Will February bring snow to Coeur d’Alene?

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On Feb. 2, Punxsutawney Phil, the infamous groundhog, saw his shadow. According to folklore, this means six more weeks of winter. This is not good news for the folks east of the Rockies, as this has been one of the coldest winters in recent memory. However, in our part of the world, Cliff and I have been getting a lot of questions asking, “where’s the snow?”

It certainly hasn’t felt like one of those winter seasons in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding regions, as much of the moisture has fallen as rain. Despite the lack of snowfall since last month, we’re right at normal levels for the season, as 52.7 inches of the white stuff has fallen. The average for the entire period from June through the following July is 69.7 inches.

This has been one of those years when the snow mostly came all at once. It looked good in early November when 8.9 inches fell and then we had another big round in mid to late December. For January of 2018, only 9.9 inches fell, compared to the normal snowfall of 21.4 inches.

Despite the lack of snowfall, last month ended up with 4.38 inches of rain and melted snow — a healthy start for the 2018 season as January’s normal precipitation is 3.77 inches.

Many of the long-range forecasts for above-normal snowfall for this season were based upon the expansion of the cooler than normal sea-surface temperature event in the south-central Pacific Ocean, La Nina. During most La Nina events, especially during the winter season, our region will often receive above normal moisture and colder temperatures.

For last month, we did get plenty of moisture, but temperatures were often too warm for snow. Cliff tells me that January of 2018 was the ninth-warmest since records began in 1895. In fact, Coeur d’Alene’s temperatures for last month were similar to those in Jonesboro, Ark., which had the ninth-coldest January in the city’s history.

The current weather pattern is starting to become more of a concern, especially for residents in California. The building of the strong high pressure ridge across the western U.S. has been keeping storms away from the Golden State and helping to drive frigid air from the far north down into the center of the country. Coeur d’Alene and surrounding areas have been on the milder side of this pattern, while cities and towns to the east of us have been on the colder side.

Cliff and I believe that some of that cold air to our east may eventually “back up” and combine with Pacific moisture to bring us a chance of snow toward the end of the month or into early March. But, it seems like we’re in one of those years when most of our snow comes in bunches rather than being spread out. Therefore, we don’t suggest taking off the snow tires or putting away the snow shovels. Even though it has felt more like April, I would not assume that winter is over.

By the way, there is still plenty of the white stuff in the higher mountains. We may have seen a lot more rain than snow in the lower elevations, but the area ski resorts are hanging in there. As of late last week, there was close to 100 inches of snow at the top of Lookout Pass. At Silver Mountain, over 6 feet of snow was reported on the higher tops. Their seasonal total to date is near 240 inches.

This extreme weather pattern from wet to dry and hot to cold is showing no signs of easing. Talking about extremes, in Siberia, there is a village that has the honor of the one of the coldest areas on Earth. The place is called Oymyakon, a settlement of about 500 people in Russia’s Yakutia region.

In mid-January, the mercury went down to minus 88 degrees Fahrenheit. In that kind of weather, frostbite is a constant danger and even your eyelashes will freeze in an instant. The average temperature during the winter in this area is minus 58 degrees. But, about several weeks later, another Russian settlement called Omolon, just to the east of Oymyakon, reported a temperature that warmed to 38.4 degrees. Between the two areas, that’s a temperature rise of 126 degrees in a relatively short period of time.

To put that into perspective, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Coeur d’Alene was minus 30 degrees on Jan. 30, 1950. The hottest temperature was 109 degrees on Aug. 4, 1961. From that 139-degree spread, that’s only 13 degrees difference between our coldest and hottest days in our recorded history, versus the big swing between the two settlements in Russia in just a matter of weeks. Now, that’s what I call “extreme.”

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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