Why? Portland gets winter of the ages; Seattle gets winter of snow fans' rages
SEATTLE -- Seattle and Portland may now be even when it comes to number of MLS Cups, but one place where Portland can still boast superiority this winter is in the snowfall department.
While Seattle has technically had 4 inches of snow at Sea-Tac Airport in two measurable snowfalls, really in the heart of the city, we've had about an inch to 1.5 inches this entire season.
You know what Portland calls that? Breakfast hour. This is despite both Seattle and Portland having essentially the same five arctic outbreaks from British Columbia.
Now I'm going to step a bit into an editorial here, knowing full well there are plenty of folks reading this that are just fine with the fact that Seattle hasn't had to deal with much winter mayhem.
But on behalf of the snow fans across the Puget Sound region:
WHERE'S OUR SNOW, DANG IT!?! QUIT HOGGING IT, PORTLAND!
(I'm sure much of Portland would be perfectly willing to share at this point.)
The cities are only about 165 miles apart, yet two worlds apart in how the winter of 2016-17 has shaped up. How did this happen?
Blame bad luck, a bit of unique geography, and a stubborn jet stream that just couldn't muster enough strength to climb up the planet another 100 miles north.
Here is a recap of how each of the five arctic outbreaks played out between the two cities and why Portland is channeling its inner Vermont in snow while Seattle has been challenging to see if 1/2" of snow can really make any kind of snowman.
Dec 5: SEATTLE: First snow of the season dots parts of Puget Sound area
Some light snow in spots; mostly doesn't stick. 2" in Chehalis, Grand Mound/Black Diamond 1" each, although Alaska Airlines canceled 48 fligths due to de-icing issues.
What prevented more snow? Snow level only 300-500 feet. Moisture leaves too early before cold air from Canada arrives. Seattle netted 0.24" of rain that day - about enough for 2-3" of snow had it been just a couple degrees colder.
This was Seattle's best region wide dose of snow. But we had to let Portland have the fun first as the storm came from the south. Most areas around the Puget Sound region had about 1-3" with 1-2" in the heart of Seattle. But it hit in the late evening and overnight hours, with no real impacts to the city area.
What prevented more snow? This was the best setup Seattle has had so far with moisture moving into already-cold air instead of having to wait for it. But a strong, dry east wind evaporated a lot of snow before it could reach the ground around Seattle, likely wiping out about an additional inch or two.
Also, the front was weakening as it moved north and was quite narrow, limiting the duration and intensity of snowfall. Had this been on par with a typical rainy winter front, Seattle probably would have had about 3-5 inches across the city. Wrap-around moisture with some cold air trapped near the mountains and near the Fraser River Valley outflow did smack Whatcom County and and the Eastside foothills with several inches of snow -- some reports were close to a foot in the foothills. So some areas really did get the full potential and then some.
Portland also got a few inches of snow, but their winter experience went into overtime with a several hours of what would become the first of many freezing rain events there.
Why did they get more winter weather? A constant cold, east wind from the Columbia River Gorge kept temperatures at freezing near the surface, making for freezing rain. The ice lasted into Dec. 9 there.
Dec 12: SEATTLE: Snow returns to Whatcom Co., San Juans as cold makes a comeback
This looked like it might end up like the Dec. 5 event -- some light accumulations on the hilltops around Seattle. Instead, we couldn't even muster that -- just some snow in Whatcom County, the San Juan Islands and Port Angeles-Sequim area.
What prevented more snow? Cold air didn't make it far enough south out of the Fraser River Valley into the Puget Sound region. Highs in Seattle hit 42 with a low of 37. Enough moisture was in the area that would have given 1-2" had it been cold enough.
This storm was Exhibit A how 2 inches of snow can bring the Pacific Northwest to its knees. There was a little snow expected that day, but the storm intensified in the early afternoon and after seeing how much snow and ice Eugene was getting, it became apparent that Portland's commute was about to become a nightmare.
Sure enough, the snow reached Portland just at the start of their evening commute, snarling traffic for hours on icy roads as temperatures dropped into the 20s, causing drivers to abandon cars around the Willamette Valley and stranding kids on school buses and in schools.
Seattle was totally on the sidelines here.
Why did they get more winter weather? It was cold enough to snow in Seattle but the storm had too far a southerly track and didn't reach far enough north to hit the Puget Sound region. Sound familiar? It will again.
DEC 17: SEATTLE: It's not much, but we'll take it: Snow flurries fall near Seattle
Seattle had...flurries again. Didn't amount to more than a dusting. Too bad: It was below freezing. Any moisture at all= big snow.
What prevented more snow? Just not enough moisture -- until the 18th when 0.81" of rain fell, but warmed up too fast to get any of that as snow first.
