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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Pacific NW

Weathercatch: It’s not looking good for Groundhog Day, but it could be (and has been) a lot worse

By Nic Loyd and Linda Weiford For The Spokesman-Review

As you may have noticed, a brief but biting blast of arctic air plunged into the Pacific Northwest earlier this week, along with a number of other northern states.

The intrusion happened quickly. Spokane dropped from a low of 32 degrees on Friday to a low of 8 degrees by Sunday. Monday got even colder, dipping to a low of 5 degrees in Spokane, 1 in Omak, Washington, and minus 6 in Deer Park.

A stark temperature drop, but nothing like the plunge we saw 34 years ago this week when an historic arctic outbreak stretched from Washington state to Virginia and New England, and impacted hundreds of millions of Americans.

In the Inland Northwest, unusual spring-like temperatures were suddenly replaced by dangerously frigid air and strong wind gusts. On Jan. 30, 1989, Spokane enjoyed a high temperature of 50 degrees and a low of 40 , extremely mild for that date. On Feb. 1, the high dropped to 22 degrees and on Feb. 2, it was minus 4. This was the high temperature.

It was nearly 40 degrees below normal for that date. Since it was Groundhog Day and abnormally cold in Pennsylvania as well, legend has it that Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow only to crawl back inside. Temperatures plunged, and so did Phil’s popularity.

Similar to what we experienced this week, the event was caused when arctic air trapped over Alaska broke loose and dipped through Canada and into the states. But the 1989 cold snap was far more significant in terms of much lower temperatures, the wide geographical reach and its longevity.

So, yes, it was cold early this week, but more garden variety. A gradual warm-up is underway, along with a chance of rain into February’s first weekend.

Regardless of whether Phil sees his shadow Thursday, portending six more weeks of winter, experts at the Climate Prediction Center have issued their scientific outlook for February. Wetter and cooler conditions than normal are favored for the entire state.

Nic Loyd is a meteorologist in Washington state. Linda Weiford is a writer in Moscow, Idaho, who’s also a weather geek. Contact:

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