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A beautiful white Christmas to follow December thaw

| December 20, 2010 8:00 PM

In answering a Press subscriber's question concerning the chances of a WHITE CHRISTMAS for a given year since the inception of regular weather-record keeping in 1895 in Coeur d'Alene, there have been a whopping 79 times that the Lake City has had at least an inch or more of snow on the ground as of Dec. 25. This is a very healthy average of 69 percent of the time.

Last Christmas, however, during the warm and dry 'El Nino' sea-surface temperature event in the Pacific Ocean, we only had a 'trace' of snow on the ground on Dec. 25, 2009, one of just 36 'bare' Christmasses in Coeur d'Alene in the past 115 years.

Bing Crosby, who had a vacation home decades ago on Hayden Lake, said that he didn't have to 'dream' of a White Christmas in North Idaho, he could usually 'bank on it' occurring each year. The Spokane native returned many times to the region at Christmas to see our 'winter wonderland' and enjoy the "glistening tree tops and the sleigh bells ringing in the meadows."

In the U.S., only a few northern latitude cities beat our odds each year of a brilliant White Christmas. Duluth, Minn., averages at least an inch of snow on the ground 97 percent of the time. Marquette, Mich., stands at 90 percent along with Anchorage, Alaska. Concord, N.H., and Burlington, Vt., came in at 89 percent and 87 percent, respectively.

In answering a second related question, our whitest Christmas ever occurred just two years ago in 2008, when we had an amazing, roof-collapsing 44 inches of snow on the ground on Player Drive. I spent most of Christmas Day scraping the heavy, wet snow from my driveway and the edges of the roof.

Thanks to our new chilly 'La Nina' sea-surface temperature phenomenon in the cooling Pacific waters, despite the December thaw, we should see a brilliant White Christmas this Saturday, our 80th since at least 1895. It will be a joyous time indeed in Camelot, as we listen to Bing sing his Christmas carols and drink our egg nogs and hot toddies. Merry Christmas to all!

NORTH IDAHO WEATHER REVIEW AND LONG-RANGE OUTLOOKS

Talk about our prolonged cycle of WIDE WEATHER 'EXTREMES' this late fall season of 2010, we've had them 'in spades' in recent weeks.

We went from the snowiest November in at least 115 years since 1895 to the sixth warmest first half of December on record, thanks to a very mild 'Pineapple Connection' from Hawaii that quickly melted the record 20 inches of the white stuff that blanketed my backyard on Dec. 1. The ground was once more completely snowless by Dec. 15.

My wife Sharon called the second week of December 2010, "our EARLIEST SPRING ON RECORD," as temperatures soared to as much as 10 degrees above normal in the region. She was able to complete gardening tasks that she usually puts off until late March or early April, quite a sharp contrast indeed from the subzero mid-winterlike conditions that we saw around Thanksgiving. It was a record -9 degrees in town on Nov. 24.

But, things are turning more wintry again with increasing snows just in time to give us our expected brilliant WHITE CHRISTMAS, this despite some slushy, icy afternoons in the lower to mid 30s following our first official day of the winter season on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

I'm writing this North Idaho weather update on a still mild and snowless Thursday, Dec. 16. This first half of December, which ended at noon today, only produced a puny 3.8 inches of snow, less than a third of normal, again thanks to a much milder flow aloft from off Hawaii. The total precipitation for the first half of December 2010 in Coeur d'Alene was a healthy 1.87 inches, well above normal. This warm and wet pattern led to major flooding this past week in western Washington and parts of neighboring Oregon and British Columbia in Canada. Our 2010 annual precipitation total as of noon on Thursday stood at 31.28 inches, more than 5 inches above normal.

Longer-term weatherwise, thanks to a moderate 'La Nina' in the cooler waters of the Pacific Ocean, I'm expecting another 40 inches or more of snow locally between now and early to mid March. That would bring our seasonal snowfall total up to 80 to 85 inches, almost exactly what I predicted back in early October. Our normal seasonal snowfall total since 1895 has been near 67 inches. We had just 18.4 inches all of last winter during the warm and dry 'El Nino' event.

Temperatures this winter should be colder than usual for the most part. More subzero temperatures may occur in January or, perhaps, in early to mid February.

Stay tuned, things could get VERY INTERESTING, weatherwise and otherwise in the months ahead well into the spring and summer season of 2011.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!! Cliff Harris and Family.

Cliff Harris is a climatologist who writes a weekly column for The Press. His opinions are his own. E-mail sfharris@roadrunner.com

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