DEC 23: SEATTLE: 'Winter Wonderland' for some; Emerald-colored lawns for others
This could have been it. Our chance to stick it to Portland. Portland was in the mid 40s, but Seattle was colder with moisture in the area all....day....long. It indeed snowed around the Puget Sound region for much of the day...
And didn't stick; or at least much of it didn't stick. Woodinville managed about an inch, Lake Stevens hit 1.5", Marysville had 2.4" and Burlington hit 3.0". Temperatures were about 34-36 degrees meaning much of the snow was melting as it was falling.
What prevented more snow? Had it been just a couple degrees cooler, Seattle proper would have had about 4" of snow with the outlying areas around 6". We might have been even able to play the White Christmas card over Portland. Bzzt.
DEC 31: PORTLAND Your photos: New Year's Eve snow in the Portland Metro area
It snowed AGAIN in Portland -- only this time wasn't enough to really stick. Just flurries really. HOW DOES IT FEEL, PORTLAND, TO BE TEASED LIKE THAT? HUH?
It finally snowed a lot in Seattle! 3 full inches officially! What? You were in Seattle? And there was no snow at your house? Really? But the book says it snowed 3 inches. Oh, that's because it only snowed at the airport. And a few others spots.
A Convergene Zone swept though the region and brought a dusting to the Puget Sound region, but then parked over the South Sound for a few hours delivering a magical 3-6 inches of snow to SeaTac, Burien and parts of (but not all of!) Normandy Park, with about 2-3" in North Bend and Newcastle. Just about 1" north of there but mainly missed Downtown due to lack of moisture to measure and it wasn't quite cold enough.
What prevented more snow? Again, not enough moisture -- it was a pretty weak trough. Also, the CZ could have moved slower and lasted longer and then it would have been a more widespread 2-4" instead of such a concentrated 3-6" inches.
JAN 7-8: PORTLAND Winter storm covers region in snow and ice, makes for treacherous travel
Another several inches of snow here as a weather system again moved in to our south, then the icy blast from the Columbia Gorge created another extended freezing rain mess, causing more Portland airport woes and cancelling a number of sporting events in the city.
Why did they get more winter weather? Storm again hits there but not here -- too far south, AGAIN; east wind from Columbia Gorge keeps it colder there longer.
JAN 10: SEATTLE: Snow possible in South Sound as cold air makes yet another return
It didn't. Forecast models were pretty sure 1-3" would fall around Olympia with 1-2" around Tacoma and an inch or so in Seattle.
What prevented more snow? Alas, the air was about 2 degrees too warm again. The moisture was there -- had it been those two degrees cold enough, there would have been that 1-3" around town. To be fair, Port Angeles did get some snow from this one.
They got two back-to-back low pressure centers -- the first went on par; the second was... a surprise to say the least, at least in snow total amounts. The Willamette Valley got about 1-4" of snow on the evening of the 10th...then a second low arrived that night and it just kept on snowing -- quite heavily. With even some thundersnow tossed in for good measure. The city awoke to about 10-12 inches of snow with snow continuing to fall through the morning.
Not that Portland was asking for this much snow, and they would likely gladly trade much of it to us if they could, but for snow fans in Seattle, this was the final raspberry in this weeks-long cold snap as aside form a few flurries that snuck into the south Sound off that storm's fringe, Seattle sat in cold, boring sunshine. And of course, the irony that after Seattle "suffered" through multiple snow forecasts that underperformed, it would be winter weary Portland that would get hit with the one that was stronger than forecast.
Why did they get more winter weather? The storm stayed too far south. Again. Had that storm angled just a bit farther north, Seattle would be the one digging out. Just to make this point, some areas in Lewis County got 3-5" while Buckley reported 1". Also there was some light bonus snow in the foothills near Port Angeles.
Overall, Seattle was on the cusp of a number of moderate-to-significant snow events during these past several weeks, but somehow managed to escape most of them. Portland was also on the cusp, and managed to combine all the right ingredients just about every time to get snow and/or freezing rain. They officially have around 20 inches of snow for the season (plus their multiple freezing rain events) while Seattle officially has just the 4", but more like 1-2" for the center of Seattle.
But it's OK, we're still friends. In fact, the lack of Seattle snow allowed the city to send some help to our buried brothers in the form of a dozen salt and sanding trucks. And considering that's probably a sizable chunk of Seattle's snow-fighting army, you're welcome, Portland. Not like we need it up here, that's for sure. Just return the favor when Mother Nature balances things out (maybe in February?)
In the meantime, this round of cold, winter weather is just about done. As has been the case, while we're in the clutches of arctic air once again in Seattle where any kind of weather system will bring snow, there are none on the horizon. Instead, we'll gradually warm into the 40s -- eventually heading into the 50s - by the time the next round of rainfall arrives. Long range models suggest the Pacific Northwest will be quite wet next week. No need for any jealous glares at Portland, we'll have plenty of our own this time around.