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The Spokane Valley News Herald
City of Spokane Valley, WA
Winter weather behaving as predicted with El Niño


Staff Writer


With just a few weeks of the winter of 2014-15 remaining, the El Niño weather pattern is making this a very predictable time of year.
Slightly warmer temps have kept the most of Washington relatively free of snow, made the bean-counters at ski resorts sweat, but might make farmers smile.

This year's El Niño, featuring slightly warmer than normal sea surface temperatures, has produced just under 16 inches of snow at the National Weather Service near the Spokane International Airport as of March 1.

That's about 25 inches below normal. Average snowfall is about 45 inches. The last El Niño in the winter of 2009-10 produced just 13.3 inches of snow while the winter of 2013-14, an in between "La Nada" according to Eastern Washington University meteorology professor, Bob Quinn, ended with about 38 inches.
The El Niño pattern has occurred in just two of the last 10 years, the other in 2006-07 where 33.7 inches of snow fell. La Niña winters with their cooler than normal sea surface temps produced those back-to-back monster winters in 2007-08 (92.6 inches) and 2008-09's record 97.8 inches.
"It's not a real strong one," Quinn said of this season's El Niño.
About five out of seven are draught patterns, Quinn said. The pattern features a strong ridge of high pressure and a split flow over the Northwest with the storm track to the south in California and north through Canada. The high pressure also produces routine fog and low clouds.
After January the snowpack in much of the state of Washington sat in the 70-80 percent range. But a relatively warm February stripped off much of the mid-level (3,000-4,000 foot) snows, plunging numbers largely into the 50 percent range — or lower.
That has been a huge problem for area ski resorts, which always hope to open by Thanksgiving, but this year did not have skiable snow until after Christmas. And then came the February meltdown that shut down places like Mt. Spokane and 49 Degrees North.
"The only variation in two out of seven El Niños is the southern storm track is so strong that we actually get clipped by it," Quinn said. The odds are strong we'll stay in the drought pattern, he added.
Idaho fared a little better after February with most basins measuring 70-90 percent. Montana, where the eastern edge of the high pressure ridge ends is enjoying a bumper crop of snow so far with 11 of 20 basins over 100 percent.
The southern storm track is still not blessing California as they had hoped with all reporting stations still under 40 percent.
El Niños give the region largely stock weather patterns, but sometimes produce wetter than normal spring weather that makes up for lack of traditional snowfall in the higher elevations.
"We often end up with higher than normal precip," Quinn said.
El Niños are not real great for low elevation snow, runoff, snowpack, rivers lakes and wetlands. However, they tend to benefit farmers who are looking for added soil moisture.
The El Niño patterns emanate out of the equatorial waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America where the strongest high pressure on earth resides.
The Peruvian high-pressure system -responsible for creation of the barren high deserts found in the Andes' Mountains in Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia - drives the Peru-Humbolt current, the coldest on earth.
From time to time the high-pressure system backs off shore a little. "It never disappears," Quinn said. The end result is the Peru-Humbolt is not as strong as usual and so starts the El Niño phenomenon.
Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

POSSIBLE Lift Out of Grey Box If Needed:

El Niños give the region largely stock weather patterns, but sometimes produce wetter than normal spring weather that makes up for lack of traditional snowfall in the higher elevations.

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is the City of Spokane Valley, Washington's official Newspaper. The City Council of the City of Spokane Valley, Washington named the Spokane Valley News Herald as the city's "official" newspaper. The designation means the Spokane Valley News Herald will publish the city's legal notices on a contract basis for one year.

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