Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Snow, Rain, Wind, (and Thunder?)

Yesterday's weather system brought a nice 1 to 3" of snow to many locations.  You can see an extensive list of snow reports on the National Weather Service website.  Now we have Storm #2 arriving 24 hours later.  This one will be a little different in a couple of ways.  First, this storm is a little wetter and more extensive than the first.  This means more people will see precipitation.  Here's the radar forecast from the HRRR model valid at 5pm this evening:

5pm radar forecast from the HRRR model

This is a forecast from a computer, not an actual radar image.  But it gives you an idea what the radar will look like around 5pm.  And just about everyone in the Inland NW will be seeing some sort of precipitation at this time.  Which leads us to the other difference.  While Storm #1 was all snow, this one will be more of a mixed bag of rain and snow.  The HRRR forecast for precipitation type at 5pm is shown below.

5pm precipitation type forecast from HRRR
This graph is a little hard to read, but the horizontal blue lines represent snow, while the vertical green lines are for rain.  The HRRR expects the precipitation by 5pm to be rain south of a line from Deer Park to Grand Coulee.  This includes Spokane and the Palouse.  The precipitation may initially start in the metro area as wet snow, but it won't be able to accumulate much and will change to rain later this afternoon. Also notice there are some small pockets of red scattered around the region. This represents a chance of freezing rain. If freezing rain really does occur it will be rather isolated and likely quite brief. 

Here's the storm total snow forecast from the National Weather Service.

Storm total snow ending 4pm Thursday

Most of the valleys across the north (Republic, Colville, Sandpoint) will see all snow and pick up 2-6" of snow, while the mountains will receive up to a foot.

Storm #3 will follow on Thursday afternoon/evening this will be a weaker system.  It will once again bring rain or snow to Spokane and the Palouse while the northern valleys will pick up a little more snow.

Storm #4 is still taking shape but it consistently looks like it will be the strongest of the bunch.   Today's GFS model forecast backed off a little from it's previous forecast, while some of the other models came out a little stronger today.  As a result, they're all in very good agreement at this time.  We often take this as a sign to increase our confidence in the forecast.  Even though they all agree, could they all be wrong?  Yes, but the odds are growing increasingly slim.  

Here's a breakdown of how this storm will unfold:
  • Precipitation will spread over the area on Friday around or shortly after sunset.
  • Spokane and the Palouse will see rain from this storm, with a possible mix of snow at the onset.
  • Saturday morning will be rainy and breezy.  Spokane will be in the lower 40s by sunrise and top out in the mid 40s during the day.
  • The northern valleys will start as snow and will accumulate a few inches.  They will gradually change to rain overnight.  Colville will probably change to rain before midnight, while Bonners Ferry could hold on to snow until Saturday morning.
  • The cold front will move through the area during the middle of the day.  Behind the front winds will really blow.  Below is our forecast peak winds for Saturday.  Areas in white can expect gusts in excess of 50 mph.

Peak wind gusts expected on Satuday

We will likely be issuing Wind Advisories for much of the area and possibly High Wind Warnings.  You'll want to stay tuned to this forecast.

Here's a couple of other things to consider with this storm.  The rain along with the melted snow won't be able to soak into the ground since the ground is solidly frozen (from our early December cold snap).  So expect some water  ponding, even on your lawn.

The other interesting tidbit is the outside chance of a thunderstorm.  Thunder?  In early January?  Yes, it's happened before, and this is pretty much the classic set up for it:  warm moist air ahead of a strong cold front.  Below is the SREF model probability of thunderstorms. 

24 hr thunder chances ending 10pm Saturday. 
You can see a small area of 10% over southeast Washington.  If thunder does occur, we don't expect to see hundreds of lightning strikes. However a few claps of thunder are a possibility especially over southeast Washington and the southern Idaho Panhandle, including Pullman and Lewiston. 

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