Winter 2019-2020 in Review

Winter 2019-2020 was much warmer than normal, with the greatest departures in the western portion of our County Warning Area (CWA). The average temperature for December through February at Ontario, Oregon was 7.4 degrees above normal, making it their third warmest winter on record. 

Snowfall was generally below normal, mainly because of the unusually warm temperatures, but below-normal precipitation in some areas also played a part.

Most of our forecast area had near normal precipitation for the season. Camas, Twin Falls, Gooding, and Jerome Counties, and the Owyhee Mountains, were drier than normal. Southern portions of Harney, Malheur, Owyhee, and Ada Counties were wetter than normal, as was Baker County, with the notable exception of the Baker Valley, which was significantly drier than normal.

One of the large-scale controlling mechanisms for winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere is the Arctic Oscillation (AO). It is characterized by a counterclockwise circulation of winds around the Arctic, centered at about 55 degrees north latitude. This winter it was in its positive phase, meaning that the winds were strong and consolidated.  This tends to hinder arctic air from moving south into the lower 48 states.  Most of this winter the AO was strongly positive, especially in January and February.  In fact it set all-time records twice in February.  

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New Daily Records

Dec 21 – McCall – record high temperature of 43 (old record 42 in 1906)
Dec 22 – McCall – record high temperature of 48 (old record 46 in 1940)
Jan 26 – Boise – record rainfall of .74 inch (old record .40 inch in 1970)
Feb 5 – Boise – record snowfall 2.6 inches (old record 2.1 inches in 1948)
Feb 5 – Baker City – record rainfall of .25 inch (old record .16 inch in 2010)

December

Temperatures were relatively mild, especially in the Treasure Valley. Ontario had its sixth warmest December on record. Baker City had its eleventh warmest. 

Aside from portions of Harney County, most of our CWA was drier than normal. Factors contributing to the precipitation deficit included a split in the jet stream, leaving our area between northern and southern branches. Most of the Pacific moisture moved south over the southwest states instead of east over our area. During periods of west or southwest flow over our CWA, some valleys were in the precipitation shadows of mountain ranges. This effect was especially pronounced at Baker City and Mountain Home, downwind from the Elkhorn and Owyhee Mountains. However,  precipitation at McCall was enhanced by lifting over the higher terrain to their east. 

Despite widespread below-normal precipitation, there were several storms which produced significant snowfalls. 

On the 1st and 2nd, 5 to 10 inches of snow fell in southeast Oregon and the mountains of southwest Idaho. Amounts were lighter in the Treasure and Magic Valleys, where only 1 to 3 inch amounts were reported.  

On the 8th, heavy snow fell in the mountains of Baker County Oregon and the west central Idaho and Boise Mountains. The greatest reported amount was 13 inches at Atlanta Summit and Deadwood. 

On the 12th, Bogus Basin received a 9-inch snowfall. Tamarack ski area got 14 inches, and Brundage accumulated 12 inches. The heaviest amount was 15 inches at Mores Creek Summit. 

From the 13th through the 16th there were relatively light amounts of snow across most of the area. Exceptions included 7 inches near Frenchglen in Harney County, 12 inches east of Three Creek in southern Twin Falls County, and 8 inches near Murphy Hot Springs in Owyhee County, all on the 14th. 

On the 19th, 6 inches was measured at Council in Adams County and at Placerville in Boise County, while 9 inches fell at Bear Saddle Snotel in Washington County.

On the 20th, 8 inches fell east of Meadows in Adams County and at Halfway in Baker County. Tamarack in Valley County picked up 11 inches. 

December 2019 precipitation

December 2019 temperature

January

Temperatures were above normal across nearly all of our CWA, and much above normal in the Treasure and Magic Valleys and southern Malheur County. Boise was +6.2° F above normal for the month – making it the fifth warmest January on record.

Strong westerly flow aloft maintained a progressive pattern which brought Pacific weather systems across our area at frequent intervals. This hindered the formation of long-lasting temperature inversions and discouraged arctic air from pushing south.

