/*To TOP Button*/ -^- Top /*End of TOP Button*/

 Seasonal Forecasts 

Pacific Northwest Seasonal Outlooks

By Climatologist Bob Lutz




2021-22 Winter Outlook * Issued September 13, 2021



Following the hottest summer in "recorded" history around the Inland Northwest, many are left wondering what surprises winter will send our way?  Unfortunately, the answers are not as clear-cut as I would like to see.

The primary issue is a short term change in the climate cycles which have created havoc in both the global upper level air patterns and major ocean currents over the past few years.  Historically, there were clear indicators of what winter might be like here in the Northwest based solely on what was going on in the equatorial Pacific, but that is no longer the case.

In fact, the last six episodes of the El Nino and La Nina cycles produced weather patterns that were almost totally opposite of what we should have experienced.  Last season you might remember that the Cascades absorbed most of the moisture out of the Pacific storms, leaving the Inland Northwest much drier by later in the season.  No, I think Pacific Decadal Oscillation (the warming and cooling of the ocean temps in the Gulf of Alaska)  has more of a significant impact on our local weather.  And those temperatures have been steadily ratcheting upward since 2010.    

Even so, there are a couple of things that leave me slightly hopeful that we will experience a wetter than normal winter, including some indicators that the waters off the NW coast will cool in the weeks ahead.  How much they cool will be critical, and I'll get more into that next. That cooling (if occurs)  combined with a developing La Nina pattern should increase the storminess over eastern Pacific.  In fact, we are seeing a little evidence of that already.

 If the waters over the eastern Pacific fail to cool, then periods of blocking high pressure will likely be the result.  Those highs typically split the storm track around the Northwest, and each occurrence has been historically known to last for two weeks or more.  During our already too short wet season, this is obviously of significant concern. 

 It's interesting that the latest forecast from the Climate Prediction Center is also slightly favoring a wetter than normal pattern, especially beyond December.  Even so, they, along with many other climate experts of late caution that precipitation totals may fall short of fully ending the local drought conditions.   

The other area of concern is the seasonal phasing of the Subtropical and Polar storm tracks.  During a normal winter (if there is such a thing anymore) the Subtropical storm track phases with the Polar storm track in various places around the globe.  This feeds the Polar storm track, (which is most present in the Northwest during winter)  heavier amounts of water vapor.  This in turn results in stronger, wetter storms.  The failure of this very phenomenon over the Pacific late last winter is what started our historic drought.      

Temperature patterns are even more uncertain.  If the storm tracks are able to maintain a direct flow into the Pacific Northwest, then we'll be wetter, but not necessarily colder.  The reason is that the storm tracks will keep things progressive, and serve to bottle any Arctic air to our north.  On the flip side, any decrease in storm activity, either as a result of high pressure or the storm track wobbling around the West, could increase the chance of Arctic air spilling further south.  

In recent years, Arctic oscillation phases have also been a challenge.  They are not very predictable anymore, and sometimes the phases of these air masses change in only a matter of days, without much warning.

Our biggest snow producers here around the Inland Northwest are during those times when milder Pacific air overrides those Arctic air masses that slide into our area.  If the storm track does indeed wobble up and down the West Coast this season, then those episodes could be more likely.  

So as you can plainly see, forecasting for the longer term has now become quite complex as we head into uncharted territory related to the change in climate cycles.  A few of these patterns are simply unrecognizable to our current forecast models due to lack of historical data. 

These changes by the way are mostly the result of higher than normal global volcanic activity, along with changing sunspot activity.  This is nothing new in the some 4.5 billion years that the earth has been in existence... Just saying.      

The one thing that I do know for sure is that if we don't get that wetter winter we so desperately need, then our record drought will only worsen with the arrival of the dry season late next spring! 

In closing, you're probably saying to yourself that this is not much of a "forecast", but rather a "cause & effect" lesson.  If that's the case, then you're exactly correct.  These are the times we find ourselves in.  Quite frankly, trying to make a long range forecast anymore is nothing short of placing a bet in Vegas.   Even the all-knowing Farmers Almanac of late has missed the mark.  The best advice I can give is for you to just make it a habit of checking my daily forecasts to get all the latest, and be prepared for just about anything.   





Previous Seasonal Forecasts



2020-21 Winter Outlook * Issued August 18, 2020



The hot, dry weather of this past summer over the entire Western U.S. is directly related to the return of the 4-Corners high pressure ridge, which has resulted in some significant changes over the eastern Pacific.  These oceanic changes may also be pointing toward a heavier than normal winter for portions of the Northwest. 


Detailed Synopsis 

The summer weather is often a good indicator on how the winter months may evolve over our area.  Last summer, our semi-permanent summer high pressure ridge was somewhat out of place, and was anchored over the eastern Pacific.  This generated a lot of warmer than average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and a return of the warm "Blob" in the Gulf of Alaska.  The result was a warmer than average winter with much of the accumulating snow confined to the valleys and snow belt regions north of I-90, and up in the higher mountains.  Arctic air for the most part also remained bottled up well north of the Canadian border.

This year however, our summer high pressure ridge has been centered near the 4-corners region over the Desert Southwest, which is more typical for the Western U.S...   This more normal set-up left portions of the eastern Pacific and the Gulf of Alaska under a rather stormy pattern this summer which kept the waters churning, thus preventing any unusual pools of warm water from developing.  In addition, the SST's in the Nino regions around the Equatorial Pacific have cooled back to slightly below normal, with some models now forecasting this trend to continue well into the winter months.  If all this goes unchanged, then I suspect we will see a rather active winter with plenty of snow in both the mountains and higher valleys.  There is also a higher risk of more Arctic air than what we saw last season as the storm track buckles at times, and leaves the door wide open to a northerly flow.   So in conclusion, expect to see snowfall at or above normal, with overall temperatures coming in below normal before it is all said and done.  I will have another update around mid December should I see any significant, last minute changes to the pattern.




2019-20 UPDATED Winter Outlook * Issued January 3, 2020



Some minor changes have occurred to the large pool of warm water in the Gulf of Alaska and eastern Pacific.  This will lead to weather conditions that will be a bit more winter-like for the 2nd half of winter.    


Detailed Synopsis 

The big snow producing months for the lowlands here in the Inland Northwest are typically November - February, half of which are now behind us.  As I suspected, the first "half" did not produce much in the way of any significant winter weather thanks to that massive pool of warm water off the Washington coast.  Over the past few weeks, that pool has shrunk and cooled a bit, but sea surface temperatures (SST's) are still running above average.  Also of note is a significant cooling over Alaska, this after some near record warmth over the past couple of months.  All these subtle changes should lead to temperatures cooling just enough over the Northwest to give us a little more snow for the last two "snow-producing months" of the season.  Even so, snowfall averages will still likely come in below normal.  On the flip side, precipitation should continue to average near normal through the early spring months.   As for Arctic outbreaks, they are still possible, but I don't see anything that would result in a repeat of the severe late winter outbreak we experienced last February.        




2019-20 Winter Outlook * Issued September 12, 2019



A large pool of warm water (affectionately known as the "Blob") has reemerged in the Gulf of Alaska which will likely lead to a mild, but wet early winter season, with more uncertainty in the forecast beyond January.  


