Rockies split continent’s abnormal temperatures

While our region continues to have much warmer-than-normal temperatures, conditions are the exact opposite east of the Rockies. For the first time in 14 years, Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes, has completely frozen over.

The last time this lake froze over was during the winter of 1995-’96. That same season, Tower, Minn., set the all-time low temperature of minus 60 degrees at 6 a.m. on Groundhog Day. Niagara Falls also froze in 1995-’96. Despite much colder-than-normal temperatures, Niagra Falls has not frozen this year.

Many people have been fishing and ice skating on the six-inch ice near the shores of Lake Erie. The National Weather Service in Cleveland has warned people “to use common sense and not try to walk across the lake to Canada.”

Lake Erie normally freezes over once or twice a decade. With an average depth of just 62 feet, it is the shallowest of the Great Lakes. Only small portions of Lakes Michigan, Huron, Superior and Ontario are currently frozen over.

When weather patterns east of the Rockies are much colder than normal, the Inland Northwest tends to be much warmer with far less snow than normal. However, the following winter is typically colder and snowier in the Inland Northwest, as the cold air backs up and El Niño dies in the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, it’s a good bet we’ll see more snow next winter.

The start of 2010 has certainly been mild over our region. At Spokane International Airport, January was a whopping 7.8 degrees above normal with an average temperature of 35.1 degrees. February is already 5.5 degrees above average with a mean temperature of 37.3 degrees. Precipitation has been a little below normal since the beginning of January.

With the exception of trace amounts of snow on the 2nd and 11th, February has been snowless.

Although it has felt more like spring earlier this week, there is a chance we’ll see some snow later next week through the first week of April.

I’m still expecting a slightly cooler- and wetter-than-normal spring overall, but there will certainly be a number of warm and sunny days mixed in with the showers.

The summer forecast still looks great for outdoor enthusiasts. This upcoming season looks dry with warmer than normal temperatures.

Randy Mann at randy@ longrangeweather.com

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