A persistent ridge of high pressure off the California coast steered storm systems, including a series of atmospheric rivers, into the Pacific Northwest. Atmospheric rivers are long narrow streams of air carrying large amounts of moisture. They are responsible for most of the water vapor transport outside the tropics. 

Most of our region was wetter or much wetter than normal. The mountains of central and northern Idaho and northeast Oregon saw a significant improvement in snowpack. 

Snow fell nearly every day in the mountains.

A storm on New Year’s Day dropped heavy snow on the mountains of Baker County and central Idaho. Storm totals included 14 inches at Tamarack and McCall, 15 inches at Brundage, and 5 inches at Bogus Basin. 

Strong winds were reported at many locations that day, including gusts of 67 mph  east of Van in northern Harney County, and 65 mph south of Rogerson in Twin Falls County. Elsewhere, gusts of 45 to 55 mph were common.

From the 9th and 14th, snowfall was heavy in the mountains. Even in the lower valleys moderate amounts fell. 

A storm total of 18 inches was reported at Centerville in Boise County.  In Valley County storm totals included 23 inches near Donnelly, 17 inches at Yellow Pine, and 9 inches at Cascade. In Baker County Halfway’s total was 17 inches. Featherville in Elmore County accumulated a total of 36 inches. 

Total snowfall at Boise for the six days was 8 inches, more than half the total this winter. The most on the ground was 4 inches on the morning of the 15th. 

A couple of places reported strong winds on the 14th, including a gust of 63 mph at Rome in Malheur County and 58 mph at Twin Falls.

January 2020 precipitation

January 2020 temperature

February

February was colder than January at several locations. Normally  February is around 5 degrees warmer than January. Still, Februrary was warmer than normal across most of our area. 

On the 5th and 6th a warm front, which had entrained tropical moisture from east of Hawaii, brought heavy snow to the mounains and moderate amounts of rain and snow to the valleys. 

In Baker County, 7 to 8 inches of snow fell near Baker City, and 12 inches was measured at Sumpter.  In Valley County 17 inches fell near McCall and at Yellow Pine. Near Donelly 9 inches was reported. In Adams County New Meadows got over 25 inches. The storm total at Brundage was 40 inches. 

A storm on the 16th dropped 4 to 5 inches of snow on Boise County. McCall received only 3 inches. Rain fell in the lower valleys. By far the greatest reported amount was 0.53 inch at Boise, which set a new record for the date.

During the afternoon and evening of the 23rd, gusty northwest winds followed a strong cold front. Some the the stronger gusts reported included 67 mph at Baker City, 77 mph at Wagontire in Harney County, 67 mph at Midvale Hill in Washington County, 53 mph at Burns in Harney County, 56 mph at Black Canyon in Payette County, and 65 mph near Hammett in Elmore County.

February 2020 precipitation

February 2020 temperature

February 2020 Climate Statistics

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February was colder than January for the third consecutive year. Normally December is the coldest month, with January half a degree warmer, and February about 5 degrees warmer than January.

With an average temperature of 36.9, winter (Dec-Feb) 2019-20 was the fifth warmest at the airport (80 years of records) and the eleventh warmest at all official observing locations in Boise (156 year of records). The season’s low was 16 on October 30 and January 15. The only other time the coldest “Winter” temperature occurred in October was in 2002, when the low was 13 on the 31st.

Snowfall for the season so far has been 15.4 inches, compared to the normal of 17.6 inches for October through February.

On the 1st an upper-level high pressure ridge kept temperatures above normal. A cold front passed Boise just after midnight that night. Northwest winds gusted to over 30 mph just behind the front. The strongest gust was 38 mph at 10:26 am MST on the 3rd. An upper-level low pressure trough, followed by northerly flow aloft, kept temperatures below normal from the 2nd through the 5th.

On the 5th and 6th a warm front, which had entrained tropical moisture from east of Hawaii, brought nearly half an inch of precipitation over the two-day period, including nearly 3 inches of snow ahead of the front on the 5th.

The central Idaho and northeast mountains had 36+” of snow with this system.

