Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

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

Weathercatch: Fickle February requires patience and flexibility

A City of Spokane snowplow/sander makes its way through a tangle of vehicles on Lincoln Street and Fifth Avenue in 2018. These cars were involved in eight-car accident on the slick hill.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
A City of Spokane snowplow/sander makes its way through a tangle of vehicles on Lincoln Street and Fifth Avenue in 2018. These cars were involved in eight-car accident on the slick hill. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo
By Nic Loyd and Linda Weiford For The Spokesman-Review

Cold and snowy. That’s February. Mild and sunny. That’s February as well.

It’s a transitional month, a bridge that spans weather conditions of both late winter and early spring. Sometimes it’s a gentle segue from bitter cold to mild. Oftentimes, however, it’s notoriously flighty.

Outside your window, it could just as easily be snowing as raining. Perhaps the season’s first crocuses are poking through the soil. Or maybe they’re blocked by a sheen of ice.

February 1996 is the poster child of fickle weather. The month began with a historic arctic outbreak that stretched from the Inland Northwest to the eastern and southern United States. On Feb. 2, Spokane’s low dropped to minus-24 degrees, the city’s chilliest weather in three decades. The stretch of cold also brought winds, ice and snow.

Remarkably, a surge of warmth arrived a few days later. Spokane’s snow depth went from 13 inches on Feb. 4 to zero on Feb. 7. On Feb. 8, the high temperature approached 50 degrees and the low hit 37 degrees. Where hypothermia was a big concern a few days earlier, suddenly spring was in the air.

February 2018 was a different story. The month started out springlike, with unseasonably warm temperatures for nearly two weeks. On Feb. 8, the mercury soared to 58 degrees in Spokane and 54 in Pullman. Pleasant conditions came to an abrupt end on Valentine’s Day, when 7.3 inches of snow fell in Spokane. Then, on Feb. 21, the mercury plunged to a low of minus-3 degrees, the coldest day of the year.

Last year’s pattern was similar. The first two weeks of February delivered above-average temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Conditions turned wintry on Valentine’s Day, although not as extreme as in 2018.

Also, although January is typically a snowier month than February, we’ve seen some notable exceptions in recent years. Despite February having fewer days, its snowfall totals exceeded January’s in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021. Most unusual was February 2019, when 29.9 inches of snow fell in Spokane, compared to 5.2 inches in January. In 2021, 11.8 inches of snow fell in February, compared to 3.5 inches in January.

Why this has happened in recent years – drawing on 130 years of snowfall records – is likely a fluke of natural variability, and not suggestive of a permanent pattern change where February becomes the biggest snow month.

As for 2023, Spokane got 6.1 inches of snow in January, less than half of the month’s average snowfall amount. So unless this February is a snow dud as well, it won’t be hard to surpass.

Due to variations from one February to the next, along with weather variability within a given February, it can be a month of springlike conditions or hardcore winter, and oftentimes both.

Right now, we’re looking at fairly quiet conditions into the weekend. Highs should run in the low to mid-40s and lows in the low to mid-30s. Not surprisingly, Spokane will remain on the edge of late winter and early spring conditions.

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

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.