Another “March Miracle”

As winter fades and the El Niño in the Pacific continues to weaken, we can look back on an interesting winter that actually “fit the mold” quite well. To wit, during a typical El Niño, we see our driest, mildest winters. But early-season weather is generally stormier than usual. So we tend to have wet autumns with rain and mountain snow, dry and mild mid-winters, and warm (but wet) springs.

That’s exactly what happened, except for the “warm spring.” This year’s has been quite cool, with both March and April quite a bit cooler than average. Mid-winter (late December-February) was quite mild and rather dry; October and November were rather wet.

And for the third time in eight years we’ve seen a “March Miracle,” as below average precipitation through February has been followed by wet spring conditions that have, once again, rescued us from possible water supply problems. Locally, the total precipitation for October-February was about 90 percent of average. However, in the Cascades, total precipitation for that period was only 74 percent of average and the snowpack at the end of February was just 40 percent of average. If we had gotten a warm, dry spring we would now be using the “D-word” — drought!

But the miracle happened, just as it did in 2003 and 2005. Abundant rains and mountain snows have prevented possible water problems. At the end of April, our local Hyslop station is showing above-average precipitation for the season, and mountain rains and snow have recharged the high-elevation watersheds. Seasonal precipitation has jumped from 74 to 83 percent of average in two months, and the snowpack has risen from 40 percent to 74 percent of average.

And along with rain and snow, we’ve had lots of wind. Steve Pierce of Vancouver, one of my favorite weather guys, said “The first ten days of April 2010 have been quite windy in Portland. On April 2nd, the Portland International Airport recorded its fastest April wind gust since April 2nd 1982! Further, Portland has posted a hefty 32 mph daily wind gust average from April 1st-10th, with two of those days seeing southerly gusts higher than 45mph. That is quite an active spring pattern for Portland.” Same thing down in the mid-Valley, Steve!

Now, if you’re like me, you’re ready for cool and wet and windy to give way to warm and dry and calm! Anyone else ready for summer?

Speaking of which, can we use the El Niño or other indicators to predict summer weather? Or next winter’s?

Maybe. There is a tendency for El Niño summers to start cool and cloudy but end with a long stretch of warm, dry weather. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center is predicting a warmer and drier than average summer (June-August).

My friend Jordan Brice said to me, “This year resembles both 2003 and 2005 and I think that we’ll either have cool, wet weather until early July like 2005, or that things will dry up in late May and summer will come early. In both cases we had an extremely dry July – September period with wild winters to follow.”

Steve Pierce also expects an exciting winter next year. Historically, an El Niño followed by a La Niña suggests a very stormy year. Two years that closely resembled this year, so far, were 1962 and 1981. This is ominous, because in October, 1962 we had the “Columbus Day Storm” (the biggest Northwest wind storm ever) and in November, 1981 another huge and damaging wind storm occurred — the so-called “Friday the 13th” storm.

Steve says, “ I have also noticed that the spring PRIOR to an active winter seems to be quite volatile as well. Such has been the case this spring and was also the case in the spring of 1995 when we had some deep storms slamming the west coast in March and early April. The next fall was the lead-in to one of the most exciting winters in the past 30 years.” Truly, the 1995-96 winter was a wild and crazy one, with a major wind storm (December 1995) and one of the biggest floods ever (February, 1996).

Now, don’t say you haven’t been forewarned! The weather guys suggest you spend some time this summer shoring up your homes and yards against the threat of a wild fall-winter. And though it may not feel like it yet, summer is just around the corner!

I promise.


About George Taylor

Climatologist, husband, father (3), grandfather (2)
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2 Responses to Another “March Miracle”

  1. Bob Ross says:

    Major debris floods have occurred on the west face of Mt. Jefferson in October or November during the following years; 2000, 2003, 2006. Given the La Nina pattern that is setting up, what are the chances that there will be another major debris flood this fall? A huge amount of material has accumulated in the Milk Creek canyon.

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