If animals get thick coats in the fall, some people think a hairy winter is ahead.
Geography Professor Robert Quinn is a little more scientific than that. He studies the Pacific Ocean for clues about what’s in store as the days get short.
The bottom line is the same. The next several months should bring lots of rain and snow, Quinn said.
In the past two years, the Inland Northwest skated through relatively mild winters.
“I think we are going to have a good old-fashioned wet and snowy winter here,” he said. “We’ll get our normal 50 to 60 inches of snow, plus.”
The Eastern Washington University professor bases his “scientific speculation” on surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.
Mild winters are linked to warming of the ocean near the Equator in a phenomenon known as El Nino. The warm water alters wind circulation over the ocean and leaves the Pacific Northwest under a protective ridge of high pressure. Storms are diverted to the north and south.
El Nino was present during the winters of 1993-94 and 1994-95 when Spokane got snowfall that was only half of normal for the two years combined.
It also was present during much of the past decade, and was blamed for drought throughout the West.
That pattern has reversed itself. Equatorial waters are back to normal. A broad band of cold water stretches in the mid-latitudes from Northern California and Oregon to the International Date Line.
Warmer-than-normal pools of water are found farther north along the Alaskan coast.
Quinn said warm water favors the development of low-pressure areas and storms. That’s why the past month has been so stormy. A persistent low south of Alaska has been flinging cold fronts across the region.
October has been twice as wet as normal with 1.43 inches of rain so far.
Spokane already has received 16.7 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1. That is more than the yearly normal of 16 inches.
Quinn said the pattern is expected to continue off and on until midwinter. Snow should appear on schedule as December approaches, he said.
Equatorial ocean readings are not cold enough to cause what’s known as a La Nina pattern. That is the opposite of El Nino, and can cause extreme amounts of snow and intense cold in the Pacific Northwest. The fabled winter of 1968-69 came during a La Nina episode.
The long-range outlook issued by the National Weather Service tends to back Quinn’s prediction. The weather service is calling for normal temperatures, and normal to slightly below normal precipitation in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
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