|500 mb map (left) with Integrated Vapor Transport (shows atmospheric rivers denoted by bright colors). Water vapor satellite imagery on right.|
|Atmospheric river position 10 pm Monday 1/16/17|
|Weather Sounding from Moses Lake 4am Tuesday with the freezing line denoted in pink.|
So what does the profile in the Moses Lake sounding favor? That is always a tough question to answer as any perturbation in the strength/depth of the above ground melting layer and near ground freezing layer has a direct impact on the precipitation type. If nothing were to change in the models we think this would lead to freezing rain. However the no change argument isn't one that often appears as much as we would desire. Since this event is still a few days away there are numerous answers as to what might occur. While we are confident we will see precipitation, we are far less confident in what the prevailing type of precipitation will consist of. Each model is advertising a different scenario. When we see such great differences we sometimes like to defer to what we call an ensemble model solution. This is were we take the same initial model and introduce very small changes at the very beginning of the run. These small initial changes can lead to vastly different solutions as you get farther into the forecast. So here is a snapshot of the various precipitation chances associated with the incoming weather make during the Tuesday morning commute.
|4-panel ensemble solution for the precipitation type on Tuesday morning. Upper left corner=Sleet chance, upper right=Snow chance, lower left=freezing rain chances, lower right=measurable precipitation chances|
The image above is about as messy as a weather forecast can get around here. As for sleet or ice pellets (upper left), we'd expect to see the best chances to occur over the western Columbia Basin and into the northern valleys east of Omak. The snow chances (upper right panel) would be highest near the north Cascades, northeast Washington, and over the northern Panhandle. Meanwhile the threat of freezing rain looks most prevalent over the remainder of the the Inland Northwest. But that is what the latest ensemble model runs suggest and this could change significantly as the event nears. Previously we were expecting to see a lot more snow with a brief changeover to freezing rain and then all rain. If we see snow first the freezing rain impacts could be somewhat mitigated as freezing rain falling onto fresh snow has much less impact on driving conditions then freezing rain falling onto bare pavement. Stay tuned to the latest changes in this evolving portion of the forecast.
Eventually (how long is uncertain) the atmospheric river will bring the warm moist over the entire region and mix it down to the ground with the most of the snow or freezing rain chances remaining near the north Cascades or over the far northern valleys. Here is what the temperature profile looks like for Moses Lake at 10 am Tuesday. Notice it's entirely above freezing which means we would see all rain.
|10am Tuesday temperature profile for Moses Lake|
|Atmospheric River position on Wednesday 1/18/19 4pm.|
|Atmospheric river position by Thursday morning 1/19/17|
That means the atmospheric river will be over the region beginning Monday night and persisting into early Thursday. Needless to say that can result in a lot of precipitation. Just how much are we expecting? Here are four distinct model runs.
|72 hour precipitation ending 4 pm Thursday|
That is quite a bit of water or potential runoff sitting on the ground and will only add to the runoff totals. Based on the forecast temperatures, we expect to see temperatures remaining above freezing from Tuesday through much of Thursday (including nighttime low temperatures). The above freezing temperatures will combine with breezy winds resulting in a great setup for appreciable melting. The best melting potential will occur the SE third of our forecast area with the least amount near the Cascades and far northern valleys. We still expect to see most if not all the snow to melt over the Palouse, LC Valley, and eastern Columbia Basin. So combining the expected rainfall with the water from the snow melt could equate to up to 2.50 to nearly 5.00 inches of water which could potentially runoff. This increases the odds for flooding appreciably. Here is a map of where we anticipate the greatest flooding problems to occur.
We expect most of the flooding issues will involve low-land flooding, ice jam flooding, and urban flooding (think snow clogged storm drains...clear them now if you can!). Small rivers and streams could also flood, especially over the Palouse and nearby areas. As of now we are not expecting any mainstem flooding, however that could change especially if we melt more snow than expected.
If we look into the longer range weather forecasts, we don't expect to totally dry out, but we will cool considerably. Not down to current levels, but certainly enough to refreeze what doesn't melt. The pristine snow cover we have over us will look completely different by next Friday and could feature hard snowpack and frozen slush.
Please stay tuned to the latest forecasts for this upcoming situation...it will likely be a messy situation and is certainly subject to change. Oh yes...the countdown to spring is now 64 days and counting.