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Snow is coming to North Idaho, and California is still battling drought conditions

| February 20, 2023 1:06 AM

Conditions across the Inland Northwest will be returning to more winterlike this week. Since the beginning of the year, less than 8 inches of snow has fallen at Cliff’s station in northwestern Coeur d’Alene. Earlier this month, there were hints that we might see a repeat of last season’s snowfall pattern with just over 6 inches of snow falling from Jan. 8 through the end of March in 2022.

By tomorrow, our weather will be noticeably different with widespread snow and much colder temperatures in North Idaho. Since the beginning of February, average high temperatures in Coeur d’Alene have been in the 40s. The coldest afternoon this month was Feb. 1, with a high of only 34 degrees. Around the middle to the end of this week, highs are expected to only be in the 20s in the lower elevations with overnight lows in the single digits. Winds will also be gusty sending wind chill temperatures down to as low as -15 degrees in some areas.

Our current seasonal snowfall total for Coeur d’Alene is over 58 inches. After Tuesday’s winter blast, it’s very possible that we could see our seasonal snowfall total in the mid-60s, as over 6 inches of snow is expected from next storm. The long-range weather patterns are now looking cold with more snow into at least the first week of March. If these weather patterns develop over the next several weeks, Cliff and I believe that we should see total annual snowfalls climb well into the 70s and give us a good chance of reaching our predicted 80 to 85-inch total for the 2022-23 snowfall season in Coeur d’Alene. The normal seasonal snowfall for Coeur d’Alene is 69.8 inches.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, the middle of winter in early 2022 was practically snowless until we received over 10 inches of snow in April. Last year at this time, we were in the midst of a La Niña, the cooler than normal sea-surface temperature event in the waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean. However, this phenomenon has weakened considerably within the past several weeks. The Australian and U.S. scientists who carefully monitor these sea-surface temperatures are expected to declare a new “La Nada,” the in-between cooler La Niña and warmer El Niño, within a matter of weeks. In fact, there’s a decent chance that we may be talking about a new El Niño by the end of this year.

While our region has seen much less snow than normal from early January through the middle of February, California has also turned to the dry side. However, this new pattern is expected to bring a new round of moisture to the Golden State over at least the next several weeks as well.

Thanks to the healthy start to the rain and snow season, the mountains in California are still reporting snowpack that is well above average. Many locations in the higher elevations are near 200% of normal, especially near Lake Tahoe. To the far north, snowfall totals are about 125-150% of average. According to the USDA, snowpack in the mountains of North Idaho are about 85-96% above-normal levels as of late last week.

Despite the much-needed moisture, nearly all of California is experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. Over 80% of the state is showing “moderate drought” conditions. The western drought has certainly eased since late last year, but many scientists say that we’re still in a “megadrought,” especially in the southwestern portion of the country.

One of the reservoirs that will be watched closely this year is Lake Mead, located on the Arizona and Nevada border. This is a man-made reservoir for Hoover Dam and supplies critical water supplies to millions of people and hydroelectric power as well. Rapid population increases and long-term droughts have contributed to the fall of the lake’s level.

Lake Mead’s current level stands at just over 1,047.5 feet. Last year, in 2022, Lake Mead’s level was slightly over 1,067 feet. In mid-February of 2021, the level was slightly higher than 1,087 feet. The lowest level for Lake Mead was 1,041.72 feet on July 28, 2022. Since that time, we’ve only seen a rise of a little more than 6 feet.

Although, California did receive heavy amounts of precipitation late last year, most of the storms went to the northeast, rather than diving over the Southwest suppling lots of moisture to the Colorado River, which feeds into Lake Mead.

As the rainy season starts to wind down next month, water conservation will likely be necessary to help maintain water levels. However, there is some hope. If we see a new El Niño develop late this year, it’s possible that the southwestern portion of the country will receive the benefit of a more active sub-tropical jet stream which could help increase moisture supplies in that area. As usual, only time will tell.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.