Dissapointing Winters Lately? I Say No!
I keep hearing people (mostly weather friends who have high standards for snow) talking about how “winter after winter is simply horrible” when it comes to snow in Seattle and Portland as of late. So, I thought I would toss out a quick retort. Let’s remove any climate change / global warming signals from the entire equation for the sake of this article, ok? Those who know me best know I see both sides of the GW debate and respect all views on that subject. This article is going to deal with one thing and one thing only — could Seattle and Portland see more snow in the years to come?
Let’s dig a little deeper for just a moment. For the record, we here in Portland have had at least five or so snow events at sea level in the past five winters. Maybe they were not “major” snow events, but as you will see they could have significance because of where Portland sits geographically. Seattle just got finished with their version of Portland’s December 2008 a few weeks ago. Seattle and Portland are very much alike and I will demonstrate why below. Just looking at Portland alone, we saw modified arctic air in here twice last winter and in one form or another just about every winter since 2007. We have not done that in Portland since the last cold -PDO phase from 1948-1977. Have we experienced a true Feb 1989 style arctic blast since 2007? No! But that was a severe (once every 30 yr) event and I would not expect anything like that again anytime soon. Remember all the ice floating in the Columbia River near Portland / Vancouver in 1978 and again in 1996? Those may seem like a long time ago, but both of those events occurred in the +PDO. Could they happen more often in the -PDO to come? Maybe!
But for now, let’s look at some other smaller scale features around Portland that could just make a big difference. These could also apply to Seattle as well, not to mention Salem and Eugene and even Astoria along the coastline. I believe it was Corvallis, Oregon that set the all-time latest snowfall on record in April of 2008. Portland has been setting records all over the place for the last four winters when it comes to cold weather. The all-time record for the coldest temp at PDX for so late in the year (18 degrees on Feb 26th) was set just last winter after two arctic outbreaks in the same season, with two snow events. The first arctic blast and snow in Nov since 1985 was also set last winter in Portland. The fewest number of 60 degree + days on record was set last year (2011) at PDX. The coolest spring and summer since 1975 and 1955 last year. These are likely due to the -PDO and moderate to strong La Nina’s of 2007/08 and 2010/11 more so than anything else. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If you think we are going to see another December 2008 Christmas snowstorm anytime soon, you better move to somewhere else soon. Those are once every 25+ year events in Portland! Perhaps that will change now that we are in the cold (-PDO) phase for the next 25+ yrs, but that remains to be seen. There is good news! We were seriously deprived of snow from basically 1998-2007 in Portland and we have been “scoring” quite well since the long term PDO went negative in 2007. I think it is time that folks forget about the BIG snow of December 2008 and realize it for what it REALLY was — not likely to happen again anytime soon. After all, 24″ in one winter has not occurred at PDX since 1968/69 when we saw 34″ in one season.
Instead, I think it is more realistic to look at the smaller scale changes that could prove to be somewhat significant in Portland’s weather over the next few years. We are now once again seeing snow to sea level nearly every year since 2007 and that is huge for a city like Portland that is such a “bell weather” city when it comes to snow. Portland is so close to the snow/rain line each year that even a little change can go a long way. Though the snow totals each winter do not reflect it in the city, we could be headed in the right direction for those who enjoy snow in Portland once again. Just ask those who live above about 750ft, around Portland. They have been inundated with snow several times since 2007. In some cases, 50-60″ a season at places like Vernonia and Corbett. The BIG snows have been just above Portland for the past five years. It would not take much to get those to come down to sea level, as it did in December of 2008, especially with the -PDO. But for now, it may be more realistic to set our expectations lower when it comes to winter time snowfall in Portland. That way we will all be more excited at the events that actually do materialize. Like many of you, I used to “model ride” from 1998-2006 and it was so ugly it was painful, outside of the Jan 1st 2004 arctic blast and snow event in / near Portland. It was one of the longest snow droughts in Portland history.
So, what is the main point here? Be grateful for the snow we have been getting in Portland and Seattle since 2007, for it could be much worse around these parts for those of you who like snow. If the earth warms as forecasted by some, the snow could be all but gone. But if the -PDO can cool the Pac NW just enough, big snows could come back to Portland and Seattle even while the rest of the US sees something quite the opposite. Now you see why I did not want to touch the climate change subject with a ten foot pole. So, cheer up Pacific NW snow lovers below 500ft in Portland and Seattle! You may have something to cheer about after all. Finally, I would like to send a quick “shout out” to my good friends Bonnie and Jo over at Felida Elementary School! They love the snow as much as I do, as long as they get the day off! Keep up the hard work guys! Have a great weekend everyone!
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