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Wintry chills or snowy thrills, Dec. 25 forecast still a tossup

It’s almost hard to believe that one year ago, Spokane received 12.5 inches of new snow. This was the beginning of the heavy snow pattern that eventually dumped 61.5 inches at the Spokane International Airport in December of 2008. The final total for the 2008-’09 season was 97.7 inches at the airport, an all-time record.

In terms of weather events, one of the top snowstorms during the 20th century occurred in Seattle. On Feb. 1, 1916, Seattle recorded its maximum snowfall ever observed in a 24-hour period of 21.5 inches. During that year, total January snowfall was 23 inches and February stood at 35 inches – incredible numbers for a city that averages about 12 inches of snow per year.

Another big climate event was March 1, 1910: the Wellington Avalanche, the deadliest avalanche in U.S. history, which occurred near Stevens Pass. Two trains were swept off the tracks into a ravine and 96 people died.

The January 1950 blizzard was ranked as the third-biggest climate event of the 20th century. Seattle picked up 21.4 inches of snow. Winds gusted to near 40 mph. Across the Inland Northwest, visibilities were reduced to just a few feet with temperatures near zero.

Many still talk about the Nov. 19, 1996, Spokane area ice storm. Up to a half-inch of ice covered trees, cars and buildings. More than 100,000 homes and businesses lost power. Some were in the dark for 14 days. Damage was estimated at more than $22 million.

December of 2009 has certainly started out very cold. As of early Tuesday, the average temperature at the airport was only 18 degrees, which is approximately 10 degrees below normal.

Temperatures will be milder into next week. There is a chance that we’ll have a storm that may produce some snow in the lower elevations right in front of Christmas. I now believe the chances for a white Christmas are about 50-50. On Dec. 25, 2008, the airport had 20 inches on the ground.

The El Niño, the warmer-than-normal sea-surface temperature event in the south-central Pacific Ocean, is still holding strong. Most of the moisture should continue to go to the south of us into California. Another round of chilly weather is possible around the start of 2010, along with some snow.

Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrange

Tags: snow, weather