Northwest Oregon may see drier, warmer El Nino winter
Will it snow in northwest Oregon this winter?
Many forecasters are calling for warmer and drier conditions this year — thanks to the weather phenomenon known as El Nino that creates toasty temperatures in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
That doesn't mean no snowflakes will fall, especially for residents living at higher elevations within the region. But it does suggest a milder season.
The prognostication got its first public airing at the 26th annual Winter Weather Forecast Conference, hosted by the local chapter of the American Meteorological Society at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry on Oct. 27.
"We're waiting and watching to see if we're going to be reveling in the snow or not, but overall I think it's going to be a pretty quiet year for Portland," predicted KGW meteorologist Rod Hill.
Hill noted that it's become remarkably rare for Portland to experience three consecutive winters with six or more inches of total snowfall. He put the chance of big storms dumping more than six inches at just 8 percent for the 2018-2019 winter season. For context, the National Weather Service recorded 7.6 inches of cumulative snow here last year and 11.7 inches in 2016-2017.
Tyree Wilde of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) struck a more cautious tone, saying that federal scientists have calculated a 75 percent chance of an El Nino this year.
"The temperature is going to be above average, precipitation will probably be slightly below normal, but there's a lot of uncertainty in that forecast," Wilde said. "We can still get damaging windstorms, we can still get low-elevation snow."
One scientist in the room was less convinced that an El Nino will strike this year. Kyle Dittmer, a hydrologist-meteorologist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission who also teaches at Portland Community College, said a "neutral" year was more likely.
Dittmer foretold three snowfalls this winter for a total of 5.5 inches of the white stuff. He said late-season snow is likely as well.
"I'm calling for ENSO neutral with a little La Nina flavor, like little sprinkles on top of there," he said, using an acronym for El Nino-Southern Oscillation.
Last year's winter included a white Christmas for many kids in the metro area. The real blizzard came later when clouds dropped 4.2 inches of snow on Feb. 20, and another 2.2 inches two days later.
No one alive today can remember it, but the pioneers rolled their wagons through 15 to 18 inches of total snowfall each winter in the mid to late 1800s into the Willamette Valley.