The first snow of the season has fallen in Spokane, but the U.S. Climate Prediction Center says it may not be a sign of things to come.
This winter in the Inland Northwest should be milder and drier than normal, prediction center scientists say.
Spokane International Airport officially recorded a trace of snow on Sunday. Snow and rain remain in the overnight forecasts through Friday morning.
A winter storm warning was issued on Monday for mountain areas of Northeast Washington and far North Idaho. Snow accumulations could reach 5 to 10 inches through 11 a.m. today. An inch or two of snow was possible for adjacent valley locations such as Colville and Sandpoint.
Smatterings of snow were reported at Diamond Lake and Deer Park on Monday, and snow fell at the region’s ski areas as well.
The snow level could drop to 2,000 to 2,200 feet in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas Wednesday night. Much of the North Side, South Hill and Spokane Valley are at or above 2,000 feet. Coeur d’Alene is at 2,185 feet.
For that reason, residents could awaken Thursday to a light covering of snow, Ron Miller, forecaster for the National Weather Service in Spokane, said Monday.
Temperatures in Spokane on Monday were about 10 degrees below the normal high for Oct. 22 of 55 degrees.
The cooler weather should remain through the work week with a slight warm-up over the weekend, forecasters said.
The Climate Prediction Center said that its most advanced computer weather models are showing that the current round of chilly weather may not be the pattern as far as winter is concerned.
The outlook for November through March calls for temperatures above normal and precipitation to be below normal.
Miller said long-range forecasting has gotten better with advances in computer modeling.
“They are getting enough confidence in them (the models) – they are starting to rely on them,” Miller said.
A weak El Nino condition in the equatorial Pacific Ocean this fall is playing a role in the winter outlook. El Nino is a term for water temperatures that are warmer than normal.
An El Nino “usually leads to milder and sometimes drier weather for the Northwest,” Miller said.
An El Nino during the winter of 2009-2010 resulted in only 14.4 inches of snowfall in Spokane, which was well below the normal for a winter season of about 45 inches.
Even a weak El Nino may be enough to make winter milder in the Inland Northwest, Miller said.
La Nina is the term used for colder water in the tropical Pacific and was associated with heavy snowfall in the winters of 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. A record 97.8 inches of snow fell in 2008-2009 and a near record of 92.6 inches fell in 2007-2008.