A two-week dry spell over the Inland Northwest is ending just in time to slicken roads for the New Year’s holiday weekend.
Eastern Washington and North Idaho ski resorts are hoping the impending storm will bring with it a flurry of skiers.
“We’re solely dependent on the whims of Mother Nature,” said Tim Newhart, spokesman for Silver Mountain Ski Resort. “Some snow over the weekend would give us a lot to celebrate for the new year.”
Forecasters are predicting as much as 2 inches of snow in Spokane and 5 or 6 inches in the mountains as the Pacific storm moves onshore tonight.
Light snowfall that started Thursday night should taper off through the day before a second, stronger wave arrives tonight. It will carry relatively mild air for this time of year.
Because there is cold air near the ground, the storm will start out as snowfall, but the precipitation should turn to rain during pre-dawn hours Saturday, said Stan Savoy, forecaster for the National Weather Service.
During the transition from snow to rain, there is a risk of freezing rain, and that could make roads treacherous for several hours Saturday morning.
Temperatures are expected to rise to 42 degrees with windy conditions Saturday afternoon. Overnight lows should be in the low 30s. Mostly sunny weather and a 40-degree high are expected Sunday. Another shot of rain is forecast Monday night.
So far, Mother Nature has been stingy with snow this winter. Only 6 inches have fallen in Spokane in two snowstorms this season.
Ski resorts opened late and have seen mostly skimpy turnouts.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort near Sandpoint normally expects 4,000 skiers a day during the holidays, but fewer than 2,000 skiers a day have been showing up, said spokesman Bill Mullane.
Mt. Spokane Ski Area has yet to open because of a lack of snow.
Lookout Pass on the IdahoMontana border has had 20 percent to 30 percent fewer skiers, and Silver Mountain has had about half the usual holiday turnout.
But resort spokesmen say conditions on their mountains are not as bad as many people think.
“Until we see significant snow down in Spokane falling on the skiers’ heads, they won’t believe there is good snow on the mountains,” Newhart said.
49 Degrees North near Chewelah, Wash., has been the one resort to report an actual increase in skiers, with crowds averaging 40 percent larger than a year ago.
About 85 percent of the runs are open at 49 Degrees North, where snow conditions Thursday were described as firm and groomed with 28 to 30 inches of snow on top of the mountain.
On Thursday, Schweitzer reported 44 inches of snow at the top and 21 inches at the village. Chair five and Outback Lodge on the back side of Schweitzer remained closed Thursday.
Silver Mountain has a 38-inch snow base at its peak. Five of the seven lifts are open, but half the runs are still too bare for skiing.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SNOW AHEAD Light snowfall that started Thursday night should taper off through the day before a second, stronger wave arrives tonight.