Detailed Synopsis 

First for some housecleaning... Many of you no doubt noticed that I did not issue a Spring & Summer Outlook this year, and the reason is simple... In all my years of weather observations, I can't recall a time when we have seen an El Nino pattern (typically a winter phenomenon) occur during the summer months.  As such, we were in uncharted territory and as it turned out, this summer was indeed a bit strange with only short-lived heat waves, and much wetter than normal conditions in many locations. 

So fast forward to the present time with the latest ENSO update now indicating that the warm El Nino waters in the equatorial Pacific have finally returned to normal temperatures.  On the flip side, we currently have a large area of warm water being observed just off the West Coast and in the Gulf of Alaska.  It is interesting to note that this warming in the Gulf is the same exact scenario we had last fall, only this time the sea surface temperatures (SST's) there appear to be considerably warmer. In fact, this particular warming event is very similar to what transpired during the winter of 2014-15 in which snowfall here in the Northwest came in well below normal and temperatures were above average for much of the season.

All this leads me to believe that we will see at least an early winter season with milder than normal temperatures, and an active storm track which will move up and down the West Coast, sending plenty of Pacific moisture inland.   

The forecast for the latter half of winter carries with it some uncertainty, and will all depend on whether or not that pool of warmer water in the Gulf of Alaska significantly dissipates in the months ahead.  If that were to occur, it would lead to a colder second half of Winter.  Of course, there is always Arctic Oscillation which can throw a monkey wrench in everything, and typically gives little warning prior to its onset.  As such, I always recommend you monitor my Inland Northwest Summaries issued daily on my Home Page.

So in summary, expect temperatures to average above normal, with a tendency for normal to slightly above normal precipitation in the form of both rain and very wet snow in the northern valleys.  Also in this pattern, the mountains will likely experience highly fluctuating freezing levels.   I will post another update sometime in late December or January IF I see any notable changes to the ongoing patterns, so stay tuned just in case! 





2018-19 UPDATED Winter Outlook * Issued December 7, 2018



The "Blob" has returned, and unless the sea surface temperatures (SST's) associated with it change, our overall winter weather here in the Northwest will continue to be milder than normal, with below normal snowfall.  


Detailed Synopsis 

In my original Winter Outlook issued in September, I alluded to the fact that the upcoming winter had plenty of uncertainties, and that has pretty much been the case so far this season!  I also mentioned that El Nino might not necessarily play a huge role in our weather as there are plenty of other atmospheric features with much stronger influences here in the great Northwest.  Well as it turns out, that too has verified, especially with the redevelopment of a local phenomenon called the blob.  The "Blob" (as scientists have so lovingly named it) is a huge pool of warm water in the Gulf of Alaska where SST's are well above normal.  This is mostly caused by long lasting high pressure ridges that remain nearly stationary over the same area.  That has certainly been the case since early summer this year whereas general high pressure remained anchored out over the eastern Pacific and the Gulf of Alaska.  The resulting calm conditions created an anomalously warm pool of water which in late October was twice the size of British Columbia!  Why these ridges develop in the first place is a bit of a mystery, but I suspect it has something to do with more episodes of the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) which has been known to cause resilient high pressure ridges downstream over the eastern Pacific.  I also suspect that this Blob thing could be a part of a bigger phenomenon called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation which I believe first tried to switch to a warm (or positive) phase in early 2009.  In short, this is basically a longer-term warming (or cooling) of the Gulf of Alaska waters which has historically lasted between 10 and 30 years, and was first observed by Alaskan fishermen many decades ago.  

The last big blob episode here was observed in 2014-15 when SST's were running some 7 degree's Fahrenheit above normal!  During that winter, our snowfall here in the Northwest came in well below normal while the East Coast got hammered.  The blob tried to re-emerge again in 2016, but was washed away by storminess over the eastern Pacific.  This current episode is not quite as warm, with SST's running around 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

 So the big question is will the blob get washed away again, or will it remain??  While I hate to sit on the fence so-to-speak, it's really a a wait and see thing.  If the warmer water does get displaced, then the later half of the season should be more winter-like.  If not, expect more of the same meaning overall milder than normal temperatures. There will still be snow at times, but it may be more of the wet variety in the valleys with averages coming in below normal when it's all said and done . You can read more about the "Blob" by clicking HERE.  In the meantime, be prepared for just about anything for the remainder of the season!




2018-19 Winter Outlook * Issued September 20, 2018



The winter forecast this year is rather complex and as such, a bit more uncertain; however, based on our recent summer pattern, I suspect that this winter will be very similar in many ways to what we saw last winter, with temperatures being the biggest wildcard.  


Detailed Synopsis 

If you noticed an uncanny similarity in the weather this past summer vs. last summer, you were not alone!  Temperatures turned out to be very similar, (if not a bit hotter at times) and precipitation was once again hard to come by.  I think this trend will play a role in our winter forecast, but more on that later... 

First, I should point out that the complexity this year stems from a number of larger scale global patterns.  In fact, many local forecasters will likely base their winter outlook around the development of another El Nino cycle which is a warming in the equatorial Pacific, but I say not so fast!  While El Nino has historically given us milder, drier winter patterns, in looking at the past 10 years of El Nino/La Nina events, it was painfully obvious that nothing went according to plan!  One can only conclude that for whatever reason, the water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific were having little influence over our patterns here in the Northwest, and that could be the case again this time around.  Instead, I think we need to watch the Madden-Julian and Arctic Oscillations more closely, along with sun spot activity.  These seem to have higher impacts on our Northwest weather, but unfortunately are extremely difficult to forecast very far in advance.  Having said all this though, I suspect that the pattern of this past summer was providing as least some clue as to what the upcoming months will bring.  Since the overall theme seems to be extremely similar to last year, it is conceivable to believe that the winter weather this year will also have a lot of similarities, at least for the early part of the season.  The one caveat are temperatures, which is largely dependent on what the Arctic Oscillation does.  While there are no indications either way at this time, I should point out that we are way overdue for a cold, Arctic-like winter... Just saying.   

So in conclusion, I expect to see overall precipitation come in near to above normal.  As for snowfall, it could come early and may also have the potential to be above normal in the mountains, but below normal in the valley areas around and south of I-90.  If however more Arctic air manages to invade the Northwest, the valley snowfall may also come in above normal.  Due to all the uncertainly, I will likely issue another update around mid December once the winter patterns begin to reveal themselves!                




2018 Spring & Summer Outlook * Issued March 10, 2018



Both precipitation and temperatures should average close to seasonal normals going into spring and early summer.  


Detailed Synopsis 

After a very strange and fickle winter around the Inland Northwest, everyone is wondering if the spring and summer months will bring more of the same.  The short answer is probably not.  As I mentioned in my updated Winter Forecast issued last December, we saw a last-minute change in the pattern which was generated by an active Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) which resulted in a strong,  resilient blocking ridge of high pressure along the West Coast.  This phenomenon totally negated the typically colder Northwest patterns associated with an ongoing La Nina episode in the Equatorial Pacific.  Even so, we still managed to see above normal snowfall totals in the northern counties, and the mountains as of this summary are just loaded with snow as well!

The spring and summer seasons should be a bit more stable as the patterns associated with the MJO are not typically a factor here in the northern hemisphere summer.  In addition, the current La Nina pattern continues to wane and should be gone by late spring.  With these two phenomenon's out of the picture, the wild swings we saw this past winter should decrease.  Beyond mid April, there are really no strong indicators either way on an abnormally wet/dry or hot/cold spring and summer ahead.  For a number of reasons, I suspect that the spring months (while active) will probably not be near as wet as what we experienced last season.  On the flip side, I don't expect the summer to be as dry, for as long of a period as what we saw last year either.  In general, expect rather average conditions in both temperature and precipitation going into the early fall months.   I will post another update in early summer If I see any significant changes develop in the overall global patterns.            




