January 11, 2024

A Dramatic Arctic Front Pushes Southward into Washington State

This afternoon a powerful Arctic Front pushed southward into Washington State, on both sides of the Cascades.

As a reminder, an Arctic Front is the boundary of cold, dry air from northern Canada and the previous moist, warm air over the region.  Winds behind the Arctic Front are often strong and gusty, particularly when it exits low-level gaps such as the Fraser River Valley.

And some light snow often accompanies this front as well.

The Arctic Front today was one of the strongest in years..... let me show you the details.

This Arctic Front hit like a freight train.   Here is a video from Greg Johnson at Skunk Bay Weather showing what conditions were like over North Kitsap County after passage.  Strong enough for white caps!


Conditions at Bellingham, downstream from the Fraser River gap, were stunning.  Temperatures today dropped from near 40F this morning to 14F a 9 PM.  At the same time, winds gusted to about 55 mph! (see below)



As a result, the wind chill at Bellingham is now well below zero (see below). And it will go lower.

The winds were so strong around Bellingham that a substantial number of power outages occurred:


I plotted the location of the Arctic Front at 5 PM today (red line, see below).  At that time is was located just south of Seattle and further south in Eastern Washington.  Note that single digit temperatures have already entered the northern part of the state.


As the northeasterly (from the NE) Arctic Air hit the Olympics it was forced to rise, producing several inches of snow.    The weather radar around 5:30 PM shows the upslope precipitation very clearly.


Here is a picture from SR 101 west of Port Townsend.....looks quite wintry.


What about snow?  

It is pretty much over north of Seattle, with some snow showers remaining to the south.  The latest UW snow total forecast from 4 PM today through 4 Saturday (below) suggests most of the snow will be over Oregon and the south Cascades.


The latest NOAA/NWS National Blend of Models forecast suggests a few more cold days in Seattle-Tacoma Airport followed by a warm-up (see below).  The predicted low for Saturday morning is extreme  (11F), with temperatures remaining below freezing most of the weekend.  11F would be the lowest temperature in many years at the airport.


Eastern Washington will stay colder longer, with the Tri Cities (shown below) dropping into the single digits through Tuesday.


Sweaters and thermal underwear might be good choices for the next few days.   This going to be a hard freeze, which may damage some plants.




27 comments:

  1. -20c in Kelowna right now. Howling wind from north. Water spraying up from waves hitting floating bridge. Freezing instantly on road and cars. Crashes everwhere

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  2. Wenatchee got a foot of snow since yesterday but Cashmere, just 10 miles away, only got a couple inches! Can you please explain that and also the surprise "Snow Squall" that the Cashmere-Wenatchee area got yesterday?

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  3. This event is unique in Bellingham history. No cold snap during El Nino has even come close to producing such extreme conditions. Legendary, once in a lifetime occurrence.

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    1. Maybe in Bellingham, but definitely not the case for northern Whatcom County. This is brutal, but not unheard of.

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    2. Thanks for getting my attention. It made me decide to give the data a once over and I realize now that the brutal cold snap which occurred at the end of December 1968 outdid this one (though by only just a tad) and was in fact in conjunction with a weak El Nino.

      That said, It's not easy to comment with authority on the occurrence of a particular weather event in the context of ENSO phase prior to 1950 as the ONI data only goes back that far. In any case, the remarkably cold daily maximum temperatures observed across Whatcom County today have been exceptional by virtually any standard. The "Clearbrook" NWS COOP station, located about midway between Lynden and Sumas, has data back to March 1903 and the most recent occurrence of a colder daily maximum temperature there was during the aforementioned December 1968 event. If we confine our parameters to the month of January then the most recent colder daily max temp was probably during the strong La Nina of 1950 (we'll know for sure when the data are published). No January cold snap during a known El Nino has ever produced such extreme cold anywhere in Whatcom County. Interestingly, there was very little variation in temperature or wind between Sumas and Bellingham during the day today. BLI has so far reported a max temp of 10F and min temp of 3F (with a peak gust of 62mph) - virtually identical to the normally colder locations to the northeast, closer to the Fraser Valley.

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    3. Whatcom county: I recall December, 1989, I think, pretty close to Christmas. I went out to do some shopping and when I got out of the mall the temperature had dropped 30°, maybe in as little as 30 minutes. We'd had flood conditions just prior, and were not very dried out. The ground was full of water and it froze, expanded, pushed the trees up out of the ground and then the wind blew them over. Trees with trunk diameters of 2' or more were broken off about 2' above the ground by the expanding ice in their lower trunks. Much of the county was without power for several days. Besides branches and trees bringing down power lines there were LOTS of utility poles at crazy angles. The pieces of that event may not have made record books, but taken together it was the worst weather I had experienced.

