El Nino could be sneaking up on La Nina

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The Inland Empire has seen a different weather pattern over the last several weeks. There has been a little snow, but many of the days have generally been partly to mostly cloudy with areas of freezing fog. Temper-atures have been close to the freezing mark during the day and into the 20s at night.

On Jan. 1, 2017, our annual snowfall total in Coeur d’Alene stood at 35.7 inches. By Jan. 10, Cliff measured a seasonal snowfall total of 60.8 inches. Since that time, we’ve had less than 5 inches of snow as our current total stands at 65.3 inches. That’s close to our normal for the entire season, as we normally see 69.8 inches of the white stuff.

Cliff and I believe that the second half of this winter season will not be as frigid or as snowy as the first half. We’re in a new cycle, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have more snow or very chilly temperatures between now and at least the first part of April. In fact, a series of storms is expected to bring more snow to our region this week.

The second week of February should have occasional rain or snow showers with additional moisture expected from the 11th through the 17th. The 18th through the 24th of February looks drier and milder than normal before more rain and snow arrives around the end of the month.

With the additional snowfall expected this week, we still think we’ll end up with around 90 inches for the season, about 30 percent above average. We’re also getting into that time of year when some of the moisture will fall as rain rather than snow, especially in the lower elevations.

One of the reasons we’ve seen a bit of a change in the weather is due to the warming of ocean waters in the south-central Pacific Ocean. There hasn’t been any official announcement, but it seems that the cooler La Nina sea-surface temperature event has faded. Ocean temperatures have continued to climb to above normal levels in some areas along the Equatorial regions with only patches of cooler waters near the Equator.

Ocean waters right along the West Coast of South America, the region that often determines whether we have a La Nina or El Nino, are warmer with readings climbing to several degrees above average levels just within the past several weeks. It’s way too early to tell, but in this cycle of “extremes,” we can’t help but wonder if we’re starting to see the formation of the warmer El Nino in the south-central Pacific Ocean.

I’ve also noticed additional warming of the oceans across much of the Pacific with only a stretch of cooler sea-surface temperatures from the Sea of Japan into the southern portions of the Gulf of Alaska. No one knows for certain why we see the warming or cooling of ocean waters, but underwater volcanic activity may be one reason when sea-surface temperatures are above normal levels.

La Nina was blamed, at least in part, for the recent frigid weather pattern across much of the Northern Hemisphere. Rare snows were seen in Cairo and down into Venice.

Thanks, at least in part, to the cooler La Nina, California has gone from drought to floods as precipitation totals are more than double the normal in places. Snowfall totals in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada have been up to 20 feet. In the drought areas of the Southeast, we’re also seeing above normal rainfall along with tornado outbreaks during the winter season.

In addition to the cooler La Nina pattern in December and early January, solar activity, or storms on the sun, have also been low. From Jan. 4 through 10, there were no sunspots reported on the sun. Since that date, activity has rebounded a bit with 67 solar storms on Jan. 21. The sun is not projected to be at the lowest point of the solar “minima” cycle until about 2020. Assuming we get a much stronger La Nina combined with very low sunspot activity, it’s quite possible we could have a winter with around 200 inches of snow.

As we move into a new La Nada, the in-between cooler La Nina and warmer El Nino, or perhaps a new El Nino pattern, we should start seeing milder conditions toward “normal” levels through the rest of the winter season across North America, Europe and Asia.

Sea-surface temperatures are changing fairly rapidly based on the new data. We will probably hear about the new La Nada very soon and perhaps a new El Nino developing later this year or in 2018. Remember, a new El Nino often points to less snowfall across the Inland Empire. So goes this cycle of “extremes.”

Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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