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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Inland Northwest winter won’t be backbreaker, outlook says

The Inland Northwest should have a warmer- and drier-than-normal winter, the Climate Prediction Center said this week.

If the prediction is correct, it will be the first time in five years that tropical waters have warmed in a weak El Niño and caused the Inland Northwest to get an easy winter.

The last El Niño, in 2009-10, gave the Inland Northwest one of its least snowy winters on record with 14.4 inches recorded at Spokane International Airport.

The record for the least winter snowfall is 9.5 inches in 1933 and 1934, when measurements were taken at Felts Field.

“The confidence is fairly high there could be a weak El Niño,” said Ron Miller, science officer for the National Weather Service bureau in Spokane.

He said if the El Niño prediction holds up, it’s more likely the Inland Northwest will see modest amounts of snow similar to the El Niño winters of 2004-05, which had 25.8 inches, and 2006-07, which had 34 inches.

Average snowfall is about 45 inches.

The warmer-than-normal ocean water in the tropical Pacific leads to changes in the pattern of the upper-level winds that generate and guide storms moving from west to east across the Pacific.

Typically in an El Niño, the jet stream of high-elevation winds relaxes and splits as it approaches the West Coast, leaving the Inland Northwest in a void between storms under a pattern of higher air pressure.

California and the desert Southwest may see an increase in precipitation, which is also consistent with El Niño, the climate center said. The wet pattern should extend into the Deep South, where below-normal temperatures are expected.

The Great Lakes and upper Midwest may see drier-than-normal weather this winter.

The opposite – La Niña, or cooling in the tropical Pacific – typically causes harsher winters in the Inland Northwest.

The past two winters saw normal ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific.

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