There’s a 70-80% chance of a La Niña winter in Spokane, which could bring a shot of cold and snowy weather to a region beset by drought.
Earlier this month, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center issued its best forecast for the coming winter for the Northern Hemisphere.
A La Niña occurs when winds are stronger than usual and push warm ocean water toward Asia, causing cold, nutrient-rich water to come to the surface along the West Coast of North America, according to the National Ocean Service.
Those cold waters push the jet stream north, brining heavy rains, cooler temperatures and potential flooding to the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
With Spokane and much of Eastern Washington experiencing extreme drought, a La Niña winter could bring much needed precipitation to the area, said Jeremy Wolf, meteorologist at the National Weather Service Spokane.
“There’s certain patterns that develop during La Niña and typically we’re under a more northwesterly storm track, so that tends to bring cooler and wetter systems into the region,” Wolf said.
However, that’s a big if, because each La Niña is different, he said.
“For the drought, there’s better chances for improvement since the storm track tends to be more aimed at our region,” Wolf said. “But it’s definitely not a guarantee.”
Normal precipitation for the year to date is 10.52 inches in Spokane. But so far in 2021, Spokane has had 5.71 inches of precipitation.
La Niñas often come in pairs, Wolf said. Most recently, that pair was in the winters of 2016-17 and 2017-18. During the past 70 years, there have been 23 La Niñas, Wolf added.
Each La Niña sets up slightly differently, he said, so it’s difficult to know yet how it will affect Spokane. Most often, the system begins toward the latter half of winter, Wolf said, but “sometimes the pattern sets up sooner.”
The system could bring a more significant snow pack just to the region’s mountains, making its effects felt during the spring melt. Or, it could bring direct rain and snow to valleys, too, Wolf said.
As winter approaches, forecasts will become more accurate and detailed, he said.
“It’s only one piece of a puzzle when it comes to forecasting what a winter is going to be like,” Wolf said.
For local winter recreationists, though, a La Niña sparks memories of good conditions.
“La Niña just means a great ski year,” said Jodie Kayler, assistant general manager at Mt. Spokane.
A good base of snow in December is a great base to build on for the rest of the season, she said.
“Just makes us excited,” Kayler said. “We’re ready to roll.”
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