Could the weather in the northeast be a preview of coming winters?

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Our snowfall season here in the Inland Northwest is winding down. As of early Sunday, Cliff has measured around 89 inches of snow, compared to the normal of 69.8 inches. There is still the chance we could see a few more flakes of the white stuff today and during the first week of April, but we’re getting to the point that whatever moisture falls will likely be in the form of rain in the lower elevations.

For the 2018 season, our total of rain and melted snowfall is over 10 inches. At this time last year, we were closing in on 16 inches. The normal is near 7.50 inches from Jan. 1 through March 26.

Cliff and I see more storms moving through the Inland Northwest into May, so our region should wetter than normal for another 4-6 weeks. Thunderstorm activity is also expected to be higher than average this spring. But, like last year, later in the spring season and early summer, conditions should start turning much drier.

Spring officially arrived on March 20 across the globe. On that date, our sun’s rays were directly overhead along the Equator. As the days progress toward the first day of summer, the sun’s angle will get higher in the sky leading to longer daylight hours.

It certainly hasn’t felt like spring in the northeastern U.S. During this month, in a span of three weeks, there were four Nor’easters that slammed into that part of the country. The last one, coming after the first day of spring, dumped over 6 inches of snow in some of the major cities, including Philadelphia, Pa., and Newark, N.J. In New York’s Central Park, over 8 inches of the white stuff was measured.

Nor’easters are fairly common in the winter months, usually December through February along the East Coast. However, there has never been more than two back-to-back Nor’easters within a week in recorded history dating back to at least the early 1870s. To get four of these types of storms in three weeks, and in the month of March, is pretty extreme. In 1936, Cliff tells me there were four Nor’easters, but they occurred in January and February.

Cliff and I have watched weather patterns in the east occasionally migrate to the west. For example, the residents in that part of the country had a very cold and snowy early January. That particular weather pattern eventually hit our region in mid-February, about six weeks later.

Historically, there may also be a correlation between Boston’s winter and Coeur d’Alene’s. Over the last 20 years, both areas of the country have experienced record-breaking snowfalls. Also, when Boston receives above normal snows, our region often gets the big winters one to three seasons later.

For the snowfall season of 1996-97, Boston reported a whopping 107.6 inches of snow, compared to a normal of about 45 inches. The following year, Coeur d’Alene picked up 101.4 inches. In 2004-05, Boston had 86.6 inches. Three years later, in 2007-08, Cliff measured our all-time record amount of 172.9 inches. In 2010-11, Boston had 81 inches of the white stuff, but that same season, Coeur d’Alene had 121 inches. The following year was also above normal in our region with 83.4 inches at Cliff’s station.

Most recently, in 2014-15, Boston had over 112 inches of snow, their highest in recorded history. Two seasons later, in 2016-17, we had 115.4 inches. Whether the data points to exact correlations between Coeur d’Alene’s and Boston’s snowfall season may not be precise, it certainly makes for an interesting discussion.

So, based on the possibility of this wild weather pattern in March across the East Coast, our winter season around 2020 may be another big snow producer. We’ve been talking about the possibility of a 200-inch snow season in Coeur d’Alene, which would be the highest in recorded history.

The weather patterns are still favorable for above normal moisture totals. For example, the 2016-17 season brought over 115 inches of snow. Cliff figured out that since Dec. 1, 2016 through the end of February of 2017, 62 percent of the moisture that had fallen in Coeur d’Alene came in the form of rain. If two-thirds of the seasonal moisture would have come as snow instead of rain, then we would have been very close to the 200-inch season.

For this 2017-18 season, we literally had two 6-week “snow droughts,” despite ending at an above normal 89 inches. If the snow patterns in early November, mid-December and mid-February would have persisted for much of the season, our total would have been significantly higher.

As we mentioned in other columns, to get the big snow season like on the one in 2007-08, we need very low sunspot activity and a strong cooler than normal sea-surface temperature pattern, La Nina, in the waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean. Right now, sunspot activity is very low, but the current La Nina is expected to fall apart later this spring. Only time will tell on exactly when all the elements come together for the big snow season.


Contact Randy Mann at

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