The worst of our winter appears to be over

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We got our “January Thaw” last week as temperatures finally warmed up to above normal levels. High temperatures climbed into the upper 30s and low 40s across the region, making it feel almost balmy. Prior to the milder weather, Cliff told me that he had 30 inches of snow on the ground. As of last Friday, that figure dropped to 17.5 inches.

The January Thaw also helped reduce the large number of icicles. They can form during extremely cold conditions when a heat source, such as sunlight or warmth from a building, will melt the ice or snow and then it refreezes as it drops off under exposed conditions. Over time, the icicles hanging from the edges of houses or buildings, wires, trees, or other places will grow.

It’s not a good idea to stand next to or under icicles as they can break and cause severe injury. Icicles are as sharp as spears and one should be extremely careful in areas where icicles form.

The first three weeks of January were certainly among the coldest in history. From the 1st through the 17th, Coeur d’Alene’s high temperature was below the freezing mark. The normal high temperature from Jan. 1 through the 19th is 36 degrees. The average high temperature during that time was only 25 degrees, or 11 degrees below normal. In terms of the low temperature, Coeur d’Alene’s normal for the first 18 days of January is 24 degrees. At Cliff’s station, the average was only 12 degrees. Therefore, the mean temperature for that period was 12 degrees below normal levels.

December through February, the time frame which scientists classify as “meteorological winter,” had a mean temperature in 1949-50 of only 12.4 degrees, the coldest winter in Coeur d’Alene’s recorded history. January 1950 was brutally cold with an average high of 22.2 degrees and an average low of 0.1 degrees. So, far our average reading from Dec. 1 through Jan. 19 of the 2016-17 meteorological winter is about 21 degrees. In other words, we don’t expect this to be the coldest winter in history, but this season could place in the top 10.

At Spokane International Airport, the average or mean temperature was 14.9 degrees during the first 19 days of this month, about 10 degrees below normal. Prior to the milder weather last week, Spokane was a whopping 14.8 degrees below normal from Jan. 1-17.

I am receiving numerous comments asking when this rough winter will come to an end. Although many folks like the deep snows for sledding and skiing, they’re certainly tired of the frigid temperatures. The consensus is that the winter of 2016-17 was the toughest since the one back in 2007-08 when 172.9 inches of snow fell in Coeur d’Alene.

As of late last week, Coeur d’Alene had received close to its average seasonal snowfall total of 69.8 inches in just seven weeks. In addition to the heavy snowfalls, we had one of the biggest ice storms since Nov. 19, 1996, as some locations reported up to a quarter of an inch of ice. Of course, that event over 20 years ago was much bigger as there was an average of at least an inch of ice. A friend of mine that I bowl with, Lonnie, experienced that big ice storm in 1996 as he lost power for about five days. He had to clip away the ice on the car door locks to get into the car. Lonnie also used his family’s hair dryer to melt ice. He said it was effective, but took a lot of patience.

While last Wednesday’s icing was pretty tough in North Idaho, conditions were much worse down toward the Columbia River Gorge along Interstate 84 in northern Oregon. That stretch of roadway was shut down for 45 miles due to blizzard conditions and ice. According to the National Weather Service in Portland, Bonneville, which is located on the Washington portion of the Columbia River, reported an amazing 2 inches of ice. On the Oregon side, Hood River picked up 1.5 inches of ice from the massive storm.

Cliff and I agree that we’ve seen the worst of the winter of 2016-17. The second half of this cold and snowy season should be milder with less snow. With nearly 63 inches of snow as of last Friday, we should likely hit our target of 85 to 90 inches between now and the first half of April.

Overall, temperatures will be milder, but I do see another chilly air air mass moving into our region around the first few days of February along with some snow. Until then, readings should be near to below normal this week with mostly dry conditions. This will also mean some freezing fog during the late night and early morning hours, so be careful. Roads will still be slick in some areas.

Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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