2017-18 UPDATED Winter Outlook * Issued December 12, 2017



Another unexpected weather phenomenon may lead to lower snowfall totals than what was originally forecast for the Inland Northwest...


Detailed Synopsis 

Every winter, there seems to be some unexpected development in the patterns, and this winter is no exception!  As we went into the fall months, it appeared that the La Nina pattern (colder waters in the Equatorial Pacific) was right on track to give us a wet, cold winter.  Now however, we have another phenomenon that has complicated things, and has severely interfered with the onset of La Nina.  It's called the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which also takes place in the tropical Pacific.  This pattern is impossible to forecast and when it does develop, it happens quickly.  This may have been brought on by the recent high solar activity but whatever the reason, this pattern typically results in large blocking high pressure ridges along the West Coast.  These patterns don't typically last more than two or three weeks at a time, but they have been known in some instances to repeat themselves.  We saw a similar pattern in 2011 when after a snowy November, we saw little snow in December.  That winter of 2011-12 did end up with snowfall totals just a tad above normal, so there is hope.  Obviously, every day of high pressure is a day without snowfall, and over time that could put a significant dent in our snowpack potential.  There will be winter storms this season, but how often they are interrupted by this Madden-Julian Oscillation remains to be seen.  January will tell the story... If we see another significant blocking ridge, then all bets are off on the potential for above normal snowfall in our area this winter!




2017-18 Winter Outlook * Issued September 5, 2017



It may be another cold and snowy winter this season as patterns are expected to remain quite active in the Eastern Pacific, and the waters over the Equatorial Pacific remain close to normal levels going into the Northern Hemisphere winter season.


Detailed Synopsis 

Bbefore we get to the winter outlook, let's chat a little about our summer pattern which did not exactly go  according to plan.  For those that read my summer forecast earlier this year, you at least had knowledge that the seemingly never-ending spring rains would eventually come to an end, and boy did they ever!  To be quite truthful, I was not expecting such an abrupt end to the precipitation, and I was certainly not anticipating such a long, hot dry spell.  That being said, it did indeed dry out and warm up as forecast, it was just a bit on the extreme side.  It seems the cause for this sudden change was the stronger than normal influence of the semi-permanent summer high pressure ridge.  That ridge typically resides over the Four-Corners region of the Southwest but this season, the ridge seemed to have lost its way, and made frequent surges into the Northern Rockies.  This pattern rapidly cut off any Pacific moisture, and pumped up copious amounts of heat from the Desert Southwest.   The culprit for this stronger than average ridge was likely the result of a slight warming of the sea surface temperatures (SSTs) located in the waters of the Equatorial Pacific.      

At least for now, it seems that those SSTs have cooled down closer to normal levels, but the outlook is a bit uncertain as to what will happen through the winter months.  A change in either direction could have significant  impacts on our winter weather, but more on that in just a bit... 

Now, SSTs are not the only thing that I follow when trying to formulate a guess as to what the upcoming winter may bring.  For those that follow winter forecasts on a regular basis, you know that I closely follow the habits of our local Red squirrels.  Now of course, I do utilize other scientific resources, but it is surprising how accurate these little furry beasts seem to be!  Having said that, it's been hard to ignore the fact that these critters started packing pine cones off to their secret hiding places a bit earlier than usual this year.

Of particular interest is the continued storm activity in the Eastern Pacific.  While we here in the Pacific Northwest were basking in hot, sunny, rather benign weather, the Gulf of Alaska "storm factory" has been very busy!  The only thing that protected us from getting ANY of that storm activity this summer was the unusual strength and longevity of the Four-Corners ridge.  Once the seasonal summer ridge deflates, our protection will be gone, and the storm door will be wide open into the Pacific Northwest.    

The wildcard for the upcoming winter season is the influence of Arctic air. This will (at least in part) hinge on what the water temperatures do in the Equatorial Pacific in November and December.  Most statistical models are leaning toward normal, to slightly cooler than normal SSTs.  A few are hinting at slightly warmer conditions.  There are of course other factors that come into play such as Arctic Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation, all of which play a role in our winter patterns.    

In short, I suspect moisture will be abundant this winter while temperatures average a bit on the cooler side of normal.  Arctic air masses will also make a run at us from time to time, but how severe they will be remains to be seen. 



2017 Spring & Summer Outlook * Issued March 28, 2017



Our rather wet spring should gradually give way to a somewhat drier pattern as we approach the summer months.  Both precipitation and temperatures should then remain close to seasonal normals going into early fall.  


Detailed Synopsis 

Long range weather models continue to advertise that sea surface temperatures (SST's) will trend over to neutral conditions in the months ahead which should result in some drier weather going into the late spring and early summer months.  In the meantime, a semi-permanent ridge of high pressure to our south has, and will continue to force both the sub-tropical and Polar storm tracks to remain close to the Northwest.  That combined with the lingering effects of the recent La Nina pattern in the Equatorial Pacific will keep our weather quite active with above normal precipitation continuing through much of the early spring period, and perhaps beyond.  As time progresses, that same ridge of high pressure to our south should gradually build north and push the more active weather into Canada.  As such, precipitation should begin to wane going into the summer months and temperatures will warm as a result.  I do expect thunderstorms to be more numerous this season compared to last year due to the more active pattern.  In short, we should enjoy a normal summer pattern with lots of hot, dry weather which at times will be interrupted with cooler periods accompanied by showers and thunderstorms.      




UPDATED 2016-17 Winter Outlook *  Issued December 16, 2016



The latest model updates as of mid December reveal that the La Nina pattern in the equatorial Pacific is still on track to persist through much of winter; however, an unprecedented anomaly in October has led to a more uncertain snowfall forecast for the season.  


Detailed Synopsis 

I have to admit that I thought that we would have seen a lot more snow on the ground by now, especially up in the snow belt regions north of the Spokane basin.  So what happened??  (I'm so glad you asked!!)  Well, in October you might remember that we experienced an unusually strong Pacific storm track over the Northwest which resulted in all-time record rainfall.  This was a result of persistent blocking high pressure ridges to our south and east.   This was also a huge game changer in that this pattern flooded the entire northern tier of the country with a ton of mild Pacific air, which took all of October and November to recover from!  As a result, it seems that the snow producing weeks of winter are running a bit behind schedule. 

As it turns out, two parts of my original Winter Forecast have already come to fruition...  We have certainly experienced well above normal precipitation (just not in the form of much snow yet) and we have already suffered through more Arctic air than all of last year, and I'm certain there will be more of that to come!  

It goes without saying that winter is just getting started, so there is still plenty of time to build those snow packs.  However, in light of us losing some productive snow weeks (from Thanksgiving past mid December) snowfall totals for the season may not be quite as heavy as what I originally thought.  Even so, La Nina effects here in the Northwest don't really start ramping-up until late December and early January, which can then persist well into March.  As such, I still expect snowfall totals to come in at, or above normal in many areas before winter is all said and done!     




