December 27, 2020

The January Snow Outlook

As we pass the holiday period, we naturally think about snow.... in the mountains and near the surface....particularly considering this is a La Nina year, which tends to arc cold and wet after January 1st here in the Northwest.

The current snowpack over our region is very much near normal (see below), so ski areas and water resources are in decent shape at this point.

But as I noted in earlier blogs, we are now in a moderate La Nina, with the tropical Pacific cooler than normal (see plot of temperature anomaly from normal below).  Blue indicates cooler than normal.

Turning to the most skillful extended forecasting system--the European Center weekly predictions, it is going for cooler than normal conditions during the next 46 days (through 8 February) over the region.  Good for snow.

And the precipitation prediction (again, difference from normal) for the same period shows wetter than normal conditions over Washington and Oregon (see below).    That, again, is good for our snowpack.  

An issue of concern, and one quite typical of La Nina years, is that California will be drier than normal.  Is certainly an issue for wildfires over the Golden State next summer/fall if it verifies.   

Turning to the the one-week snow totals from the UW system--- close enough in time that we have some confidence in the predictions-- there are huge amounts in southern BC and the north Cascades, with a decent snowfall down into Oregon.  But not California.

At this point, there is no suggestion of the type of situation that would bring lowland snow to western Washington, and certainly nothing like the crazy superfront snow of past week.  That event was extraordinary is so many ways:  snow on a a day with a high temperature record, record daily rainfall, huge temperature drops, eastern WA windstorms, and so much more.

But it was extraordinary in another way.  Our numerical weather prediction models nailed it.  Several (un-named) forecasters dismissed the predictions (not this blog!) and did not communicate them to the public. 

We simply could not have provided such forecasts a decade ago.   


  1. I keep looking at the 6 to 10 and 8 to 14 day outlooks from the NWS but they keep showing warmer and wetter than average...ugh. At least I will get some snow in Montana when I travel for work next week!

  2. Damn Cliff, you’re an institution. I don’t comment much yet rely on your valued perspective, at work and home. Science and integrity, consistently. Thanks

  3. So...I asked on some other posts about lowland basically...mountain snow...lowland rain...ughhhh...I'm the ot asking for a blizzard mother nature just something different to look at other than rain...asking for a friend...can you help a Gus out....

  4. Cliff,

    "Several (un-named) forecasters dismissed the predictions"

    I wonder why that happened. did not show any snow in their forecast at all. NWS had snow/rain in the forecast but only in the afternoon, did they maybe read your blog and decided to update?

  5. I was very impressed when the snow began falling. I said, “dang they nailed it.”

  6. Cliff, what's the deal with the snow level? Are you aware of any data that tracks the mean snow level over time? I ask because after a decade in this area I have noticed a trend upwards for snow levels. This time of year the foothills of North Bend would be snow from 2k upwards but in recent years, especially this year snow levels are bouncing around and rain quickly melts and washes away the snow. The next few days NOAA has issued a landslide watch as snow levels oscillate between 4k and upwards. Id be interested to learn why this happens, ive heard you mention before about being on the 'cold side of the jet' and perhaps in recent years we are on this side less frequently?


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

Strong Winds and Heavy Mountain Snows Coming to the Pacific Northwest

After a period of high pressure, weak winds, fog, low clouds, and little precipitation, the weather in our region is about to get quite inte...