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Don't put away snowblower just yet

by Randy Mann
| February 1, 2021 1:06 AM

January's over, closing the book on a month with warmer-than-normal temperatures and less snow than normal.

Average temperatures in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene last month were well above normal. In Coeur d’Alene, January’s average reading was over eight degrees above normal, the warmest in history.

In terms of snowfall, as of Saturday, the lower elevations received around 3-5 inches in January.

All snow last month began on the 23rd as the first 22 days were snowless. Since record-keeping began in 1895, Cliff’s records show no other year without measurable snow for the first 22 days of January. Coeur d’Alene had the third most snowless January in history with 3.1 inches. The least snowless was 1.4 inches in 1944.

Despite the lack of snow, there was plenty of moisture. At Cliff’s station, approximately 5.32 inches of rain and melted snow was reported. This was well above the average of 3.77 inches.

As I’ve mentioned for weeks, this was a very unusual weather pattern. When we have a cooler than normal sea-surface temperature event in the south-central Pacific Ocean, La Nina, and low sunspot activity, our region will typically see above normal snow. That has not the case for this season.

Instead, the heavy snows last month fell in the north-central U.S. and over northern Europe.

There was another unusual event that relates to snowfall in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area. During a normal winter, Coeur d’Alene will have much more snow than Spokane International Airport. However, the airport has consistently had as much, or even more snow than Coeur d’Alene for most of the season.

For example, as of early Saturday, Cliff has measured 35.0 inches of snow at his station. At the airport, their seasonal total is at 38.3 inches.

The distance between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene is approximately 33 miles. Across much of the country, there is not much precipitation and temperature variability over a distance of 30 miles. However, most of the climate differences in our region are due to elevations of particular towns, their latitude and longitude and, of course, the proximity to large bodies of water. Since Coeur d’Alene is closer to the mountains than Spokane, we will often see more rain and snow.

Other towns and cities east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington are within a “rain shadow.” Spokane is on the eastern edge of this rain shadow effect. As storms move up the Cascades, the air is lifted and cooled, resulting in more moisture.

However, on the eastern side of the mountains, the air descends and warms up, leading to much less rainfall. Traveling from here to Seattle, you have probably noticed the desert-like conditions in central Washington, but then the increase in vegetation as you move up and over the Cascades.

Spokane normally receives about 16.5 inches of rain and melted snow each year. That figure goes up when one goes to the east as Coeur d’Alene has an annual precipitation total of 26.77 inches. The same is true with snowfall as Spokane normally measures about 45 inches each season while Coeur d’Alene picks up close to 70 inches.

For the 2019-20 snowfall season, Cliff measured 69.6 inches of snow at his station. The airport’s total was 47.9 inches, about 30 percent lower. But, this season is very different as snowfall totals at the airport are nearly 10 percent higher than Coeur d’Alene. As of the weekend, Spokane’s snowfall was approximately 5 inches above normal, but Coeur d’Alene’s total is about 15 inches below normal. Some of the difference is likely due to Spokane’s temperature being slightly colder this winter.

With the warmer than normal temperatures and the lack of snow in the lower elevations, it may seem that our current winter season will be short. However, I wouldn’t put away the snowblowers and heavy jackets just yet. I do see more rain and snow shower activity this week.

By the weekend, the computer models have been consistently showing a blast of cold air that is expected to move southward out of Canada and into much of the northern and central portions of the U.S. We’ll be on the western edge of this frigid air mass, but temperatures in our area should be a little colder.

The chances for snow in our area should increase later next week. At this point, it looks like February will be our snowiest month in North Idaho. So far, our snowiest month this season was in December as only 15 inches was recorded. Cliff and I think there’s a chance we’ll see more than 15 inches of snow this month. But again, Mother Nature has the final say. It seems like our weather is getting crazier by the day.