2016-17 Winter Outlook * Issued August 17, 2016



The developing changes I talked about earlier this year concerning the Sea Surface Temperatures in both the Equatorial and Eastern Pacific have already led to changes in the global weather patterns.  As such, the chances of a good, old fashioned Northwest winter this season are the best that I have seen in quite some time!  


Detailed Synopsis 

The signs are already in the air... I have already seen some of the queen yellow jackets looking for shelter, and the "stink" bugs are out & about around a month earlier than usual as well.  Now of course all these nasty pests have to survive my two cans of Raid (one in each hand) before they can safely make it to shelter, and I'm happy to report that a few of them will not have to worry about surviving the winter if you know what I mean.  The Robins and the Hummingbirds also seem to be exiting early, and my favorite (our local Red squirrels) have  come out of their sloth-like summer behavior earlier than usual as well...  They have already started cutting (the particularly heavy abundance) of pine cones off of our area Evergreens and onto our noggins.  Somehow, someway, Mother Nature knows what's ahead, and I for one have learned to pay attention to the signs, especially when some of them are hitting me on the head!  Of course, there are plenty of weather pattern signals out there as well, a few of which have my complete attention this year!    

For those that have been following my "weather guessing adventures" throughout the year, it should have come as no surprise that we have experienced a summer with much less heat than what we suffered through the past couple of seasons.  More importantly, I also shared that I thought that this would be a calmer fire season this year which has indeed been the case, at least so far.  The significance of all this actually coming to fruition is important as all the pieces of the puzzle seem to be aligning for what could be a very active winter ahead!    

The first piece of the puzzle involves the rapid demise of the warm El Nino event from last winter.  That is now being replaced by his nagging sister, La Nina, with an expected weak cooling of the equatorial Pacific through the upcoming fall and winter.  In many cases, any degree of La Nina results in a colder, snowier winter for the Inland Northwest; however, there have been a few La Nina winters this past decade which seemed to have little influence on our local weather.  In fact, we actually saw milder than normal winters during the past two episodes of La Nina.  The reason for the mild conditions was that we had an enormous pool of unusually warm water lurking off the West coast.  That pool extended from the Baja of California all the way up into the southern Gulf of Alaska.  Stagnant high pressure over the eastern Pacific aggravated the situation by not allowing much mixing of that water and as such, the pool continued to warm and intensify.  But as of this summer, that piece of the puzzle is history as the waters have cooled, and that pool of warm water has dissipated.  Finally, the last piece of the puzzle revolves around lower than normal sunspot activity the past few months, which is expected to continue for the remainder of the year. 

So in short, expect snowfall totals to come in above (if not much above) normal, and temperatures should average below normal with an above average chance of significant Arctic air intrusions this season.  Not for nothing, but the signs don't seem to get much clearer than this.  Having said that though, I have to ask is there anything that is totally clear concerning Mother Nature?  The correct answer is NO, and the wildcard in this case will hinge on whether or not the La Nina actually develops, and how strong it becomes.   I'll have another update in December if something in the overall pattern changes between now and then, but in the meantime, I for one will be taking advantage of the nice late-summer/early fall weather to prepare for a real old-fashioned Northwest winter this season, just in case.  As I advised one of my local farmer buddies, if they make snowshoes for cattle, you better stock up!  




2016 Summer Outlook * Issued April 18, 2016



Big changes are beginning to take shape out in the Pacific Ocean which will lead to some very interesting weather patterns for the remainder of 2016!  In short, our summer should be cooler with the potential for wetter conditions at times as well.    


Detailed Synopsis 

I suspect that many of you are feeling a bit of déjà vu due to another massive high pressure ridge which has once again established itself off the West Coast.  This has already resulted on some early record heat, and some unusually long periods of dry weather for early spring standards, very similar to what we experienced the past two seasons.  BUT there are some significant changes evolving in the Pacific which will likely lead to some different weather patterns heading through the rest of 2016!

The first major transition that is occurring is the rapid weakening of El Nino, which was the intense warming of the Equatorial Pacific.  In fact, the current weather patterns being experienced as of this summary (strong blocking high pressure in the West again) are the lingering effects of this near record event.  Many long-range weather models are in very good agreement that this current El Nino will continue to fade away in the months ahead, with sea surface temperatures returning to near normal as we move into the later spring and summer months.    

The second, and much more significant change that has been developing is the demise of the huge pool of warm water which has been plaguing the Eastern Pacific from Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska for almost 3 years!  Scientists have affectionately named this phenomenon The Blob, with some speculating that this is the result of PDO, (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) a slow cyclical warming and cooling of the Eastern Pacific.  I for one have suspected that PDO has been a contributing factor to our lighter than normal winters since 2010, especially with events like "The Blob" which has been felt around the globe with devastating effects to  both weather patterns and marine life.  As I shared with you last summer, this  phenomenon would likely lead to above average temperatures for our 2015/16 winter, but also indicated that precipitation forecasts were much more uncertain.  Well as it turned out, we ended up experiencing a lot of moisture here in the Pacific Northwest, all this despite the fact that a near record El Nino should have resulted in just the opposite!  

So, what does this all mean for the summer of 2016 you ask?  Well for starters, I would be very surprised to see a repeat of the type of heat that we experienced the past two summers,  but instead would expect normal, or even slightly below normal temperatures around the Inland Northwest.  In addition, precipitation should be close to, if not slightly above average going into the second half of the year.  

So in general, expect a pleasant summer temperature-wise, with the potential for some wetter conditions as the massive, long-lasting high pressure ridges begin to fade along with the pools of warm Pacific ocean waters.  Oh and by the way, it might be wise to stock up on the firewood this summer while you can, because I am already seeing some early indicators of a heavy winter ahead... Just saying!  Of course I'll have much more on that in my Winter Outlook, which I expect to issue sometime in September.               




UPDATED 2015-16 Winter Outlook * Issued December 19, 2015



A strong El Nino event continues to build and is combining with a huge pool of warm water just off shore to create havoc with our winter patterns!    


Detailed Synopsis

With the official start of winter just a couple of days away, I thought I would pass along an update as to what I think the rest of winter will bring.

As I had mentioned in my original Winter Outlook issued very early this year, milder temperatures were almost a given while precipitation was a huge wildcard going into the upcoming season.  This was due to the combination of a developing El Nino, and an anomalously large pool of warm water lurking just off-shore from California to the Gulf of Alaska.  Never in "recorded" history have we seen these two phenomenon's at the same time!  Historically, 30% of El Nino patterns in the Pacific Northwest are wetter than normal and so far, this one has been just that and more!  It is also very common to see an early dose of winter weather during El Nino years, and that too has materialized nicely!   

Now comes the hard part of the forecast which entails the actual winter months from January through March which is when we usually see El Nino at its strongest.  This El Nino has turned out to be quite strong, similar to the 1997/98 event in which we still saw about 75% of our normal snowfall for the season.     

When El Nino is at its strongest, we typically experience another pattern change in January, with again 30% of El Nino years seeing a continuation of above normal precipitation.  And with "marginal" freezing temperatures in the lower elevations, snow does continue to fall at times in the valley locations throughout the rest of the season.  In other El Nino events, we saw the "Rex block" high pressure ridges form later in the winter out in the Pacific.  This causes the main storm track to dip into California and as such, things become unseasonably dry here in the Northwest.  To be quite honest, I just don't see any clear indicators either way for the rest of the season.  This is due to the unprecedented sea surface temperature combination in the eastern Pacific this year.   

