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Temperatures should be above average and precipitation levels will be below average

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Snowstorms are still a possibility, but not as likely this winter.

While nothing is certain when it comes to weather predictions, this winter will most likely be a bit warmer and drier than average in Crook County.

According to Marilyn Lohman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pendleton, long-term climate predictions for the remainder of the fall call for higher than average temperatures and less than average precipitation. That trend is expected to continue through the winter, although precipitation levels are less certain.

"The outlook through December, January and February calls for above normal temperatures and equal chances of above, below or normal precipitation," Lohman said. "At this point, I would probably be hedging toward below normal precipitation."

One of the primary drivers behind the long-term forecast and the ambiguity regarding precipitation is the fact that the Pacific Northwest area is in a neutral El Niño/La Niña pattern.

"Usually they (climate predictors) can derive a lot of information if we are in an El Niño or La Niña, the warm or cold phase of ocean water off of the coast of South America," Lohman explained. She went on to say that since the area is in neither pattern, meteorologists rely on other tools that are not as big of players when it comes to weather forecasting.

"There are some decadal trends of the above normal temperatures, and precipitation is based on a number of climate trends and short- to medium-term models that they run," she said. "Some of our short-term weather is driven by some smaller ocean oscillations like the Arctic oscillation. If that becomes active, we usually end up with a lot colder air coming on down."

Consequently, it can be tough to definitively say that the whole winter will be devoid of major cold spells or significant snowfall. Punctuating this point, Lohman points to weather data from prior winters in which this particular neutral El Niño/La Niña pattern was present.

The winters of 1990 and 1991, for example, saw no recorded snowfall at all in Prineville. However, the 1993 winter was drastically different, with 23.6 inches of snow recorded throughout the winter months. The 2004 winter similarly saw 20.9 inches of winter snowfall. Most winters that fell under this weather pattern in the past 30 years saw more moderate snowfall — between 3 and 10 total inches for the season.

"We will go back and forth. We should have some more active weather as we go through the winter," Lohman said.

Meanwhile, the neutral El Niño/La Niña pattern is less likely to change.

"They do tend to stay in place," Lohman said. "We are expected to be neutral all the way through spring and out to summer."

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