Following the warm front, temperatures stayed above normal starting on the 6th under the influence of an upper-level high pressure ridge parked off the west coast. The ridge moved inland on the 12th and 13th, followed by fast and relatively mild westerly flow aloft on the 14th and 15th.

On the 16th a very moist disturbance embedded in the westerly flow brought a record amount of rain, most of which fell between 12:30 am and 12:30 pm MST. A cold front crossed the Boise area at about 12:45 pm MST, ending the main rain event. Unstable air behind the front set off a brief thunderstorm with small hail around 3:30 pm MST. The total precipitation of.53 inch set a new record for the date, exceeding the previous record of .40 inch in 1976.

Temperatures stayed below normal from the 17th through the 21st due to northwest flow aloft and cool surface high pressure.

A brief warmup followed on the 22nd and 23rd ahead of a strong cold front. The front crossed the Boise area at 6:19 pm MST on the 23rd with only a trace of rain. The main impact was strong north-northwest wind which gusted to 48 mph at the airport at 6:46 pm MST. Temperatures stayed below normal through the 25th.

Temperatures gradually warmed from the 26th through the 28th as an upper-level high pressure ridge crossed the intermountain region. The high for the month was 63 on the 28th.

A dry cold front moved through early on the morning of the 29th, and the high that day was 15 degrees cooler.  Here are the climate graphics for selected cities across southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho.

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October 2019 coldest on record in some places across SE Oregon and SW Idaho

Temperatures were well below normal during October 2019. Jerome, ID, Fairfield, ID, Burns, OR, Halfway, OR and Ontario, OR recorded the coldest October on record.  Fairfield, ID had snow cover at the end of the month, and shattered their previous October record by 5.6 degrees, finishing 10.3 degrees below normal for the month.  Idaho as a whole, ranked as the coldest October on record.

It was a dry month, with below normal precipitation across most of southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho.  But a few locations, mainly in Harney County, were actually wetter than normal.

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Baker City, OR ranked as 3rd coldest October on record.
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McCall, ID ranked as 4th coldest October on record.

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It was the third coldest October in 80 years of airport records, and 6th coldest on record at Boise. Temperatures averaged above normal on only five days.

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The low of 23 on the 10th eclipsed the old record for the date of 26 set in 1985.

The high of 35 on the 29th broke the previous record for the date of 37 set in 1991. It was also the coldest daily high temperature for so early in the season.

The low of 16 on the 30th tied the old record set in 1991. It was the coldest temperature since the 10 degrees on February 22, which was last winter’s low.

It was a dry month, tying 1965 as the 12th driest October in Boise Airport records. Measurable precipitation fell on only five days at Boise.

The unseasonable cold can be blamed on the persistent pattern of cold upper level low pressure troughs interspersed with cool northwest flow aloft.  The northwest flow was a result of a strong high pressure ridge off western North America, directing the storm track into Alaska.  Since most of the troughs came from northwest Canada and the cold waters of the Gulf of Alaska, they brought little moisture.

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There were a couple of exceptions to the predominately cold and dry weather.

On the 15th an upper level high pressure ridge built over the western U.S. and southwest Canada. As the ridge drifted east on the 16th, temperatures rose to summerlike values in southwest Idaho. Boise, Jerome, and Twin Falls all recorded highs of 80 degrees under warm southwest flow aloft.

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On the 19th a broad jet stream over the north Pacific pushed a fast-moving upper level trough inland across Idaho. There was enough moisture and energy with this system to generate thunderstorms with strong gusty winds. There were numerous reports of gusts over 50 mph. At some locations in the Magic Valley, including Twin Falls and Hazelton, gusts exceeded 60 mph.

Power poles were knocked down near Wendell and at Caldwell. Around 30 poles were knocked over along Highway 93 between Twin Falls and Jerome. At Kuna, several large trees were down, fences were blown over, cars were damaged, and power lines were down. Northeast of Boise in Ada County, lightning struck a house, causing a fire. Two people were injured.

