Buried in snow drifts, how did Lynden become the frozen tundra of the Northwest?

LYNDEN, Wash. -- The daily scenes from Lynden look nothing like much of the rest of their Western Washington counterparts. Nearly a foot of snow or more, with what seems like an never-ending northeast wind causing deep snow drifts as high as 5-8 feet!

A weather station in Lynden has shown the city hasn't reached the freezing mark between Feb. 2 and at least the the evening of Feb. 8, and has had a near constant NE wind racing out of the Fraser River Valley at incredibly consistent speeds of 30-50 mph (with higher gusts) for dozens of consecutive hours. Here was the scene Wednesday evening:

Local photographer Randy Small has also been chronicling the seemingly endless winter on Twitter. This was Wednesday where it was 27 degrees with a peak NE wind gust of 65 mph in the evening.

And Tuesday (30 high, 23 low, peak NE wind gust of 52 mph)

And Monday... (27 high, 22 low, peak NE wind gust of 50 mph)

And Sunday... (29 high, 25 low, peak NE wind gust of 52 mph) -- note the huge snow drifts off Lynden High School

And Saturday... (31 high, 28 low, peak NE wind gust of 61 mph)

Friday too? Sure, why not: (30 high, 27 low, peak NE wind gust of 63 mph)

That's made for one heck of a messy week, with days-long school closures, feet of drifting snow, intermittent episodes of freezing rain:

...and some real challenges not only keeping the roads clear to drive on, but even finding your car to begin with:

How did they get so picked on?

It's been a cold winter for much of the Pacific Northwest -- the 11th-coldest December-January in Seattle -- with multiple cold spells since December. The overall weather pattern has featured a stubborn ridge of high pressure in the Gulf of Alaska, which sends the polar jet stream far up into the northern reaches of Alaska where it picks up some arctic air, then blows that polar air southeast into the British Columbia interior...and then it can keep going east into Alberta and the northern U.S. plains. For most winters, this happens just a few times, but this winter it has happened several times.

Here's a weather map from earlier this week -- note the cold purples and pinks denoting very cold air in Western Canada:

The Canadian Rockies act like a barrier wall to keep much of the arctic air bottled up on its eastern sides in the far B.C. interior, and the result with the stubborn weather pattern has been a near constant source of arctic air just sitting there, parked far inland.

But the mountain barrier isn't perfectly sealed -- there are "holes" in the barrier via passes and valleys. Most critical for us is the Fraser River Valley, which allows air to "leak" out of the interior of B.C., and flow through the valley roughly along Canada's Highway 1 until it reaches its end -- which is right about where Lynden, Sumas and Ferndale sit.

The blast of cold air is most dramatic when we have an area of low pressure approach the Washington and/or Oregon coast, because that will create a huge difference in pressure between the the approaching low and the high pressure in B.C. created by the cold, dense air. The result is as if the low was a massive vacuum cleaner, sucking out all that cold air from B.C. into western Washington and Oregon (although a lot of northern Oregon's issues this year have also been getting a similar "sucking" process of cold air from Eastern Washington and Oregon through the Columbia River Gorge). The storm spreads moisture on top of the cold air and voila, we have snow.

Now, until this week, Seattle had mostly missed out on the snow due in part to either A) the moisture not making it far enough north (instead plastering Portland several times) or B) the pressure difference wasn't large enough to really draw enough cold air from Canada to spread far enough south to cool us to freezing. But on all those days in "Scenario B" when Seattle was too warm at 34-37, you know who didn't have that problem? Whatcom County, as they were situated much closer to that cold wind. Even if we didn't have the low in the right place to really draw out the wind, enough just kinda leaked out into and through the valley to keep the immediate surrounding area near the outflow region at or below freezing to give them snow instead of rain!

It's probably happened a good 5-7 times this winter even before this week where Lynden and Ferndale was sort of a forgotten winter tundra, stuck in snows and bitter cold that never made it much farther south into the rest of Western Washington. Bellingham -- no stranger to the Fraser wind either, reported a predominant Fraser wind on all of the first eight days in February, plus 16 of the 31 days in January and 13 more in December -- Meaning more than half their days this winter have had a cold Fraser Wind blowing.

So when we finally warm up into the 40s this week, with even a bit of sunshine for the weekend, you can bet there will probably be more smiles than usual up in Whatcom County!

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off