I know this isn't much help with trying to plan for the rest of the winter but I call it as I see it!  In short, I like to present all the scenarios so that there are no surprises and with all the abnormalities ongoing in the Pacific waters, I would be prepared for just about anything for the rest of the winter!  

What's really strange, is that during the last three La Nina winters (typically very wet and snowy for the Northwest) we saw painfully low snow packs.  It took an El Nino event to bring the snow back to the Northwest... Go Figure!!  My advice is to just sit back and enjoy the rest of the show, which so far has been quite awesome for us weather prognosticators!!



2015-16 Winter Outlook * Issued August 14, 2015



A strong El Nino event, combined with a massive area of warm water in the Eastern Pacific will likely result in another milder than normal winter.  Due to this unprecedented combination, precipitation amounts for the Northwest are a bit more uncertain.  


SPECIAL EDITION Detailed Synopsis & Summer Summary

I don't know about you, but a little snow or ice about now would feel real good after such a blazing hot summer.  Too bad we can't have the seasons mixed up a bit, with a little heat one day, and snow the next... Oh wait a minute, that's what we call spring around these parts!

Before we get started, I wanted to point out that the persistence of our current patterns and their exceedingly slow progression has allowed me the rare opportunity to issue my Winter Outlook much earlier than normal.... Okay, with the important plot points now behind us, we can move onto the meat (mmmm-mmm-mmm MEAT) of this outlook which will include what my pee-brain thinks the upcoming winter might bring to us here in our little corner of the world.

Whether you love winter or hate it, most will probably welcome that first day of cool, refreshing air once it arrives.  Our patterns this summer were like none we have seen in quite some time!  In fact, some records broken this season were older than the day - Well, maybe not quite that old, but we certainly saw 100 year-old records fall with the brutal heat this season.  As of this writing, we have had 31 days over 90 degrees with 5 of them soaring to over 100, which I don't have to tell you is quite unusual for our area.  Other than thunderstorm activity, precipitation days were far and few between.  The combination of heat and dry weather has resulted in one of the busiest fires seasons in recent memory - AND - one grumpy climatologist as well!  (No, I am not a big fan of the heat at all, though a FAN is exactly what saved my hide this summer)     

As far as I am concerned, there was one major culprit that caused all the drama this summer.  It is that monster pool of unusually warm water in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, which some have so lovingly named "The Blob".  This area of warm water was observed late last year and has only expanded in coverage in recent months.  It currently resides around 300 miles off shore, and extends from southern California all the way to the Gulf of Alaska!  This phenomenon has resulted in a nearly stagnant area of high pressure which has essentially blocked most of the major Pacific storms from entering the West Coast.  In addition, the primary air circulation around the high has been from a rather warm southerly direction and I don't have to tell you what that did for us over the past few months!  So the big question is....Will this phenomenon stick around for the upcoming winter season like an unwelcome ground squirrel?  (Yes, I'm still mad at those things!!)    

Well, I think the short answer is yes!  While there is still a lot of uncertainty as to why this warm water developed in the first place, most climatologists agree that it will be very slow to dissipate.  In addition, the El Nino (warm water phenomenon in the equatorial Pacific) continues to strengthen.  Oddly enough, many long range models are in surprisingly good agreement that this particular El Nino cycle will become rather strong for the upcoming winter season.  All this points toward another warmer than normal winter for the Pacific Northwest as an active subtropical storm track will likely keep us under the influence of the milder Pacific marine air mass.  While there will no doubt be some colder periods mixed in along with some snowfall, I think that by the time it is all said and done, the overall average temperature will come in well above normal.  Precipitation amounts on the other hand are still the big unknown as some strong El Nino events can be rather moist.  The fly in the ointment, (and it's the mother of all flies) is this larger pool of warm water just off our coast.  Persistence tells me that we'll probably see more of the same; however, I should point out that this warm water event in the Eastern Pacific is unprecedented in "recorded" history so it's really a wait and see thing.    

For those of you that follow my squirrel updates, you know that I have a particularly keen interest as to what our local red squirrel does to prepare for the upcoming seasons.  In one of my earlier articles, I told you they were building their nests at the base of the trees, instead of up higher in the trees like they normally do.  One could only conclude that this was because they wanted to capitalize on the cooler ground temperatures as I suspected - that they suspected - that it was going to be a particularly hot summer!  Well what do you know, they called it right again!  By the way, our squirrels have just started to cut cones off the trees which is a month later than when they started last year... Yep, bet it's going to be an unusually mild fall too!  Stay tuned!!




SPECIAL ARTICLE * PDO & It's Associated Long-Term Weather Patterns - Issued February 28, 2015


After our record breaking winters of 2007/08 and 2008/09 you have no doubt noticed the sudden trend toward milder winters here in the Northwest.  This has finally caught the attention of some leading climatologists throughout the country, thanks in part to the severe winter weather being experienced in the eastern third of the U.S. again this season.   

So what is the cause?  Well, I suspect it is something that I have been following for the past few years called Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) which is in short, the "El Nino" of the north.  While experts are not pointing the finger at PDO quite yet, I think you will be hearing more about this in the years ahead as climatologists search for answers.  

PDO is basically the movement of warm and cold phases (sea surface temperatures) in critical areas of the Gulf of Alaska.  It was officially recognized by a researcher named Nate Mantua in 1996, but climatological records of its affects date back much further, and was even observed and recorded by Alaska fishermen beginning way back in 1890.   

In doing some research of my own, using climatological records that I have personally recorded dating back to 1986, I can tell you that we first started seeing more severe winters back in the late 1980's, which kicked off with one of the most brutal Arctic outbreaks in history here in the Northwest on Feb 1, 1989. Several more cold, wet winters followed, with only short cyclical breaks due to El Nino.  The snow seasons peaked in 2007/08 when here at our weather station, we recorded a whopping 144" of snow for the season!  December 2008 saw another bout of record snow, but during the winter of 2009/10 however, we experienced a drastic change.  That trend has persisted ever since, despite the fact that we have had La Nina events, which should have resulted in more snow for the Northwest, but instead, we experienced just the opposite.  This is when I believe we saw a reversal of the PDO cycle in the Gulf of Alaska.  

As for the future, if this is indeed PDO, then expect more of the same for the next 20 years.  The typical cycle lasts between 20 and 30 years, but I believe we have already been in this reversed cycle for 5 years.  Now, I'm not saying that we won't have any severe winters during that time frame, but I believe the odds are in favor of more in the way of "milder" winters in the years ahead while the rest of the county experiences more of the same.  The affects of PDO are not fully understood yet, and there is still much to learn.  Even so, it is obviously a huge game player here in the Northwest, and it certainly warrants further research.  You can read more on PDO at the following link:    http://cses.washington.edu/cig/pnwc/aboutpdo.shtml     




UPDATED 2014-15 Winter Outlook * Issued December 4, 2014



Some patterns have now materialized which point toward an active pattern here in the Pacific Northwest!  Expect the chance of windier & milder than normal "averages" along with a tendency for extreme swings in weather conditions to continue.


