Spring has arrived. Daytime is finally longer than nighttime, and most folks are ready to put away the winter gear for good. The season always seems to bring some of the most volatile weather conditions across the area. Average high temperatures right now are in the lower 50s, but in many Marchs past, temperatures have soared well into the upper 60s and lower 70s (1953, 1972 and 2004). The opposite extremes have occurred as well, with temperatures falling into the single digits across the region in late March 1936, 1955 and 1965. When the term “normal” temperatures is used, it is good to remember that “normal” is another way to express “average.” When temperatures deviate from “normals,” there is nothing crazy going on with our weather. Fluctuations in high and low temperatures for each day of the month are compiled and averaged through the years to give us the “normals” for any given day of the month. It would be much more of an oddity if temperatures each day matched up with “normal” conditions.
Coeur d’Alene actually gauged some snow on the first day of spring. The .1 inches recorded on Tuesday brings the seasonal total to 79.3 inches. Though accumulating snows are not out of the question this time of year, most of the snow we see in the spring is actually graupel (also called snow pellets or soft hail). Graupel differs from the gently falling snowflakes of winter. Graupel comes down hard, and is the result of an unstable atmosphere with turbulent rising and falling air motions which can also be associated with thunderstorms. Hail that we might see later in the warmer months is different, consisting of layers of ice, whereas graupel is a snowflake that has moved through layers of supercooled water droplets which freeze around it. In the end, snow, hail, and graupel, do all go on the official record books as merely “snowfall.”
With the wide swings in weather that can occur during this season, combined with the varied terrain across the inland northwest, it makes sense to utilize as many resources as possible when diagnosing and forecasting weather conditions. One of the ways the National Weather Service does this is by using weather spotters to augment information gained by remote weather stations, radar and satellite. Human eyes can provide crucial information in areas where other data sources are unreliable or unavailable. In late spring and early summer, when the potential for severe thunderstorms is the greatest, spotter reports of flooding, damaging wind, hail and/or tornadoes can enhance the weather service’s ability to put out timely warnings to save life and property. You don’t need any special equipment to become a weather spotter. These volunteers are simply the “eyes and ears” of the National Weather Service. Two-hour spotter training sessions are available at various locations and times throughout the year, while online training is available at anytime by visiting the National Weather Service Web site. Perks include a free paper copy of the quarterly newsletter “The Inland Northwest Weather Watcher.” If you have an interest in weather, and would like to share your observations in an “official” capacity as a National Weather Service weather spotter, you can visit http://newweb.wrh.noaa.gov/ otx/spotter.php for more information on getting involved.
The Climate Prediction Center’s latest spring outlook indicates above normal temperatures from April through June across the Northwestern U.S. Computer models did not indicate a trend toward either above or below normal precipitation for this area. Strong indicators of both warmer than normal temperatures and drier than normal precipitation across the Southwestern U.S., however, could spell bad news for the 2007 fire season there.
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