Thursday, April 16, 2015

Warmer weather ahead

After one of the warmest March's on record (see previous blog entry here), April has been off to a cool start, with snow falling at times in the mountains, and even in some lower valleys at times.  Here is a look at the first half of April temperature anomaly map.

As the map shows temperatures have been running about 1 to 3 degrees below normal over the northwest.  Has the snow helped out our mountain snow situation?  Here is the latest map showing where we are at

The mountain snow pack has improved very little.  While the percent of normal values have increased slightly, they are still below 25% (dark red) or 25-50% of normal (red) for most locations across the Inland NW.  Several sites are at or below record low values dating back to the late 1970s or early 1980s.

The weather pattern is currently changing to a warmer one!  A strong ridge of high pressure is about to move in and will last awhile.  Temperatures Friday through Monday will be above normal, with the warmth possibly peaking on Tuesday.  Here is a look at a forecast model showing the general weather pattern for Tuesday.

500mb forecast map valid 5 am TUE from the 06z GFS Model run
The strong ridge will likely result in temperatures that are well above normal.  Here is our current forecast for high temperatures on Tuesday.

What about after that?  The ridge may weaken and allow for some cooling although there is quite a bit of uncertainty for the middle to end of next week.

What about May?  CPC just released their new monthly and seasonal outlooks this morning (typically issued the third Thursday of every month).

The May outlook is calling for a good chance for warmer than normal temperatures.

What about June, July, and August?

Looks pretty similar, with elevated odds for a warm summer.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Will the Inland Northwest see snow on Sunday night and Monday?

The Spring thus far has been fairly mild, and as a result we haven't had to worry about the threat of snow. The temperatures for March were some of the warmest if not the warmest on record for many locations.

March temperatures
But all weather patterns come to an end at some point and this will be no exception. So here is what the upper-level weather pattern for most of the month of March looked like. It showed a rather persistent ridge focused over the West Coast with the storm track nudged well north of our area
Mean 500 mb pattern for March 1-March 29th
However since the end of the March and continuing into April, the upper-level ridge has shifted to our east, allowing the upper-level trough to nudge into the eastern Pacific and the storm track to push through the Pacific Northwest.
Mean 500 mb pattern March 30th-April 1st
This has resulted in more typical springtime weather for the region including significantly cooler temperatures, and numerous afternoon/evening showers and thunderstorms accompanied by an Inland Northwest springtime staple: graupel. But despite the cooler weather, most of the valley locations, have yet to deal with snow. That might change though with the arrival of the next significant weather system. The model solutions are rather convincing that this system will arrive sometime between late Sunday night and Monday as the deep offshore trough heads inland.

500 mb pattern for Monday morning
Referring to  the map above, it suggests most of the upper-level energy will remain poised off the southern Oregon/Northern California coast, however look closely over extreme northeast Washington/north Idaho and notice the small yellow circles. These indicate the larger trough will also contain several small shortwave troughs.  If these troughs are accompanied by enough moisture and instability they can trigger small bands of moderate to intense precipitation, or what we
meteorologists term meso-banded precipitation or mesobands. Even more intriguing is these mesobands can often allow snow to fall (and possibly accumulate) at much lower snow levels than expected.

The odds are quite good that the region will see mesobands of precipitation form, the big question is where and what will the impacts be?

To answer the first question of where will these bands form, we first need to look at the positioning and track of any surface low tracks. Here is a look at four weather models we typically utilize and where they place the low (and resultant precipitation) as of 5am Monday morning.

4 model solutions with surface low position and 6-hour precipitation valid 5am Monday
As you can see above, all four models have a surface low located over the eastern third of Washington or north Idaho, however, the exact positioning and strength of the low is quite variable. The solution in the upper left corner is by far the most impressive solution. It has the strongest surface low (1000 mbs) and the heaviest amount of precipitation. The purple colors in this image represent precipitation amounts between 0.50-0.75" in a six-hour period. The other model solutions show a weaker low (1005-1006 mbs) and much lighter precipitation amounts.

When there are wide disparities between our core models we like to defer to ensemble modeling. This is where we take an initial model run and add small perturbations to the mix. The perturbations begin small but with time tend to grow. When the models cluster the positioning of a low, this boosts our confidence in the forecast, whereas if lows are strewn haphazardly across the region, our confidence is quite low. So here's a look at the SREF positioning of the surface lows for Monday morning.

SREF Surface low positions for 5am Monday

Although there are plentiful lows (L's) found across the Inland Northwest there is a wide scattering of their positions. The fact that there are plentiful lows is good from a standpoint of there is fair confidence of an event occurring. However, the wide scattering of the L's lowers our locational confidence significantly.  We can also look at the mean of all the low positions and the mean of all the precipitation data to come up with a preliminary snow forecast. In this case, the SREF is showing this as the mean snowfall for the 12hrs ending at 11 am Monday.

Mean 12hr snowfall ending 11am Monday
While these values themselves are not impressive (1-2" for the areas shaded in green) the fact that this model is showing such widespread snow is noteworthy. Another interesting thing we can look at from the SREF model is a plume diagram which shows all the suite of model solutions on one chart. So given the map above, it would seem locations north and east of Spokane as well as near the Cascade Crest would see the best chances of snow. So to hone our forecast a little more we will look at some plume diagrams to determine potential snow amounts. The first we will refer to is for Sandpoint.

Sandpoint snow plume diagram
Each line on this plot refers to one particular member of the SREF ensemble. In this case, most of the solutions are showing some snow on the right side of the diagram. The mean of the runs is denoted by the black line which is indicating a mean snowfall of 2". More impressive (but not probable) is the pink line which shows snowfall totals exceeding 8".  How about the plume diagram for Spokane?

Spokane snow plume  diagram
Even the Spokane plume diagram is showing some snow. Nothing compared to Sandpoint, but some snow nonetheless. The mean snowfall is right around an inch, however, there is one run which shows  totals nearing 5"!

Now despite these snow forecasts, the other factor to consider is how easily will this snow accumulate on the ground? The temperature forecast for late Sunday night and early Monday morning is for readings in the lower to middle 30s. Certainly cold enough for snow, but perhaps not enough for significant accumulations, especially in the Spokane area. After sunrise, temperatures will slowly climb into the upper 30s to middle 40s which suggest snow accumulations are even less plausible except perhaps on grassy surfaces. 

So in summary we are fairly confident a deep but compact surface and upper-level low-pressure system will track through the Inland Northwest producing locally moderate to heavy precipitation some of which will fall as snow. Where it will go and what time of day it hits will be critical for determining what it's impacts will be. Winter driving conditions are certainly possible for the Monday morning commute, especially north and east of Spokane. In the meantime, stay tuned to our latest National Weather Service Forecasts and don't put away your winter clothes quite yet.