Meteorologically speaking, winter is over. It ended as the calendar flipped to March 1 just over a week ago. March is prone to divergent weather swings, so it’s hard to know what the next three weeks will deliver.
But now that we’ve analyzed the data, we know exactly what winter delivered to the Inland Northwest.
From a historical perspective, meteorological winter – defined as December, January and February – was relatively tame during the 2021-2022 season. Even so, there were a few surprises.
Overall, temperatures ran only a tad below the recent 30-year average. Also, we received slightly less precipitation. The big snow dump that hit the Spokane area in late December was tempered by slightly less snowfall than normal during January and February.
Here are some highlights of Spokane’s winter season:
December opened with record warmth. A high of 59 degrees on Dec. 1 was the warmest temperature recorded during that month since 1939. Even the overnight low of 48 degrees was high for the month.
Late December was cold and snowy. Dec. 24 marked the snowiest day of 2021, with 3.9 inches that fell. Then, the day after Christmas, brief but intense bursts of snow and wind swooped into the region, triggering a sudden drop in visibility and slick roads. Conditions were caused by snow squalls, one of the most dangerous winter weather phenomena, according to the National Weather Service, which are typically associated with strong cold fronts that usher in arctic air. Not surprisingly, an arctic blast promptly arrived on Dec. 26, when the most frigid temperatures of 2021 took hold. The pattern shake-up also delivered snow. On Dec. 30, it snowed 2.6 inches in Spokane, 6 inches in Pullman, and a rarely seen 7.2 inches in Lewiston. Spokane’s coldest temperature of 2021 arrived on Dec. 31, with a low of 2 degrees.
The arctic stretch lasted nearly a week, delivering the coldest day of the entire winter season on Jan. 1. The low of 1 degree was 20 degrees below normal for that date. On Jan. 6, a storm blanketed the Inland Northwest with heavy snow, forcing numerous school closures, causing pockets of power outages and creating dangerous driving conditions. Spokane received 5.3 inches of snow and Spokane Valley got 7 inches. In addition, Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass – the major passage through Washington’s Cascade mountains – was closed due to blowing snow, low visibility and high avalanche danger.
Lots of sunshine and above-average temperatures during the first half of February were brought on by a large, high-pressure ridge off the California coast that blocked the entrance of winter weather systems from the Gulf of Alaska into the West. The Inland Northwest experienced the warmest weather Feb. 9-11 when temperatures fell just short of 50 degrees in Spokane (compared to the normal high of 38), while hitting 57 degrees in Pullman, the mid-60s in the Tri-Cities, and a May-like 70 degrees in Yakima. Eventually, the ridge dissipated enough to allow another pulse of arctic air and strong wind gusts into the Pacific Northwest. On Feb. 23, the low temperature in Spokane fell to 3 degrees, Coeur d’Alene, 5 degrees and Deer Park, zero.
A big weather change came at the end of the month with the arrival of an atmospheric river that unleashed heavy rains and flooding in parts of the Pacific Northwest.
On Feb. 28, 0.72 inches of rain fell in Spokane and 0.57 inches in Pullman, breaking rainfall records for that date.
Now that it’s the second week of meteorological spring, rest assured that longer, brighter and warmer days lie ahead. Even so, the atmosphere is prone to surprises, regardless of what the calendar says. In March, a lot of atmospheric tug-of-warring occurs as warm and cold air collide. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center’s recent outlook shows close to normal temperatures in our region from March 11-17.
Nic Loyd is a meteorologist in Washington state. Linda Weiford is a writer in Moscow, Idaho, who’s also a weather geek. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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