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El Niño's effects are here, but they may not last

by RANDY MANN
| February 12, 2024 1:06 AM

The 2023-24 snowfall season has not been one to remember in North Idaho and other parts of the U.S. Here in Coeur d’Alene, approximately 27 inches of snow has fallen at Cliff’s station, compared to a normal to date of around 55 inches. Last year at this time, there were nearly 57 inches of total snowfall. 

At the Spokane International Airport, totals this season are close to Coeur d’Alene’s snowfall seasonal total. Since July 1, 2023, the start of the snowfall season, Spokane has received 23.3 inches, compared to just over 35 inches last year at this time. Their average to date is approximately 42 inches.

It’s not just the Inland Northwest that has struggled with snow. Places in the central portions of the U.S. that are notorious for winter snowfalls are also seeing “open winter” conditions. For example, Bismarck, N.D., a city near the border of North Dakota and South Dakota, has reported only 15.7 inches of snow for the season. Their normal to date is close to 32 inches, but last year, snowfall totals were around 55 inches. North Dakota, on average, does receive less snow than Coeur d’Alene because the region is influenced by colder air masses from Canada. Colder air does not hold as much moisture, so the snows that fall in this region are typically much more fluffy.

Another city that can experience very tough winters is Duluth, Minn. Located next to Lake Superior in the northern part of the state, the snow and frigid temperatures typically experienced at this time of year have not been as frequent. Through Feb. 10, Duluth averages slightly over 57 inches of snow. Last year at this time, the city reported over 82 inches of snow, well above normal levels. However, 2024 is very different. Since their snow season began last July 1, only 17.4 inches have been reported.

Even Buffalo, N.Y., a place famous for its intense lake-effect snows, has seen lesser amounts this season. Many NFL football fans heard about the postponement of one of the playoff games in Buffalo last month due to extremely heavy snow. Despite the big snows during that January weekend, the city currently stands about 14 inches below normal. Their seasonal snowfall total thus far is around 54 inches, but last year, Buffalo had a whopping 116.3 inches through the first week of February.

While the northern portions of the country are experiencing less snow than normal, moisture totals across California eastward into the southern U.S. have been substantial. In early February, the infamous “Pineapple Express,” or “atmospheric river,” dumped over a foot of rain in parts of Southern California, including Bel-Air, as they received over 13.6 inches of rain in early February. As a result, many critical roadways were completely flooded, and officials reported over 500 mudslides. The Santa Monica mountains received over 14 inches of rain since the heavy rains began earlier this month.

Downtown Los Angeles picked up over 8.50 inches of rain during the event, which was the second-highest amount in recorded history. For the first 10 days of February, Los Angeles has received approximately 10.6 inches of rain. This is a massive contrast to last year, as only 0.03 inches had fallen in early February 2023.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve had a strong El Niño in the waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon of warmer-than-normal sea-surface temperatures has likely contributed to the weather patterns we’re currently seeing across the country. However, this massive El Niño may be coming to an end much sooner than later. Last week, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center issued a report stating that El Niño has already peaked, and conditions may be favorable for a new “La Niña,” the cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperature event later this year.

The above-average snowfall season of 2022-23 in North Idaho was likely influenced by the La Niña pattern. During these La Niña events, the chances for a White Christmas in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding regions are higher. The Climate Prediction Center is predicting that a new La Niña may form “within the next six months.” They are also forecasting a 55% chance of the La Niña developing from June to August and a 77% chance of formation from September to November.

Also, if La Niña forms very quickly, this could increase the chances of the formation of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean waters. The season begins June 1, and we often see the peak of these named storms in early September. As usual, time will tell.

In the meantime, we did receive 0.3 inches of snow last Friday in Coeur d’Alene. This was the first measurable snowfall since the five days from Jan. 17-21 when 10.6 inches fell. This week’s weather should feature periods of rain and snow showers. However, the long-range computer models are indicating a better chance of snow in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding regions later next week, especially as we get close to the Feb. 24 full moon cycle.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.