January 4, 2014 in City

Inland Northwest snow pack low as drought looms

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Kevin DeLeonard, 17, of Post Falls, flies off a jump in the terrain park at Lookout Pass Ski Area on Friday. There was enough snow to cover the ground at Lookout on the Montana/Idaho border, but many Western ski areas are unable to open or open fully because of a lack of snow.
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A drought spreading across the Western United States is creeping closer to the Inland Northwest.

The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that abnormally dry conditions have moved into the Columbia Basin as well as the Cascades and Western Washington.

Far Eastern Washington and North Idaho are still outside the drought area.

In the mountains of the Inland Northwest, snowpack on Friday was about 76 percent of normal for this time of year.

That compares with 33 to 44 percent of normal in the central Cascades of Washington and only 22 percent of normal near Mount Hood in northern Oregon.

Much of the snow that has fallen in the mountains came from a series of storms in November.

“Since then, we really haven’t had much,” said Jeffrey Cote, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Spokane.

A storm Thursday night brought 3 to 4 inches of snow to the mountains of North Idaho and more than 6 inches to the North Cascades.

But only 0.03 inches of rain fell at Spokane International Airport, where precipitation amounts are less than half of normal for the season.

It was the latest in a stubborn pattern where storms are being shunted to the north and east by a strong ridge of higher air pressure along the Pacific coast. Storms that break over the ridge are weakened and provide only glancing blows, Cote said.

“Looking at long-range patterns, it’s not very promising,” he said.

Dry and cold weather is expected over the weekend. Weak storms are possible on Tuesday into next weekend, when a stronger storm may develop.

“Beyond that, the ridge tries to rebuild itself,” Cote said, and that will bring more dry weather.

Sunshine should accompany the higher air pressure today and Sunday, with highs in the lower 30s today and upper 20s on Sunday. Lows should be in the teens.

An analysis this week by meteorologists in Spokane showed only a 15 to 20 percent chance of catching up to normal precipitation and snowpack by the time spring arrives. That is based on a study of previous dry years, Cote said.

Most of California and Nevada are in severe to extreme drought. The Rockies are faring better, with parts of western Montana, Wyoming and Colorado reporting above-normal snowpacks so far.


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