Detailed Synopsis

A weak El Nino continues to develop and that will likely remain the case into early 2015.  Two things that I mentioned in my original Winter Outlook issued back in late Sept have already materialized... That included the potential for early cold weather, (common during El Nino years) and the chance of extreme swings in the patterns.   The one thing that was unknown was precipitation.  Looking at the global patterns that have continued to emerge in the past few weeks, it does in fact appear that this El Nino will be on the wetter side of normal here in the Northwest.  Temperature swings will continue to be the wild card going into the rest of the season and as such, snowfall amounts could vary widely.  To date, the cold snaps have been dry in our local area, so snowfall totals in both the valley's and mountains have been well below normal.  The more significant precipitation seems to arrive with the milder Pacific air which is typical during an El Nino event.  Arctic Oscillation will also continue but again, where and when it will strike is extremely hard to forecast in advance.  So in summary, expect wetter than average conditions due to an active Pacific storm track with the potential for wild temperatures swings at times...  And speaking of temperatures, there have been many El Nino years when the coldest weather of the entire winter season occurred in November...  Just saying!  If that turns out to out to be the case this time around, then expect snowfall totals to come in below normal, but how much so remains to be seen.  I'll issue further updates if I see any other significant changes develop within the global patterns.            




2014-15 Winter Outlook * Issued September 22, 2014



A developing El Nino may bring with it a wet, but windier & milder than normal winter season with a higher tendency for extreme swings in weather conditions.


Detailed Synopsis

A complex pattern is likely to keep forecasters very busy during the upcoming winter season as a developing El Nino causes wide swings in precipitation and temperatures throughout the Western U.S..  While El Nino patterns (a warming of the Equatorial Pacific waters) historically produce milder temperatures for our area, precipitation amounts are much less certain. This El Nino event is also projected by many models to be a "weak" episode which further complicates the long-range forecasts. 

Some weak El Nino's in the past have resulted in heavier than normal precipitation while stronger episodes have been rather dry.  In short, we will have to wait and see how the patterns develop during November & December as there are currently no clear indicators either way.  As for temperatures, again an El Nino pattern has been known to result in milder weather as an active west-to-east storm track keeps the main air flow coming in from a relatively warmer Pacific origin.  That same active storm track overhead may also provide for a windier than average winter season.  Even so, cold snaps cannot be ruled out, especially early in the season.  Arctic Oscillation (another key player in our winter patterns) will also have to be monitored as it may try to dive south again into the Midwest, and brush the extreme northeast zones of the Pacific Northwest.  Snowfall will likely average below normal in the Spokane basin as the snow that falls may tend to be of the wetter variety.  In the snow belt regions, snowfall could actually be a tad above normal if this El Nino episode turns out to be a moist one.  In addition, the snow there will also be of the wetter variety...  That, in combination with the many weakened trees from this summers severe storms could mean above average power outages this winter!!  So in summary, while the screaming message from the "main stream media" is mild and dry, be prepared for the possibility of extreme swings in conditions throughout the winter season.  I'll have another update later this year once the patterns begin to establish themselves.




2014 Summer Outlook * Issued May 16, 2014



I see no red flags that point to anything but a near normal summer season here in the Inland Northwest; however, I think there is a higher risk of hotter than normal temperatures.


Detailed Synopsis

In recent months, I have been closely monitoring the progress of the long range computer models as they have been leaning toward a possible El Nino (warming waters in the equatorial Pacific) for 2014.  As of the latest model suite just released, it does now appear that an El Nino is likely for later this year, but when it begins remains a mystery.  For the most part, it should not affect our summer all that much, BUT if the El Nino starts before the fall season, then it could mean that we will see hotter than normal temperatures, especially for the later half of summer.  The other weather feature that leads me to lean toward the hotter scenario is the stubborn West Coast high pressure ridge which continues to dominate the Western patterns.  Even though it loosened its grip on the Northwest for a time this past winter and spring, it remained none-the-less in one form or another, either over the Desert Southwest or off shore. The transition toward the summer solstice will likely increase its strength again in the months ahead.  This will likely lead to more episodes of a warming south to southwesterly upper level air flow here in Inland Northwest.  As for precipitation, it should be near normal in most spots, except or those areas that receive more in the way of thunderstorm activity.       




UPDATED 2014 Winter/Spring Outlook * Issued February 10, 2014



Major changes have finally occurred in the global patterns leading to a much wetter forecast for the Northwest.


Detailed Synopsis

By mid December, I suspected that this would be a season with well below normal valley snowfall due to that stubborn Pacific ridge, and I think that in the end that will certainly come to fruition, especially for the Spokane/CD'A basin.  At the same time, we have finally seen a major shift in the overall global patterns which I suspect will give us a much wetter end to the winter season meaning we are not done quite yet with the snow!  In fact, this pattern may very well last into early spring as that Pacific ridge has now been flattened by the powerful sub-tropical and Polar storm tracks.  AND, as of this summary, it looks to stay that way longer term.  This will result in some much needed precipitation here in the Northwest which should add significantly to the mountain snow packs over the remaining winter months.    



UPDATED 2013-14 Winter Outlook * Issued December 13, 2013



Expect a continued risk of colder than normal temperatures and the possibility of below normal snowfall.


Detailed Synopsis

As I mentioned in my initial Winter Forecast, I felt there was a persistent trend in the global patterns over the summer that would likely play an important role in our upcoming winter.  Part of that forecast has already verified with the recent outbreak of Arctic air, and that will likely happen again before the winter is over.  Of more concern is the lack of strong storms moving through the Pacific Northwest.  Alaska started out the season on the warmer side of normal and that trend continues.  As such, the cold air that we have experienced so far this season has been coming in out of the Yukon & Northwest Territories which is a rather dry flow.  All of this is the direct result of the placement of the semi-permanent Pacific high pressure ridge which dictates where the Polar and Sub Tropical storm tracks enter the U.S. and Canada.  So far, their positions have not been favorable for allowing as many strong "winter-like" storms into the Northwest this season.   


Our biggest snow period here in the Inland Northwest is typically late November through mid January.  We are already half way through December with snowfall totals below normal and as of this summary, I see no big storms on the horizon.  In addition, I can't remember a time when a strong Arctic outbreak (like the one we just had in early December) was NOT met with a period of heavy snow as the temperatures moderated.  Arctic Oscillation has been rather normal so far, and there is still a "neutral" condition in the Equatorial Pacific, so the current trend remains a mystery.  Typically, our early winter patterns are well established by mid-December, so if what we currently see is what we get, then it will make for a rather troublesome precipitation forecast in the months ahead.  The bottom line is that if the Pacific ridge continues this current behavior, then snowfall totals will likely come in below, if not well below normal for the 3rd year in a row!  I will have further updates if I see any significant long-term changes to the current global patterns.       




Winter Outlook * Issued September 15, 2013


Expect near normal precipitation (snowfall) and a higher risk of colder than normal temperatures.  


Detailed Synopsis

If you think it has been a hot summer, you're right!  According to the National Weather Service, overall temperatures came in well above normal in many Northwest cities and it looks like that "warmer" trend will continue into early fall.  What is interesting about our recent spring and summer patterns is how persistent those patterns have been.  Historically, similar patterns have been followed by a rather intense winter throughout the northern tier states, but there were also changes in the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions through mid season.      

