March 06, 2024

Coldest Early March in a Generation, Large Improvement in Regional Snowpack

If it feels a bit chilly to you, you are not imagining it.   

And if you are worried about the snowpack, you can rest easy, there have been big gains since the start of the year.

First, temperature.  For many of you, this is the coldest early March in memory.  Consider the average high temperatures for the first five days of March in Seattle (see below).   We are experiencing the coldest start to March since the late 1980s.   

There is something else interesting in this plot:  the average high temperatures in early March have actually COOLED since the 1980s (the trend line is shown by the brown line).   

If you want to really get a chill up your spine, take a look at the minimum temperatures this morning (March 6).  Mid-20s over southern Puget Sound and single digits over northeast Washington.  Portions of central Oregon dropped below ZERO.   This is with longer days and a much stronger sun.


Then there is the issue of snowpack.   Well, good news.....there has been substantial recovery and more is on the way.

The current snowpack percentage of normal for Washington State (shown below), shows several watersheds (like the crucial Yakima) at 80% or more.  The western side of the Cascades is now at roughly 2/3 of normal.   And the Olympics, which was down to roughly 25% has doubled to 50%.


Oregon's snowpack is in excellent shape (see below), with many watersheds well over 100% of normal.


Just to show you how much things have improved, below is the situation over Washington on January 4th.    MUCH worse, with much of the state below 50% of normal snowpack. Huge improvement.



So with all this cold and snowy news, what do you think was on the front page of the Seattle Times this morning?   

Lack of snow and DROUGHT.  And without a single mention of El Nino, the key driver of the lack of snow earlier in the season.  I will leave it to you to speculate why they are doing this.  But it is not good.









23 comments:

  1. Where do the Washington regional snowpack percentages come from? Are they simply from the snotels? If so it seems like a big gap in data. I live near and recreate often in the Olympics and with only 4 snotel sites mostly oriented to the eastern half and in the foothill mountains of the range I have a hard time trusting this data. I think this trend of cooling in March earns it the new name of Magic March :)

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    1. I think you know the answer. Cliff does not rely on only Snotel, but many sources, after all he works as a meteorologist and I believe teaches it at the UW.

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    2. This wasn't me questioning Cliff or his sources. Simply curious what other technology or monitoring is involved in the snowpack percentage maps we always see. Most are USDA, and in my crude searches on google the only data points are snotels. Still waiting on an answer. Here to learn.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Nice to see you blog on the weather and not deal too much with the sideshow that is the ST climate lab. I think they feel they have to write something even when there is really nothing to write about and their thesis always has to be how immediate weather always relates somehow to burning fossil fuels.

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  4. "And if you are worried about the snowpack, you can rest easy..." Judging by the hysterics in the AGW crowd over the past two decades, I have to assume that this comment was posted entirely in jest.

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  5. I'd also be quite interested to see insolation levels. According to my solar panels (going back to 2014) this has been the least sunny meteorological winter by a large margin. While none of the months were worst on my history the sum was at least 15% below next worst year.

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  6. How are the average temperatures determined? If it's the mathematical mean, we all know that averages can obscure extremes. If you're using a 90 day average, it could eliminate two weeks of substantially below normal highs as we saw in January. Possibly a median temperature might more accurately show out of the ordinary weather. I know my heating bill does, regardless of what the Seattle Times seems to think.

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  7. Meanwhile on the world stage... The world as a whole experienced the hottest February on record, making it the ninth consecutive month of record temperatures. Even more startling, global ocean temperatures in February were at an all-time high for any time of year, according to Copernicus (the European climate monitoring organization).

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    1. Did you actually read the data? It beat the old record by...one eighth of a degree. Wow, time to panic.

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    2. Eric - New records have been set nearly every year for the past decade. It adds up and it matters. The models that correctly predicted this trend, predict more of it going forward.

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    3. Eric, do you understand how much energy it takes to raise the average global temperature by one eight of a degree? Do you understand the underlying science behind why it's changing?

      Maybe also look at the records in aggregate - what's the direction they're going?

