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Washington Voices

Lack of snow a strictly local phenomenon

The Inland Northwest is seeing a rather typical El Niño winter. The weather pattern that brought all the heavy snows to our region last year has moved to the east. It’s the rest of the nation that’s suffering this time around.

According to the Weather Channel, it was the snowiest December in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Grand Forks, N.D., since at least the end of the Little Ice Age

Last winter, we had a chilly La Niña, the cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperature in the south-central Pacific Ocean. The cooler waters, combined with a much less active sun, which was almost completely devoid of sunspot activity, helped us receive record snows at the Spokane International Airport.

Speaking of snow, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the area of the United States covered with snow on Jan. 1 was a whopping 61 percent. There has been a recent trend of increased snowfall across the U.S. over the last several years. In 2004, the coverage was only 29.2 percent. In 2005, only 24.8 percent of the U.S. was covered with snow. The area of snow increased slightly in 2006 with a coverage of 29.4 percent. The numbers shot up in 2007 with 42.6 percent of the country covered with snow. In 2008, the reading was similar with 46.7 percent. Last year, the number dipped to 38.5 percent coverage.

As of early this week, we’ve only had 11.4 inches of the snow since the season began on July 1, 2009. The normal to date is about 22 inches. Coeur d’Alene has received approximately 15 inches of snow for the season, compared to a normal of more than 31 inches.

The warmer-than-average sea-surface temperature, El Niño, may be at least partially to blame for much of our precipitation arriving in the form of rain since early November. Between now and early April, we should see approximately 30 percent less snowfall than normal at the elevations below 2,500 feet. Much of our snowfall for this season should fall between mid-January and mid-February, if El Niño doesn’t gain strength.

The nearby mountain ski areas will also see some rain, even above 4,000 feet, but most of their precipitation will be measured as snow through the winter season.

I expect this El Niño pattern to hold on through the winter season. It’s possible that we’ll see a warmer and wetter spring but a hot and dry summer.

Contact Randy Mann at