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Getting in the swing, just in time for spring

Sat., March 19, 2011

Adam Hasting tees off on the first hole of Esmeralda Golf Course on Friday, as springlike weather has allowed local courses to begin the golf season. (Christopher Anderson)
Adam Hasting tees off on the first hole of Esmeralda Golf Course on Friday, as springlike weather has allowed local courses to begin the golf season. (Christopher Anderson)

La Niña lived up to its promise.

Last fall, forecasters said La Niña’s cooling of the tropical Pacific would bring plenty of snow and cold to the Inland Northwest, and it did.

“We were calling for above-normal snowfall, and we got it,” said John Livingston, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Spokane.

Wintry conditions arrived early – around Nov. 18 – and lingered through early this month in a stretch that at times seemed interminable.

Over those four-plus months, the region saw 66.7 inches of snow as measured at Spokane International Airport. Winter also featured a series of arctic blasts.

The coldest nights came on Nov. 11, Feb. 25 and Feb. 26, all at minus 10, and Dec. 31 at minus 7.

Spring arrives none too soon. The equinox is at 4:21 p.m. on Sunday.

Spokane’s snowfall so far ranks as the 18th snowiest winter since records began in 1892.

The amount pales in comparison to the record-setting 97.7 inches in 2008-’09, but last November lived up to the advance billing with a Spokane record of 25.9 inches.

“I think people were looking at that and thinking, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Livingston said.

While December continued the trend with a respectable 17.4 inches of snow, the weather shifted in January with a below-normal total of 7 inches.

La Niña evened things out in February with 14.3 more inches of snow.

Last year brought a paltry 14.4 inches of snow in Spokane, but that was during an El Niño warming in the tropical waters.

Spokane’s average snowfall since 1892 is 41.5 inches, but the records from earlier years came from observation sites downtown and at Felts Field near Millwood, both at elevations lower than the airport.

The weather service uses a 30-year period – currently 1971 through 2000 – for establishing climate norms. That average is 46.4 inches a year. The 30-year averages are about to be updated, and the snowfall average will likely increase due to heavy snows in the past decade, Livingston said.

In all of this, the region has been blessed with mountain snowpacks that are at or above normal for this time of year. For example, Schweitzer ski area near Sandpoint had a summit depth of 151 inches on Friday.

That much snow will ensure adequate stream flow during the summer months.

Precipitation amounts in Spokane are well above normal with 11.59 inches of rain and melted snow measured at the airport since Nov. 1, which is nearly 3 inches more than normal.

The weather service earlier this week said that portions of the lower Columbia Basin and north central Washington are about the only inland spots that are short on precipitation and snow this year.

Because of several arctic cold spells, the average temperature since Nov. 1 was more than 2 degrees below normal.

Forecasters said springlike weather may arrive at the end of next week, but the outlook through April calls for above-normal precipitation and below-normal temperatures.

May and June may be a little drier. The outlook for those two months calls for average precipitation with temperatures below normal, Livingston said.

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