This year, fair agreement exists that the ENSO status will remain neutral, with near normal sea surface temperatures continuing in the Equatorial Pacific right through the ENTIRE winter season.  So, with neither an El Nino or La Nina, one would expect "normal" winter weather with no strong signs either way pointing toward a mild or severe winter.  However, given the strong global patterns of this past summer, and the fact that they all seem to be in normal sync, I would not be surprised to see average temperatures come in below normal when it is all said and done.  In addition, I think there is a higher than normal risk of Arctic weather seeping south of the Canadian border from time to time, but again that will all depend on the Arctic Oscillation (AO) which is extremely difficult to forecast in advance.  The later half of the past two winter seasons were plagued with blocking high pressure which resulted in mild winter conditions.  That was all directly related to Arctic Oscillation which in those cases, sent all the Arctic cold east of the Divide.  So while local experts lean heavily on El Nino's and La Nina's for making long-range forecasts, AO impacts cannot be ignored.  With that said, prepare for a near normal winter season, but also be ready for the potential of some Arctic cold as well. 




2013 Spring & Summer Outlook * Issued March 20, 2013



It looks like a cool, wet spring is on tap followed by a normal summer.


Detailed Synopsis

Winter in most areas turned out to be close to average, but a persistent West Coast high pressure ridge returned again for the 3rd year in a row which essentially shut our winter weather down earlier than expected.  (Our prairie dogs Groundhog Day prediction this year was right-on!!)  That return of high pressure around mid winter (brought on by the unpredictable Arctic Oscillation) once again disrupted the global patterns, and as such will also affect how our spring evolves here in the Pacific Northwest.

     Historically, this pattern results in wet, cool springs - We saw that the past two years, and I don't see any reason why this season will be any different.  In the short term, the high will meander around the eastern Pacific and eventually cycle down.  That will allow a very active storm track to invade the West Coast.  Snow packs this year are running at to slightly below normal, but the volatile spring weather of late March and April can produce big snows in the higher mountains.  As a result, I think spring flooding concerns will be with us through early June.    

     As for summer, I suspect it too will be very similar to last year... Staring off wet in June, than drying out by mid July... Again very typical weather for the Inland Northwest.  The wild card continues to be El Nino which started to develop last year, than suddenly faded way during the early fall months.  Looking at the science on how the equatorial Pacific waters cycle, it only makes sense that El Nino will eventually develop to full strength by the end of this year.  If that happens during the summer months, than like last year, the latter part of the season will be on the hotter and drier side of normal.  However, as of this summary the long-range ENSO forecast models are predicting "neutral conditions" in the equatorial Pacific through the Northern Hemisphere summer, which again points to a high likelihood of normal summer weather patterns.  

     So if you're having a feeling of déjà vu. then there is good reason for it... My best advice is to stock up on bug spray and sun screen because both will come in real handy during the months ahead!




UPDATED 2012-13 Winter Outlook * Issued December 9, 2012


The winter patterns are finally beginning to evolve which is giving us a better indication of what to expect for the rest of the season... As I originally suspected back in September, it appears that the weather will continue to be on the wetter side of normal!

     In fact, rainfall in October and November came in well above normal, and we even saw a couple of record wet 24/hr periods during November.  The long-range models were indicating drier than normal conditions, but in my Sept outlook, I was suspicious of that forecast due to the recent summer and early fall patterns.  In addition, we had poor model consistency as to what the developing El Nino was going to do, which has also resolved itself in the past 45 days!

     And on the subject of El Nino, it unexpectedly dissipated months ahead of schedule which now leaves the Equatorial Pacific in a neutral temperature pattern.  This latest development has verified well with the recent trend of stormy weather here in the Pacific Northwest and is typically a good pattern for a moist winter season.  Temperature is still the big wildcard and will all depend on what the Polar Vortex does in the coming weeks.  Barring any weird sun spot activity, I think the Polar Vortex will eventually slip south resulting in cooling temperatures here in the Inland Northwest.  As such, total snowfall accumulations for the season should reach normal levels, if not higher.  The active storm tracks (both Polar and sub-tropical) will result in wild swings in the patterns going from cold and snow, to mild and rain, but even so, snowfall should exceed last years totals, even in the Spokane/Cd' A basin.  It's also interesting to note that historically, this type of pattern has led to Arctic outbreaks which plunged the Inland Northwest into sub-zero readings!  That again will all depend on the movement of the Polar Vortex during the upcoming winter months.     




2012-13 Winter Outlook * Issued September 30, 2012



Some rather complex global patterns will unfold for the upcoming winter season making this winter forecast a bit difficult to pin down.  Overall, temperatures may be a bit warmer than average, while precipitation has the potential to be at or above normal.



The weather patterns over the Pacific Northwest are expected to become rather volatile over the coming months for a variety of reasons.  Sun spots and a developing El Nino are just a couple of variables making for a difficult long-range forecast.   While El Nino would typically point toward a warm, dry winter, sun spots and Arctic Oscillation (both of which are impossible to forecast) could spell surprising results for the upcoming winter season.  

     I am puzzled at some of the local media hype talking about the past two “severe” La Nina winters because they were anything but.  Last winter was extremely unusual in that there was well below normal valley snowfall!  In the prior La Nina year of 2010-11 snowfall was also below normal as most of the severe winter weather shifted east right in the middle of the season leaving the Northwest high and dry.  By the time the cold weather and moisture returned, it was too little too late.   Arctic air masses were also far and few between which resulted in temperatures that were actually on the warmer side of normal.  These are prime examples (and further proof) that El Nino and La Nina patterns are not the only forces that affect our winter weather here in the Pacific Northwest.           

     I think the main cause for the milder La Nina winters in 2010-11 and 2011-12 was stalled high pressure in and around the West Coast for one reason or another.  In short, the highs were out of sync for the seasons... In other words, the highs did not develop during the summer months, but instead developed during fall and winter.  This year, the high pressure ridges seem to be more in sync with the seasons and as such, I think there is a higher chance of near to above normal precipitation this season.  The wild card is temperature, which is driven by the unpredictable Arctic Oscillation.  This of course will make all the difference as to whether we experience lots of rain or accumulating snows.  On a side note, it wont take much to beat last winter’s meager valley snowfall totals, and I think that is almost a given.       

     In summary, the past two La Nina winters did not produce the expected results and as such, a developing El Nino is not a guarantee that the entire winter will be warm and dry as forecast by some of our local media.  In fact, this season may be riddled with wild swings in the weather patterns resulting in a mixed bag of conditions from warm rains, to ice and snow, along with very hazardous driving conditions due to freezing fog & black ice. 

Since there is no real agreement amongst the latest computer models concerning the strength of the upcoming El Nino, I will issue an updated Winter Forecast in mid December once the patterns begin to establish themselves a little better... Stay tuned!



2012 Updated Summer Outlook * Issued July 27, 2012



Not much change from my original summer forecast issued in March.    


The weather patterns over the Pacific Northwest are pretty much on par for what I expected this season.  Temperatures have, and will continue to run at or slightly above normal in the short term.  La Nina is gone, but El Nino (a warming of the waters in the equatorial Pacific) is indeed beginning to take shape just as I suspected.  This may result in a very warm and dry last half of summer.  The wild-card continues to be moisture moving up from the Southwest in the monsoonal flow.  This year, that moisture flow has been quite active, and if the current trend continues, then precipitation may end up being above normal in some places due to thunderstorm activity.  During the last half of summer, it is not uncommon to see those thunderstorms become high-based, meaning that they may not contain a lot of rainfall.  That could pose a threat for a more active fire season in the coming weeks due to dry lightning and gusty winds.  So in summary, keep plenty of sunscreen on hand and an umbrella in the other, just in case!

