from the scientific opinion on climate change, including the extent to which it is caused by humans, its impacts on nature and human society, or the potential of adaptation to global warming by human actions.[1][2][3]

    When your claims "strongly depart from the scientific view, in an unwarranted way, you quite rightly position yourself as a climate change denier, even if you conveniently cover your butt with the catch all "the climate is always changing". Did you flunk out of debate class?

  32. It was a great winter. Fantastic. Regular nordic skier here. We enjoyed plenty of snow, and of good guality (unusual in WA State). The Methow Valley was superb. Even dopey Snoq Pass was really, really good.
    The Midwest and East got very little until today. Lots of national events were cancelled or modified due to warm temps and lack of snow. We were lucky and I sure enjoyed it. Yep the driving was tricky at times but w/ a decent car, good snow tires, and a safety first attitude we were fine. Winter wonderland. I truly wish every winter was like this.

  33. Unknown and others who refute AGW are not merely deniers. They deliberately spread disinformation. They offer "Fake Science". Unknowns claim that Volcanoes release more CO2 than fossil fuel burning is crazy wrong. The opposite is true. You see, it's not merely denial it's disinformation.

    Dr. Easterbrook is a geologist. He teaches geology. If he is any good at geology then he probably has worked as a consultant for the mining industry.

    Good observation is the foundation of science.

    Last month, 47 of the 48 contiguous states reported above average temperatures. 13 states reported the warmest February of record. One state reported below average temperatures, that would be us, Washington State.

    Based on 1 state reporting below normal temps Placeholder wrote,
    "Terribly cold year. Must be the global warming. Used to be that the AGW cult would wag fingers about the difference between weather and climate, but I'm afraid those days are long gone. These days, the cult blames every departure from average -- downward or upward -- on global warming. These are desperate times in AGW land."

    This is not merely denial this is BS.

    It's time to call global warming Deniers what they really are: Liars.

  34. @ Mark
    Do you at least admit that the UN's handpicked scientists have been caught fudging the data. If not, then you are willingly buying into their public relations.

    It's time to call the global warming crowd what you really are: Misinformed.

    Lets revisit this in 2022 when most of you will be migrating south because you have realized just how misinformed and unprepared you were.

  35. @Paul, you are being ridiculous.

    The Arctic Ocean is unique. The warmest water is more than 1,000 feet deep. This is warm, high saline ocean water from the Atlantic. The water at the surface is nearly fresh and cold. No other ocean is like this. Ocean water in the Arctic circulates more slowly than the other oceans. These unique features are the result of a permanent Polar Ice Cap.

    Arctic Sea Ice extent has declined about 45% since 1978. Sea Ice thickness has declined about 50%. Arctic Sea Ice volume has decreased nearly 75% since 1978 (It is smaller and thinner). IT SHOULD SHOCK YOU! It is an accurate observation not a prediction.

    Arctic Sea Ice volume is in steady decline. By your year 2022 we could see a summer without a Polar Ice Cap over the Arctic Ocean.

    The sea ice is not just melting out. It is floating out. Arctic Sea water circulation has about doubled. Ice has always flowed out of the Arctic Sea and down the east coast of Greenland. It just does it twice as fast as before. And guess which ice is leaving first, the oldest ice.

    Wind works on open water. It creates waves. It pushes water. As Arctic Sea Ice declines in extent there is more open water for the wind to blow across. It creates larger waves that break up the sea ice and spin up the circulation. It's a real observation. Not a prediction.

    What does an open Arctic Ocean mean to weather patterns? What does it mean for the Greenland Ice Sheet? What does it mean to sea levels? Will the deep warm Arctic water mix with the surface water like other oceans? These are the questions real scientists are asking and researching.

    If your paying any attention at all to reality then you should have noticed that the Arctic was 30 to 40 degrees F. warmer than normal last Fall. It was much warmer because of the lack of sea ice. Open water is warmer than ice, duh.

    You don't think climate change is real? Visit the Arctic shoreline. Look at the temperature records. Look at the Sat maps of the Arctic Sea Ice. It's real buddy.

    In my opinion, the climate change reports from the UN and the IPCC are conservative. Meteorologists, in general. are a conservative lot. Many of us served in the military: Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard.

    During the most recent Super El Nino, the global temperature anomaly topped out at 1.2 C. There is strong reason to believe that in a few years, the global temperature under Nino neutral conditions will equal or exceed 1.2 C.

    You may not agree with the science but it is what it is.

    Honestly, you think the planet is going to go cold by 2022. Yeah right, and the Mayan calendar predicted the world would end on 11 August 2013. Your source is a QUACK QUACK QUACK.

  36. To put this in perspective, the coldest SeaTac winter temperature was 0 degrees F back in Jan. 31, 1950. Since then coldest measured temperatures have been steadily and rapidly increasing to where the coldest SeaTac temperature in recent decades was 13 degrees, and today we would expect to have about a 1-in-20 years lowest temperature of about 15 degrees.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

Undergraduate Scholarship Fund in Honor of Steve Pool

Steve Pool was a leading television meteorologist in Seattle for nearly 40 years..... but he was so much more. In addition to providing mete...