White Christmas now officially iffy

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As of this writing late last week, it looked like there was a chance that we would get another white Christmas across North Idaho. If there is snow on ground on Christmas Day, I don’t expect it to be much, perhaps an inch at best in the downtown area. Just like last year, it’s going to be close.

We’re now officially into the winter season and conditions have already been cold and snowy across many parts of the U.S. In the Southern Hemisphere, summer has begun and Australia has seen some of the hottest weather in recorded history. Last Friday, stations in southern Australia hit 115 degrees or higher. The next day, cooler weather arrived and dropped temperatures by as much as 50 degrees. Talk about extremes.

Here in North Idaho, we did have a winter storm that managed to produce about 3-5 inches of snow in the region on Thursday. But, warmer air moved in and changed the precipitation to rain. The milder temperatures and gusty southerly winds melted the snow very quickly as readings climbed into the 40s and even a record 53 degrees on Saturday.

However, there is snow in the mountains, with around 2 feet at Silver Mountain and Lookout Pass as of late last week.

As I mentioned last week, sea-surface temperatures have been warming up in the waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean. When this occurs, we’ll often see weather patterns where many storms will go to the south of our area. And, when we do get the moisture, it will often fall as rain in the lower elevations.

The long-range computer models are showing a pattern with most Pacific moisture going to the south of North Idaho through the rest of December. However, Cliff and I do believe that we will see more snow shortly after New Year’s Day and around the “full moon” lunar phase of January 11.

Toward the end of the month and early February may dictate what we’ll see for the rest of the winter season. Even during periods of warmer sea-surface temperatures, there are occasional times of at least moderate snows. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Looking back at Christmases past, the snowiest Christmas Day in Coeur d’Alene occurred back in 1923 when 4.8 inches fell. In terms of precipitation, rain and melted snow, 0.78 inches was measured in 1996. The coldest Dec. 25 happened in 1924 with a low of minus 4 degrees. The mildest Christmas in Coeur d’Alene happened in 1980 with a high of 52 degrees. Last year, there was an inch of snow or more at Cliff’s station and surrounding areas of Coeur d’Alene. However, in the downtown region, there was no snow on the ground.

In 2017, we had 2.9 inches of snow on Christmas and the snow depth was over 5 inches. December’s snow total for 2017 was a whopping 32.9 inches.

In terms of New Year’s Day, the warmest one was in 1918 with a high of 60 degrees. The coldest was a frigid minus 12 degrees in 1979. The most snow ever received on Jan. 1 was 6 inches back in 1986, while the wettest in terms of rain and melted snow was .77 inches in 2004. On Jan. 1, 2017, there was 21 inches of snow on the ground.

According to data from the National Weather Summary and Storm Data, in 1979 it was extremely cold from December into March from the Great Plains to the East Coast. Wind chill temperatures were down to minus 80 degrees during that frigid outbreak. On New Year’s Day, temperatures were down to near minus 60 degrees in the mountains of Colorado.

For the start of 1987, a strong winter storm brought very strong winds to the Mid-Atlantic region and caused about $25 million in damage in South Carolina. In 1994, Jan. 1 had strong winds of up to 70 mph in Wyoming and up to 80 mph near Estes Park in Colorado. Storm Data reported that over a foot of snow fell in the mountains in Oregon and nearly 2 feet at Lowman, Idaho.

In 1999, there was a major blizzard that hit the Midwest on Jan. 1-3 that produced 22 inches of snow in Chicago and was rated as the second worst blizzard of the 20th Century by the National Weather Service. Only the blizzard that occurred in January of 1967 was worse as that storm dropped 23 inches of snow in Chicago. Up to $400 million in damage was reported from the major storm in 1999.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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