Wednesday, February 2, 2011
While the eastern half of the country is getting clobbered this winter, we have actually had a pretty tranquil and quiet winter, especially for a La Nina year. Sure, we've had some close calls (models were calling for 3 feet of snow in Seattle a couple weeks ago) but this winter has certainly not lived up to even my expectations, which (no offense) are based on tons of research as opposed to those of the general public who simply believe it because the tv stations hype it up. But this has taught me an important lesson. La Nina and El Nino increase the probability of certain weather patterns occurring, but they don't set anything in stone. The most startling thing, for me, is the amount of snow in the Cascades. The last time we saw a La Nina this strong, Snoqualmie Pass set an all-time record for snowfall, with 821 inches falling in one season, 150 more inches in a season than has ever fallen. This year, we are below average. It's a bummer for ski enthusiasts like me, but it is also an indicator of the nature of climate forecasting. Climate forecasts are forecasts that highlight the chances of something occurring in the long range, like above average snowfall, or a greater frequency of storms. But just like weather forecasts, they are not always right.
Meanwhile, the eastern half of the nation has had a classic La Nina winter. They are just recovering from a massive snowstorm, and they have seen several more already this past winter. I think New York has already received about 5 times the amount of snow this winter compared to last winter. As you can see, climate forecasting is often a crapshoot, as is weather forecasting. Sometimes things pan out the way we expect, and sometimes they don't, and we don't know why. As research continues, hopefully we can find reasons why certain things occur the way they do, giving us better seasonal forecasts and a greater understanding of the weather.
Now, let's talk weather. Frankly, there isn't much to talk about. If you looked at the satellite pictures yesterday of the nation's developing storm, you could see that there is a large ridge of high pressure over the Pacific Northwest. And it looks like that ridge will hang around for some time. Long range models are hinting at breaking it down in about 10 days, but that is super far away, and it should go without saying that if forecast models often have trouble 4 days in advance, 10 days is a whole different world entirely. Meanwhile, arctic highs will drop down from Canada to our east, pushing cold air through the rest of the country and offering to respite from the snow they have seen as of late.
Thanks for reading,