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Will we see another year with below-zero temperatures?

by RANDY MANN
| December 4, 2023 1:05 AM

December is here and we’ve finally received some snow after a relatively normal average temperature in November. Only 0.3 inches of snow fell in Coeur d’Alene last month and Cliff tells me that snowless Novembers in Coeur d’Alene have happened only seven times since 1895. The Spokane Airport picked up a little more snow than Coeur d’Alene last month as 0.8 inches fell.

The first three weeks of November were relatively mild, but the last week of November had high temperatures below the 40-degree mark. The average high-temperature last month was 42.4 degrees. The coldest afternoon last month was Nov. 28 with a high temperature of only 28 degrees. The warmest day in November was Nov. 5 with a high temperature of 54 degrees.

As I’ve mentioned frequently, we have a warm, El Niño sea-surface temperature event in the waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean. With a recently declared strong El Niño, we will likely have additional milder-than-normal afternoon temperatures in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding regions. Despite the recent colder weather and snow across the Inland Northwest, we should still see a back-and-forth pattern of mild and cold through December.

We also expect to see a series of storms move from the Gulf of Alaska and bring occasional snow to the mountain areas with rain and snow in the lower elevations. Some of the December moisture is expected to fall southward into northern California. However, the southern portions of the Golden State are expected to remain dry for at least the next several weeks. El Niño patterns will often favor the intensifying of the sub-tropical jet stream so there is an increasing chance of rain in the southwestern portions of the country this winter season.

Dec. 1 began with measurable snowfall of 2.3 inches in Coeur d’Alene with 3.3 inches at the Spokane International Airport. Milder air will be raising snow levels this week, but there is a chance of some snow at the end of the week in the lower elevations. More rain and snow are expected in the region around the new moon cycle Dec. 12. The full moon cycle at the end of the month may bring a better chance of snow in Coeur d’Alene.

According to the region’s climatology and Cliff’s records, when we experience a practically snowless November, the chances for snow will often increase in December. As I mentioned last week, in 2016, during a strong El Niño event, there was no measurable snowfall in November. But, in December 2016, Cliff’s station measured 36.4 inches. There are no guarantees we’ll see snowfall totals like this in 2023, but it could be interesting weather-wise in December.

Despite the recent chilly weather, Cliff and I don’t see temperatures going below the zero mark anytime soon. If Coeur d’Alene and other locations in the lower elevations were to have readings below the zero mark, the best chance would be around the full moon cycle beginning in late December or around the end of January. Overall, we seem to be in a warmer temperature cycle in the western sections of the North American continent.

The last time low temperatures dropped to zero in Coeur d’Alene was Feb. 24, 2023. We did go below the zero mark Jan. 30, 2023, with a low of -1 degrees. Early this year, global weather patterns were still influenced by the cooler sea-surface temperature event, La Niña. With a strong El Niño that is forecast to hang around through at least the early portion of 2024, the chances of subzero temperatures in the lower elevations are much lower.

By the way, the lowest temperature ever observed in Coeur d’Alene, was -30 degrees Jan. 30, 1950. In Idaho, the record low was set in Orofino with a reading of -60 degrees set Jan. 18, 1943.

Spokane’s lowest reading was a frigid -30 degrees Feb. 2, 1996. The lowest in Washington ever recorded was -48 degrees at Mazama and Winthrop on Dec. 30, 1968.

The coldest reading ever observed in the U.S. and North America happened Jan. 24, 1989, as the mercury in McGrath, Alaska, plummeted to -86 degrees Fahrenheit. On Aug. 24, 1960, Vostok, Antarctica, the air temperature plunged to -127 degrees. Now that is cold.

As water freezes, it expands and puts a lot of pressure on its container, like water pipes. The ones that freeze more frequently are those that are exposed to the elements. During a big coldwave, it’s a good idea to keep garage doors closed. One should open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow the warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. It’s also important to let the cold water slowly drop from a faucet that is connected to outdoor pipes. The drip helps to prevent the pipes from freezing.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.