And it snowed. McCall got 4 inches and Tamarack 6 inches. A spotter northeast of Featherville reported 7 inches that day.

Even more snow fell on the 20th.  Tamarack got an additional 4 inches, making their storm total 10 inches. Other storm totals in the mountains ranged from 6 inches at Mores Creek Summit to 12 inches at Atlanta Summit.

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Real winter cold arrived at the end of the month.

Winter weather arrived very early during the final week of the month.  By the 26th northwest flow aloft had transported cooler air from British Columbia to southwest Idaho.  From the 26th through the 28th, A very cold upper level low pressure trough moved from north of Alaska through central Canada to the U.S. Border, causing the flow over western Canada to strengthen and shift into the north.  Arctic air was on the way.  The arctic front passed Boise around 4 am on the 29th. Behind the front, very cold high pressure centers moving south on both sides of the Rockies caused northwest and northeast surface winds to converge over the Snake River valley.

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The convergence zone approached Boise from the east later that morning, generating the first snow flurries of the season at the airport and in southeast Boise, while the sun shone on the rest of the city.  At the airport nearly half an inch of very dry snow briefly covered the ground.

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Temperatures stayed well below normal through the 31st.  Here are some record temperatures during the cold spell.

October 29: lows…Burns 1, Ontario 15, Baker City 6.

October 30: high…Boise 35 (coldest high temperature for the date and so early in the season) lows…Boise 16 (tied 1991), McCall 4 (tied 1991), Ontario 9, Mountain Home AFB 9, Jerome 8, Baker City 4

Below are graphics of mean temperature percentiles and departure from normal across the Pacific Northwest for October 2019.

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Idaho as a whole ranked as the coldest October on record.

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For more information about the U.S. Climate in October 2019, see Assessing the U.S. Climate in October 2019.

September 2019 Climate Statistics

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Unseasonably cool weather at the end of the month compensated for hot weather at the beginning and middle of the month, so the average temperature was exactly normal. Total precipitation was a quarter inch above normal.

It was wet nearly everywhere, with parts of Malheur County getting over three times normal precipitation.

Summer weather persisted through the first week of September, with a strong upper level high pressure ridge anchored over the western half of the nation.

A record high of 101 was set at Ontario on the 5th.

The 99 degrees on the 5th was the culmination of a streak of 9 consecutive days with highs over 90.

Airflow from the Desert Southwest brought enough monsoon moisture for isolated thunderstorms on the 5th and 6th. On the 6th, 0.15 inch of rain fell, exceeding our total summer rainfall by a hundredth of an inch.

Thunderstorms on the 5th was preceded by gusts over 55 mph near Swan Falls, in the Boise area, and at Glenns Ferry. In Boise, a microburst knocked down numerous trees from Broadway to Apple Street, some falling on houses. At Timberline High School fences were knocked down, and a batting cage was lifted over a baseball field fence and thrown into an adjacent parking lot.

On the 6th large tree branches were blown down near Buhl and at Glenns Ferry.

On the 8th a Pacific cold front dropped a third of an inch of rain at Boise. The .52 inch total at Mountain Home AFB set a record for the date.

On the 9th one-inch diameter hail fell at several locations near Twin Falls and Eden in Jerome County. Near Hansen in Twin Falls County 1.5 inch diameter hail was reported.

The upper level trough following the front kept temperatures a few degrees below normal through the 11th.

After the trough exited on the 12th, warm dry air south of the jet stream raised temperatures above normal. In the Treasure Valley the last 90-degree highs of the summer were recorded on the 14th and 15th. The 95 at Ontario on the 15th tied the record for the date set in 1956.

On the 16th an upper level trough from the Gulf of Alaska, followed by a second trough on the 19th, maintained cool showery weather through the 21st.

After the trough departed, temperatures were slightly above normal from the 22nd through the 27th.

During the early morning hours of the 28th, a strong cold front imported much cooler air from Alaska as a major upper level trough deepened over the northwest U.S. Temperatures averaged nearly 15 degrees below normal for the final three days of the month.

At Burns on the 30th the low of 23 tied the record set in 1981.

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