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Washington Voices

Snow more likely, but chances of white Christmas still iffy

Thu., Dec. 3, 2009

Within the last month, our warm-water phenomenon El Niño has gained strength. We still have a moderate El Niño along the equatorial regions of the south-central Pacific Ocean.

Across the Inland Northwest, El Niño events usually indicate drier and milder winters with an increasing chance of freezing rain or ice storms. Although more precipitation falls as rain than snow in the lower elevations, the mountain areas will often get mostly snow with only occasional rain.

October was generally chilly and wet, with an average temperature 4 degrees below normal. There were 2.31 inches of moisture at the airport, 1.25 inches above average. November turned milder and drier, likely thanks to El Niño. The average November reading was 37.2 degrees, 1.8 degrees warmer than normal. Only 1.31 inches of precipitation was measured, which was nearly 0.7 inches below average.

December will be starting on the colder side. During this full-moon cycle that started Wednesday and ends Tuesday, we should see an increasing chance of snow showers along with the colder conditions. The next snowy period is expected during the new moon lunar phase of Dec. 16-23, just ahead of Christmas. However, some of the moisture could fall as rain as we may see milder conditions around the holiday. This is why I’ve given the chances of a white Christmas as a bit less than 50/50. But, all it takes is one snowstorm.

There is a battle going on between the lack of sunspot activity and warm El Niño. For over a year, solar storms have been few. August 2008 and most of August this year were devoid of sunspots. With our sun’s energy slightly decreased, many northern regions dealt with a colder summer, which led to crop-harvest delays of a month or more. Within the last week, there has been no sunspot activity.

The winter of 2008-’09 saw very little sunspot activity along with a La Niña, the cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperature. As a result, much of the Inland Northwest and other northern regions across the country experienced some of the snowiest weather in recorded history.

If the lack of solar storms has more of an influence over the next few months, we could see more snow and colder weather than was originally forecast. But, I’m still leaning toward the milder and drier-than-normal winter.

Contact Randy Mann at

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