As we wind up a chaotic year, we’re happy to report that 2020’s final month was far from a meteorological mess.
No high-impact snowstorms. No damaging winds. No teeth-chattering cold.
Sure, we hit a few bumps, but nothing that knocked us out of our seats. Not like 2008, when a series of heavy snowfalls led to the snowiest December on record for much of the Inland Northwest. Seven days before Christmas, Spokane declared a “Condition Red” emergency, mandating that snow crews work around the clock to clear the city’s undriveable roads.
Relatively speaking, Mother Nature went easy on us this December.
Shortly after the month began, a high pressure system stalled overhead and locked in clear calm skies, slightly-above normal temperatures and patches of fog.
The bare ground finally got a blanket of snow on Dec. 11, when 2 inches fell in the Spokane area, followed by another inch on Dec. 13 and an additional 2.2. inches on Dec. 15. Several days later, a surge in unseasonably warm temperatures melted the region’s snowy blanket. The warmest day of the month arrived on Dec. 21, when Spokane reached a high of 50 degrees and the Tri-Cities hit the jackpot at 60 degrees.
On top of the warm temperatures, we experienced periodic winds and rain with the arrival of an atmospheric river, a narrow but intense band of subtropical moisture. After making landfall in Washington state, it also brought wind gusts of up to 48 mph to the Spokane area and elsewhere in Inland Northwest – the strongest winds recorded during the month. Strong, but not severe.
Four days before Christmas, the atmospheric river moved out and a cold front moved in, delivering dry conditions and cool temperatures. Even so, it was far from a cold snap. The coldest it got during the entire month was 20 degrees on Dec. 23 and 24. Considering December’s typical coldest temperature is 6 degrees, our weather definitely leaned on the temperate side.
On Friday, it began to look a lot like Christmas … at dinnertime. After waking to a green-brown landscape, a shot of wintry wonderland arrived early that evening.
“Road conditions have deteriorated with the snow falling,” Spokane police warned residents in a 6:30 p.m. tweet. The area received 3.7 inches by midnight, making it the second snowiest Christmas on record. (The first-place honor goes to Christmas 1998, which got 5.2 inches of snow)
From Christmas until this final day of the year, we experienced a bit of a weather seesaw: a mix of rain and snow, rising and falling temperatures, freezing fog, dry conditions and sunshine and a return to clouds and one final round of snow.
As we said, December yielded fairly tame conditions overall. Chances are we’ll feel a bigger weight of winter in January. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting colder and wetter conditions than normal for Washington state. This is largely due to a moderately strong La Niña pattern, which often leads to cooler temperatures and more snow in the Pacific Northwest. Characterized by a pool of cooler ocean waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean, a strong enough La Niña usually steers moisture and cold air into our region.
As we prepare to toast to the new year, it’s interesting to note that this December was bookended by tranquil conditions at its start and an unsettled winter pattern at its conclusion – somewhat like 2020 itself.
There won’t be a massive crowd for tonight’s ball drop at Times Square, but using a combination of television and streaming on a New Year’s Eve app, the show will go on.
And so will Mother Nature. Happy New Year, have fun and stay safe.
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