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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cold snap lingers on heels of first snow

A powerful fall storm Sunday night brought ankle-deep snow to the mountains, and more moisture could be coming soon. But trick-or-treaters should be in the clear (and cold) tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm brought icy, dry air from Canada, which should linger through the middle of the week, said Todd Carter, a forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Spokane.

Most lower elevations of North Idaho and eastern portions of Spokane County were pelted with sleet, buffeted by gusts up to 40 mph, then dusted by snow Sunday night. In most cases, less than an inch accumulated.

But about a half foot of snow fell atop peaks in North Idaho, including 5,400-foot-high Bear Mountain, northeast of Sandpoint, according to measurements taken by U.S. Geological Survey remote monitoring stations.

Quartz Peak, near Newman Lake, received about 1½ inches of snow. Ski areas fared better, with Schweitzer Mountain Resort, near Sandpoint, getting 5 inches and Lookout Pass, 3 inches.

The snow was not unusual for this time of year, Carter said. Last year’s first measurable snow fell Nov. 13.

If anything, the storm seemed to go against the current trend of dry, warmer weather, Carter said.

Surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean near the equator have been warming, prompting the National Weather Service to issue predictions of an El Nino winter. For the last quarter century, El Ninos have meant warmer winters with less snow for the Inland Northwest, especially in mountainous areas.

“Ski areas hate it,” Carter said.

The last El Nino was in 2004, when about 26 inches of snow were recorded in Spokane. An average year brings 4 feet. But last winter was not an El Nino, and only about 28 inches fell in Spokane. Not in the last half century have there been two other winters so dry back to back, according to National Weather Service records.

Since 1979, there never has been an El Nino winter with more than 30 inches of snow. If that trend holds this year, Spokane would have its first three winters in a row – since records were kept, at least – with less than 30 inches of snow, according to the weather service.

Despite initial indications of a growing El Nino, “it doesn’t mean El Nino is going to go through the entire winter,” Carter said. “It might be a little too early to tell if we’re going to be a full-on El Nino winter.”