Weird Winter Continues with Western Storms

If you're on the Left Coast and like snow, it may be time to rejoice. If you're on the East Coast, though, don't hold your breath.

The winter weather pattern is finally changing, steering long-awaited storms into California, Oregon, and Washington, while still failing to excite snow lovers along the East Coast. Aside from a light-to-moderate snow event on Saturday, the Washington-to-Boston corridor is likely to see milder than average conditions heading into early February, according to recently released long-range outlooks from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Heavy rains and mountain snows, along with strong winds, are expected through the weekend and into next week in northern California, parts of Oregon, and Washington. The arrival of winter storms in California is good news, since the entire state has been experiencing much drier than average conditions. In some cases, higher elevations were running snowfall deficits of more than 150 inches.

Precipitation departures from average during the past 60 days, showing the extremely dry conditions in northern California. Credit: NOAA.

The Western storms that struck earlier this week have eased the snow drought in Oregon and Washington. Mt. Hood, Ore., picked up 50 inches of snow during the course of this week, and Seattle saw a daily record of 6.8 inches on January 18, an inch more than the city sees in typical year.

Unfortunately for those in the West, though, they're making up for lost time too quickly, leading to serious problems.

In Seattle, freezing rain fell on top of the snow, contributing to power outages and car accidents. Heavy rains in valley areas led to flooding, and states of emergency have been declared in Oregon and Washington.

According to Reuters, the storm earlier this week killed at least three people, including a 20-month-old boy and his mother who were swept away by floodwaters in Oregon. 

The latest 8-14 day outlook from NOAA, showing areas likely to be warmer or cooler than normal.

The Pacific Northwest tends to be stormier during La Niña years, such as this one, when the tropical Pacific Ocean is cooler than average. La Niña is a natural source of climate variability, and is not directly related to long-term global warming. A recent study shows that future La Niña events could result in more severe impacts as the world continues to warm, however. 

The storms in the West will influence the path of the high-altitude ribbon of strong winds, known as the jet stream, effectively locking up cold Arctic air in Canada, and allowing comparitively milder Pacific air to flow eastward during the next two weeks. In fact, the latest two-week outlook shows a continued likelihood for cooler and wetter than average conditions in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, and warmer and drier than average conditions up and down the eastern seaboard. The February outlook shows a similar picture.

So, the bottom line is this. If you're a snow-lover in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast, enjoy the snow this weekend, because you may not see much more of it, at least not during the next 1-2 weeks.