 My Winter Outlook for 2012-13 will be issued in early September



 2012 Spring & Summer Outlook * Issued March 23, 2012


The stormy weather patterns of late should start to settle down as we begin to lose the affects of La Nina in the coming months.  After an unseasonably cool and wet spring, look for a pleasant summer with near average temperatures and near to slightly above normal rainfall.    


As is common when winter weather is a no-show for most of the season, the typical payback is a wet, cold spring as the patterns “equalize” and this season is showing no exception.  The strong negative Arctic Oscillation which surprisingly developed in late November is losing its grip as the seasons change.  That semi-permanent blocking high pressure ridge that remained near the West Coast most of the winter has also moved away.  This has finally allowed the La Nina pattern to really ramp up.  As a result, I expect the Gulf of Alaska storm factory to remain quite active over the next several weeks sending one storm after another into the West Coast.  I think temperatures will also average on the cooler side of normal as these storms tap into some unseasonably cold air still residing over most of Alaska.  Mountain snowfall will be possible well into late spring, and I cant rule out the occasional late season snowfall in the northern valley locations either.

     The above average wet weather should decrease as we move into late spring thanks to a change that is developing in the Equatorial Pacific.  The latest sea surface temperature charts there are showing signs of warming which is indicative of a weakening La Nina pattern.  This may eventually lead to an El Nino event by next winter, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  For the upcoming season, this developing “neutral” pattern should give us a fairly normal summer.  If an El Nino does in fact begin to develop, then things could get real hot and dry toward the latter half of  the summer season. 

     As for spring flooding, that’s a tough call.  In a perfect world, the forecasted cooler weather should allow for a slow melt-off.  The mountain snow packs are now running above normal, but they are not near as deep as last year at this same time.  The current active pattern is a bit concerning as snow packs continue to build as of this summary, so I think some flooding is inevitable.  Any extended high elevation heavy rain or warm temperatures will also aggravate the situation.  At this time, I am inclined to believe that the flooding will not be as extensive as last year nor will it last as long, but with that being said, it will all depend on how the patterns develop over the next couple of months.


·         Next Scheduled Seasonal Update will be posted in June

·         My Winter Outlook for 2012-13 will be issued in early September



REVISED 2011-12 Winter Outlook * Issued December 20, 2011



An unexpected weather phenomenon has blind-sided our winter outlook, and has even negated the normal patterns associated with a La Nina season here in the Inland Northwest.  As a result, snowfall totals for the winter may be significantly less than originally forecast!


As we approach the first days of winter, it is painfully obvious that the patterns that have developed over the late fall months are far from what was expected this season!   Forecasters are blaming this unexpected change on a phenomenon called Arctic Oscillation (AO).  While there are many different phases of AO, this particular event is one that is not very conducive for snowfall here in the Pacific Northwest due to stalled high pressure ridges residing in and around the Western U.S.  The big unknown at this point is trying to figure out how long this particular event is going to last.      

     The one thing that is known is that in a normal La Nina season, the Spokane/CD’ A basin typically begins to experience measurable snowfall between early to mid December which lasts into early January.  At this point, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the metro areas have at least partially  missed out on the first phase of winter!  In fact, as of this summary we are on par to experience one of the driest Decembers on record, even up in the snow-belt regions!

     In reviewing prior years which experienced dry Decembers dating back to 1884, the one thing that stands out is that in most cases, January thru March was a bit snowier, but totals varied greatly from year to year.  Additionally, during La Nina winters, we usually see a second snowy period beginning around mid January, but again, totals varied widely.   Of course the big question continues to revolve around how long the blocking ridge will stay near the Pacific Northwest, and if it does dissipate, will it return at some point again during the winter months.  The other concern is that once the pattern does break, it may open the door for a relatively mild Pacific air mass instead of colder continental air.  As a result, temperatures right after the pattern change may be on the warm side of normal for a time. 

     In light of all this, I am inclined to believe that snowfall totals may only reach two thirds of what most models had forecast for the winter months which would be around 30"- 40" in the Spokane/CD’A basin, down from the 60+ inches originally forecast.  At this point, it is simply a wait and see thing as to what Mother Nature has up her sleeve next!  Keep those plows and snow blowers handy though, because it is still very early in the season and things could still change rather rapidly!     

                                                     Comparison Data on the top 26 (up to 1.44”) driest Decembers last 120 years

Only 5 of those winters produced heavier than normal snowfall for the season.  Four out of those 5 winters experienced heavier than normal November snowfall (not the case this year though) which were: 1985-86/2000-01/1997-98/1978-79.  The winter of 1898-99 did not have heavy snowfall in November but still managed 56.4” for the season.  Only 4 winters produced near normal snowfall.  Two winters had heavier than normal November snowfall; 1921-22 & 1959-60.  The other two had light Nov snowfall; 1956-57 & 1954-55.  I did not compare AO or ESNO status for any of those years.  All the rest of the winters were fairly light  averaging around 30-40” or less. 



2011-12 Winter Outlook * Issued September 8, 2011



After a summer of turmoil in the long-range weather models, forecasts are now coming into decent agreement on another La Nina winter here in the Inland Northwest.  This La Nina event appears to be much weaker than what we had last year, but that could mean even more snow at the lower elevations!

So, after a very nice fall season, expect a quick start to another cold, snowy winter with storms that could be potentially a bit more severe than last year.



After reviewing several long range weather models and national climate trends over the past several months, it appears the Inland Northwest is in for another winter with above normal snowfall.  The latest ENSO (EL NINO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION) models continue to indicate that La Nina is already re-building over the equatorial Pacific and is expected to only strengthen some over the next few months.  This one however should be much weaker, but that only means the potential for even more snow at the lower elevations this season, and here’s why... 

While the winter of 2010-11 saw much above normal snowfall, you might remember that several southwesterly wind flow patterns imported milder air and kept the snow packs at the lower elevations from getting very deep.  The temperatures stayed much colder in the higher elevations which translated into near-record snow packs that lasted well into late spring.   These patters were the result of a La Nina that became surprisingly strong around mid winter.

Many of you might remember that once I learned of the updated status concerning the stronger La Nina in December, that I revised my total snowfall expectations downward, and for good reason!

Strong La Nina’s have historically not been very good snow producers at the lower elevations due to the way the Gulf of Alaska “storm factory” sets up.  Typically, we experience frequent southwesterly wind flow patterns which warm things up just enough to keep snow from accumulating in the lower elevations.   That is exactly what happened last year.  In addition, the strengthening La Nina caused the main Polar Vortex to shift toward the East Coast, giving the Inland Northwest a six week break from any major snowfall, right in the middle of the prime-time winter season.  By the time the La Nina weakened into a phase that would once again plunge the NW back into winter, it was already too late.  The stronger late winter sun combined with longer days made it difficult for snow to accumulate, though it did try with a near record Arctic outbreak in late February.  This event also caused our seasons to “lag” behind and is the reason for our cold, wet spring and late summer.            

On the other hand, weaker La Nina events have historically resulted in winters with slightly colder temperatures and steadier snowfall.  In addition, we don't typically see those long, extended breaks from winter storms off the Pacific, except during periods of blocking high pressure which typically only last between one and two weeks.  As such, I see a very high likelihood of a winter with below normal average temperatures and much above normal snowfall.  In addition, lower elevation snow packs will have a better tendency to accumulate and stick around a little longer than last year.    

So, get those plows and snow blowers tuned up because I think we will all get plenty of use out of them again this winter!