Monday, January 30, 2023

Moisture still going to the south of North Idaho

| January 16, 2023 1:05 AM

What a difference a month makes across the Inland Northwest. After we had periods with big snowfalls in December, there has been very little snow in January. In fact, there was no measurable snow at Cliff’s station in northwestern Coeur d’Alene for the first nine days of the month. Since then, we’ve only seen about 1.5 inches. The normal snowfall for this month is 21.4 inches and the long-range weather forecast models are showing the continuation of much of the Pacific moisture moving to the south of our region.

There will be occasional rain and snow showers over the next several weeks, so we should add to the low snowfall total for January. Unless we see some major storms develop toward the end of the month, it’s beginning to look like we’ll have below-normal snowfall for January in Coeur d’Alene and across the rest of the Inland Northwest.

The current weather patterns continue to direct an “atmospheric river” of moisture into California. According to an article written by CNN, the Monterey Peninsula may soon become an island as enormous amounts of rainfall could cut it off from the rest of California due to extensive flooding. And, more rain is expected this week in these flooded areas.

We’ve been hearing about the “atmospheric river” of moisture that has been feeding into the Golden State since late last month. This is a narrow region of wind in the Earth’s atmosphere that can move or transport moisture for thousands of miles. Thanks to this river of moisture, rainfall totals are much above normal in many stations in California. For example, the Sacramento area has reports of totals to date of around 200% above average. In the mountain regions, South Lake Tahoe is nearly 235% of normal to date. The San Francisco Bay area also has moisture totals over 200% above normal. There are some locations with higher amounts.

Last year, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, much of California was classified as having extreme to exceptional drought conditions. The most recent data has the Golden State upgraded from moderate to severe drought. Although the flooding rains have helped ease the drought, more water would be needed to end the prolonged drought. The parts of the country that are currently experiencing extreme to exceptional drought are located in the Great Plains with Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma reporting the worst drought conditions.

Here in the Inland Northwest, parts of eastern Oregon are showing extreme drought with moderate to severe drought in central and southern Idaho. Much of eastern Washington and North Idaho is currently classified as having abnormally dry conditions.

Our weather patterns over the last several months has been influenced, at least in part, by the cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperature event, La Niña, in the waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean. The latest data does indicate that La Niña is weakening. This event reached its peak late last year as ocean waters are starting to warm up.

Ocean temperatures in some locations are about 1-2 degrees below average along the Equatorial regions. Near the West Coast of South America, the region watched carefully for the trends of ocean temperatures, there are areas of that are warming, especially to the south of the Equator.

Forecasters have been predicting that a new La Nada, the in-between cooler La Niña and warmer El Niño, will replace the La Niña by February, or March at the latest. There are some reports and computer forecast models that indicate that we could see the formation of a new El Niño as early as the summer season. Based on the current data, it’s very possible that we could see this development.

Despite the weakening of La Niña, our weather patterns should still be influenced by this event in the next several months due to a lag effect. Therefore, we should see an increase in snowfall across the Inland Northwest by late this month or into February. Currently, Cliff is reporting slightly less than 51 inches at his station in northwestern Coeur d’Alene.

As we’ve been saying, we don’t expect to see as much snow in the second half of winter as we did in the first half. However, we’re still sticking to our predicted total of about 80 inches in Coeur d’Alene by the end of the season.

We certainly had a White Christmas as approximately 16 inches of snow was on the ground in northwestern Coeur d’Alene on Dec. 25. At the Spokane International Airport, there was 15 inches of snow on the ground. If sea-surface temperatures warm up to the point where an El Niño is declared later this year, then the chances for a White Christmas in 2023 may not be very good. However, in this crazy cycle of extremes, anything is possible.

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