La Nina (part 2) dies at 246 days
Skiers and cold weather fans are once again mourning the passing of La Nina.
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center announced the once-again much-maligned weather pattern died Thursday. She was 238 days old. Cause of death, as typical, was listed as a high fever.
This La Nina was born on Aug. 31, 2011 at Equatorial Pacific Ocean General -- the same area of the Pacific Ocean as its older sister. It's birth was the second child of the La Nina family in the past two years, and just like its older sister's eager and anxious anticipation among the masses, this most recent's birth announcement was met with hope for yet another snowy winter, and in some ways, she delivered.
Just like in 2010, a cold snap brought some early season snow in November to parts of the Northwest -- mainly in Southeastern King County and the Convergence Zone areas.
More familiar wind and rain returned for Thanksgiving week, with gusty winds blowing nearly 70 mph along the coast and heavy rains in the interior and the traditional salmon crossing the road.
But then, La Nina took December off. Seattle had barely any rain through Christmas and it wasn't until just before New Year's Day that the month saw any real rainfall, much less any snowfall.
January was La Nina's calling card
Then again, maybe she was just resting up, because mid-January took the full brunt. Decent snowfalls from between January 13-18 then led to the worst ice storm the region had seen in years, if ever, from Jan. 18-19. Snowfall totals ranged from 4-10 inches around the Central Puget Sound area, but as high as 10-20" in Southwestern Washington, with Olympia experiencing its third-snowiest day on record (13").
Warmer air tried to march in as usual to change the snow to rain, but a cold arctic wind blowing out of the Fraser River Valley would not relent, setting up a rare but perfect scenario for ice. Ice accumulations were over 1/2" thick in many spots, and the freezing rain shut down Sea-Tac Airport for a day and a half as well as turned area roads into skating rinks. Around 300,000 people lost power, and a series of wind storms that struck in the days after the ice finally left didn't help matters.
February started out sunny and mild, making us wonder again if La Nina had an early exit, but toward the end of the month, she came roaring back again with some snow in spots around the area. "Chilly with spots of snow" would be the theme into March and overall, the month was very cool and wet. There were no major snow storms, but enough snow dotting the landscape at times to keep La Nina fresh in our minds.
But by then, she was starting to weaken in her "old age" with NOAA declaring La Nina was entering its final days. Unlike last April which was the coldest on record, this April ended up almost exactly normal in both temperature (only -0.5 degrees) and rainfall (only 0.03" below normal.) And May is also starting out looking fairly normal as La Nina's death certificate is being written.
In her will, La Nina did leave behind a healthy mountain snowpack as most La Nina's do. Current data as of May 1 shows snowpacks running anywhere from 115 to 150 percent of normal (except for White Pass at a whopping 232 percent of normal and just 4" shy of its record). Snoqualmie Pass actually had a few more inches of snow now than this time last year.
Neutral Winter, Take 2. (Or maybe not?!?!)
Long range forecasts show we are now heading into a "neutral" pattern (or as some call it, "La Nada"), and while similar forecasts were made last spring which instead slipped back to a "Double-Dip La Nina", this spring the models are more adamant that La Nina truly is done. In fact, some models are actually thinking we could go straight into a weak El Nino pattern by this summer!
While neutral winters tend to run the gamut and be home to the stormiest winters (as in, some of our strongest wind storms, snow storms, and warm, dry stretches have happened then), El Nino winters are marked by warmer and drier than normal conditions, with a trend toward weaker mountain snowpacks and less frequent lowland snow events.
And maybe the wheels are already turning. The short term forecast for middle of May is trending warm and dry for the West Coast:
So we say goodbye -- again -- to La Nina. Skiers and rainy winter fans will miss you, while sun fans are probably standing by with a shovel :)