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!

Stay Tuned!
Steve Pierce

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Steve Pierce

Steve Pierce

Steve Pierce is widely known as Oregon and Washington's "go-to-guy" when it comes to fast, accurate historical meteorological research and forecasts. Steve is currently the President of the Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Steve is also recognized as a regional weather commentator and blogger who can be heard on local radio stations and seen in print media outlets across the Pacific Northwest. His Weather Blog is hosted by the Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Check it out! He is a third generation resident of Vancouver, Washington and holds a degree in Communications. Both sets of Steve's grandparents migrated to Vancouver during World War II. One set traveled from Lenox, Iowa to work in the Kaiser Shipyards supporting the war effort. The other set came to Vancouver from Olympia, Washington to work as educators for the rapidly expanding Vancouver School District. When the war was over, both sets of grandparents decided to stay in Vancouver and continue raising their families, as did thousands of other families at the time. Those who are most familiar with Steve can attest to the fact that weather is his true passion. His love for "all things weather" began at the age of 7 when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980. He was fascinated with which direction the ash plumes were headed. Then came the very powerful windstorm of Friday, November 13, 1981, also referred to as the "Friday the 13th" storm. This was the strongest storm to hit the Portland / Vancouver area since the great Columbus Day Storm of 1962! At age 11, he was asked to publish an extended weather forecast for his elementary school's weekly newsletter. In the 1980's, at age 14, Steve was the youngest of KGW-TV's local "weather watchers" and would phone in his daily Vancouver weather stats to then television meteorologist Jim Little for use on-air. Steve has lived through all of the major Pacific Northwest weather events of the past 30 years, and then some. The most notable events include; the bitterly cold winter of 1978-1979, the record setting snow storms of January 1980, the summer heat wave of August 1981, the windstorms of November 1981 and December 1995, the severe arctic blast of February 1989, the record flood of February 1996, the historic ice storm of January 2004, the Vancouver tornado of January 2008 and the record setting snow storm of Christmas 2008. Not to mention every Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption in between. With access to the most extensive set of historical weather records available to date, Steve has personally designed and integrated a proprietary system that gives him the ability to quickly locate and manipulate weather data as far back as the 1800's. As one local Meteorologist put it, "Steve has fast access to historical weather data that is needed for media, agriculture, business, personal, historical and other climatological needs. He can quickly manipulate the data in many different ways. His forecasts are also quite accurate, especially at longer lead times." Steve also provides local storm assessments, narratives and weather presentations to the general public, as requested. In his spare time, Steve enjoys spending time with his family, the outdoors, vacationing at his family's coastal cabin and just relaxing! By the way, do you like your weather on the "extreme" side? So does Steve! Whether it is collecting damage assessment data & photos after record setting 125 mph winds at the coast in December 2007, being one of the first on the scene after the January 2008 Vancouver tornado, or feeling (literally) the awesome power of 100 mph wind gusts at Oregon's Crown Point in January 2010, Steve has experienced it all! As Steve says, "don't just love weather, live weather!" Check out Steve's personal weather website at: http://www.piercevideo.com/weather.shtml

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