As the Spokane region races headlong into the winter from a colder than normal fall, forecasters are essentially saying they don’t know what to expect.
Spokane and Coeur d’Alene were spared the arctic blast earlier this week out of Canada that pushed freezing temperatures into the Midwest and Deep South. While local temperatures remain mild, it’s just a matter of time before winter takes its grip and the region marches toward its annual average of about 45 inches of snowfall.
“Our outlooks are predicting that it could swing dry or wet,” said Tom Dang, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “We have no strong indicator suggesting one way or the other. In terms of temperatures, the outlook is greater than normal for above normal temperatures.”
Forecasters normally can predict regional weather patterns based on warming or cooling of waters in the Pacific Ocean. Those years when the water temperatures rise above normal are called El Nino conditions, which tend to bring warmer winters with lower snowfall amounts to Spokane.
In the converse, La Nina conditions, or the cooling of Pacific waters along the coastlines of Ecuador and Peru, can deflect the polar jet stream northward. It tends to bring moisture from the Gulf of Alaska along its eastern edge and can bring heavy snows to the Pacific Northwest.
In La Nina winters a decade ago, Spokane set consecutive record snow totals with 92.6 inches of snow in 2007-08 and 97.8 inches in 2008-09. But the last strong El Nino year, which was 2016, brought 30.9 inches of snow to Spokane International Airport, which was 14 inches below normal.
Last year, more than half of the year’s snowfall total fell in February, making it the second-snowiest February on record. Still, the overall snow total came in at 53.6 inches, about 8.6 inches above normal.
This year, Pacific Ocean water temperatures were normal, meaning that neither the El Nino warming nor the La Nina cooling conditions existed. As a result, the forecast remains largely an unknown.
“It’s been somewhat an unusual fall, in general,” Dang said. “We had several weather systems dating back to late September. Weather patterns shifted colder than normal in October. Then that shifted eastward” to the Midwest and Deep South.
Rain is expected to return to Spokane today with a 60% chance of showers that could drop up to a quarter inch of rain in some areas. After a foggy Saturday, a chance of rain is forecast for Saturday night, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
With temperatures hovering between the mid-30s and high 40s, some area mountains could get snow, Dang said.
“We have a relatively weak weather system coming through (today) that will bring rain across the region,” he said. “We are looking at snow levels generally above 5,000 feet. Most of the mountain passes should remain rain, but the highest peaks could get some dusting.”
After having above-average rain in October, November has come in drier than normal.
“We are not halfway through the month,” Dang said. “There is a lot of time to catch up.”
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