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    4. February 1989. One of the most extreme cold snaps in PNW history:

      https://climate.washington.edu/climate-events/what-a-blast-the-arctic-air-outbreak-of-february-1989/

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  4. I don't recall the NWS issuing a wind advisory for Thursday night. The winds seemed as strong as the last blow.

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  5. 5 Degrees, Windchill -9, Orcas Island NW slope Mount Constitution 10 AM 1/12/24

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  6. It was down to -11.5 C (11 F) at Victoria (Gonzales) this morning. That's the coldest temperature recorded at that location in 55 years - since December 1968.

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  7. Finally a cold blast that should kill off the moths and gnats still flying around in late afternoon.

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  8. Got down to 8F in the San Juans, well below the lowest predictions. Am curious how the power grid is standing up to the 10GW+ load today: BPA doesn't indicate % of capacity like many other operators do.

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  9. Just wondering if you had any predictions for how bad gap winds will get tonight in Gold Bar, North Bend, etc.

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  10. May damage some plants? That's the understatement of the year!

    About 17 F this morning at Mill Creek.

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  11. There might be some people out there that remember the Seattle blizzard of January 13, 1950. I was a sophomore at Lincoln High in north Seattle then and had to walk a mile home after school, in a northward direction, facing into a 30 mph north wind with a temperature of 13 degrees at 3pm in the afternoon. There were snow drifts up to my knees in places. The weather bureau was at Seattle-Tacoma airport then and they measured about 20 inches of snow from that storm.

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    1. My now 96yo mom remembers that 1950 snow situation very well!..I was three years old, and the snow was nearly as tall as I was! As far as temperature goes..I distinctly remember that the winter of 1968/69 featured a few very low temps...6* one morning, in the Green Lake area. The nastiest recorded snowfall for Seattle was in 1917...I have read, that it froze for a couple of weeks, and people were actually driving their ModelTs across Green Lake, which had frozen over six inches deep! Ice skaters were all over the lake! Hard to imagine, but photos exist of this weird happening.

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    2. My dad lived near 79th and Greenwood in the early 1920s and they used to sled down the steep streets to Green Lake (before Aurora was a main highway). He also mentioned cars driving onto frozen Green Lake, one of which broke thru the ice. In January 1950, I skied across Green Lake which was frozen with a deep layer of snow on top.

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  12. You can see the real-time BPA load and generation at https://transmission.bpa.gov/business/operations/wind/baltwg.png

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    1. Very interesting, thanks. It looks like there was decent solar/wind power (VER) generated on Jan 9-12 and this reduced the hydro load but didn't have very much impact on the demand for fossil-fuel generation.

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    2. At 8 AM on the 13th, the BPA load is about 11 GW, with about 9 GW is coming from hydro, and 1 GW from nukes, and a bit less than 1 GW each from fossil and wind

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  13. I had to chuckle while watching one of the many fear-mongering local TV weather readers-- euphemistically called "meteorologists," stated how "unprecedented" this cold was. Then she displayed a graph of previous year's "unheard of cold." The graph confirmed that as recently as 2017 among other recent years, the Puget Sound experienced other "unheard of cold" temps. LOL.

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  14. Many speak of '68. While I wasn't alive I heard many stories and confirmed by a picture. We have an area we call the flats out of Okanogan and Omak, it is open to the north wind down our valley. People didn't plow up there, they tunneled to open driveways and the roads after the snow drifted. The pic is incredible. Too bad we got rain shadowed otherwise might of been another '68 for us.

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  15. BPA load has nearly doubled this week. An impressive response to the cold.

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  16. Fear sells news and keeps people glued to the screen. It doesn't help our mental health.

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  17. The power grid probably took a beating across North America during this cold wave. Heck, just in the PNW you have to wonder how many wood and pellet stoves got replaced in favor of mini-splits. Granted, our ever warming and lengthening summers make mini-splits almost a must now. Add in all the EVs, tankless heaters, etc etc. New houses come with all that stuff baked in standard with more SF to heat/cool. Yah, our area probably needs a moratorium.

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  18. Hi there! Thank you for sharing this insightful article on the impact of the recent Arctic Front. It's fascinating to see how the collision of cold, dry air from northern Canada with warm, moist air over the region can create such dramatic weather conditions.

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