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    4. Rich, you are probably correct, but in this case it doesn't fit the narrative as far as the PNW "region". Emphasis on REGION. Even if the the rest of the world warms on average, our warming is dependent on the water temp of the Pacific and its mitigation. As the Pacific warms, so shall we, but there will be some lag in comparison with regions whose climate has the influence of the bulk of the continent to the west.

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    5. "New records have been set nearly every year for the past decade." Jerry, according to the data referred to in the commenter's post, they have not. The increase they referred to broke the previous record, which was set in...2016. This does not prove your conclusion, only that it beat that record in that one year by...once again, one eighth of a degree. Man, we better build that spaceship and get ready to bug out at the drop of a hat, ammiright?

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  8. I've been noticing the cold, and often frosty mornings myself here in Tacoma. This morning, we got below freezing (30F, I believe), but it is very sunny and clear skies, but still cold. We have had days where we didn't even make it to 40, like last Friday if not mistaken. Cold, semi frozen slush (rain/snow combo) fell late in the day, and I drove in the slop to the store.

    It's true that March has been cooler than normal the past few years, I've tried to grow tomatoes, but not without some struggles early on when late March is often too cold for the new starts, had to wait until mid to late April before planting, and even then, the weather stayed cool through at least the first half of May.

    I remember when summer was cloudy in the mornings, but breaks out into warm sunshine by mid to late morning, and top out at maybe 80F for much of the summer with the occasional hot day over 80, and those are when the sun burns off the clouds early in the morning.

    Nice to hear that the snow pack is more or less normal.

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    1. "I remember when summer was cloudy in the mornings, but breaks out into warm sunshine by mid to late morning, and top out at maybe 80F for much of the summer with the occasional hot day over 80, and those are when the sun burns off the clouds early in the morning."

      Yes, I remember when it like that as well. But, we were young then.

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  9. I find the leading headline on the Seattle Times front page to be a more glaring instance of data misrepresentation. It ought to read something like, "14% more expensive houses were sold over the past year". According to the latest Case-Shiller data, what most readers would think of as house price increase in the Seattle area was more like 3%. "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence".

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  10. Just noticed that over on the Weather Channel, the temps will become spring like as we move through March. after a brief, but slight dip in the temps after tomorrow (55 and cloudy), we will slowly rise to the mid/upper 60's before we drop back to the upper 50's by the 20th.

    A few days of showers but mostly cloudy and dry from there through the 20th/21st.

    So in essence, spring like weather is rushing in rather quickly, but how long though?

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    Replies
    1. You are describing "spring" as sunny and warm, but that's not what spring climate is like in western Washington.

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  11. 6 degrees yesterday morning on White Pass. I slept in a camper, my dog kept me warm.

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  12. Cliff, one of the things my companies do is sanding and deicing for clients in parking lots. I've noticed in the last 5 or so years that winter needs have seemingly moved 2 - 3 weeks towards Spring, and settling up a bit later March each year.

    Is it possible (leaving La Nina and El Nino out of the picture, if possible) that things have shifted forward by as much as 3 weeks?

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  13. Cliff, I have been wondering if you could explain a specific, weird phenomenon this year. It pertains to the eastern slopes of the North Cascades. The nordic skiers who frequent the Methow Valley in particular have noticed it. The Methow has been far warmer than normal this winter *relative to the west slopes.* The Methow is normally about 15 degrees colder than Seattle, give or take. If it's raining in Seattle and in the mid 40s, it's snowing (or maybe dry) in the Methow. Even in the crazy 2015 winter, the Methow Valley had a decent snow season because it was much colder there so the precip was falling as snow even when it was raining at, e.g., Snoqualmie Pass. This year, the Methow is having its worst snow year I can ever remember in 25 years. Even during this late season cold and snow you keep writing about, the Methow has not been getting any of it. Precip has been mostly rain, and the temps have been roughly THE SAME as Seattle, which is crazy. What is causing this particular anomaly? It makes me concerned about fire season this year as well...

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  14. I've been confused by sunny mornings followed by cloudy afternoons. I'm familiar with the opposite and don't understand this pattern I've seen this month.

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