When the Inland Northwest says goodbye to winter at 10:32 a.m. today, it will look back on a season that will be remembered mostly for what wasn’t.
It wasn’t snowy. It wasn’t windy. It wasn’t all that cold, with the exception of a 10-day period in December.
But it was exactly what weather experts expected.
El Niño, the warming of tropical Pacific waters present in the ocean this year, steered the upper-level jet stream to the south, sending more storms into California and fewer, milder ones into the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures have been way above normal since the start of 2010.
“El Niño really takes its effect the second half of the winter around here,” said Ron Miller, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane.
It also had an effect on weather-related business.
Golf courses opened in January, at the same time snowplow companies were idled and tire stores were begging for business.
But at Northwest Seed and Pet in Spokane, vegetable seeds have been flying out the door. “Our spring started a month and a half ago,” said Judith Feeley, assistant manager.
At Spokane Pro Care yard service, “The winter was not so great,” said Kirin Salvner, but in the last two weeks, customers have been eager to get a jump on spring.
“This is making up for it,” she said.
Motorcycles started appearing on the region’s roads in January, and business at Lone Wolf Harley-Davidson in Coeur d’Alene has been “phenomenal,” said co-owner Beth Ernst.
“People here are hard-core riders,” she said.
Maybe this past winter is remarkable because of what it replaced.
Near-record snowfall of 92.6 inches in 2007-08 was followed by a record of 97.7 inches of snow in 2008-09 in Spokane.
This season’s snowfall through Friday is the third-lowest on record, at 13.7 inches, and the lowest amount that has fallen at Spokane International Airport since record-keeping was moved there in 1947.
Excluding December, Spokane had the fourth-warmest winter on record with an average temperature of 37.2 degrees from Jan. 1 through March 16, which was 5.7 degrees above normal, according to the Weather Service.
The warmest winter for the same time period came in 1983, another year when a strong El Niño was present.
The season’s lowest temperature was 1 degree on Dec. 8, which helped create a deep frost layer in the soil that persisted for weeks, in part because there was no snow cover to insulate the ground.
El Niños tend to be dry. Spokane’s precipitation since October is about an inch below normal, but that’s because an unusually wet October boosted the totals, Miller said.
Wind gusts at the airport have exceeded 40 mph only one day since November.
“The lack of winds this winter is a really good indicator of how weak the storms have been,” Miller said.
Miller said El Niño does not appear to have a predictable influence on spring and summer weather, although the Climate Prediction Center is calling for above-normal temperatures and normal to below-normal precipitation through August.
But Miller cautioned that “the two hottest summers ever did follow El Niños” in 1998 and 1958.