OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

"La Nina" bringing another miserable winter to Oregon

08/26/1999

CORVALLIS - If you've been disappointed by the Summer That Never Came, try to enjoy whatever warm days are still left. Because the Winter That Wouldn't End, Part II, is on the way.

According to George Taylor, the state climatologist at Oregon State University, a lingering La Nina is going to provide Oregonians with an encore of last winter's endless rain, mammoth mountain snowpack and chilly spring. Maybe even a deep, traffic-snarling snowfall in the Willamette Valley and brutal cold snap or two.

And there's a problem with Taylor, a.k.a. the Grinch Who Stole Sunshine. Unlike most weather forecasters, he's never wrong. At least hardly ever, and not anytime in recent memory. So reconcile yourself. This year's winter weather forecast, just published by the Oregon Climate Service, is not pretty.

"Last year's La Nina brought us one of the wettest and snowiest winters of the century," Taylor said. "The intensity of the La Nina has subsided somewhat, but not completely, and it's likely that Oregon will experience another wet, cool and snowy winter."

The latest sea surface temperatures and anomalies show a tongue of cool water, about five to seven degrees colder than normal, extending thousands of miles westward along the equator. This is characteristic of a moderate La Nina, and climate experts expect these conditions to persist into next year. On top of that, Taylor and other experts believe the Pacific Northwest has now entered a 20-year period that will be cooler and wetter than the prevailing weather from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s.

Oregon's wettest, coldest winters usually occur during exactly these conditions.

If you're looking for any good news amid all this gloom and doom, it's that winter may start out like a lamb. Western Oregon should get mild and dry conditions through mid-October, although some good sized storms may crop up in the last half of October, especially in the northern half of the state. It's likely we'll have a November somewhat drier and warmer than most, and December should be about average with both precipitation and temperature.

"In January, it's going to start getting colder and wetter than average, with an onslaught of winter storms that will continue for months," Taylor said. "Heavier than normal rain will persist through February and March, and February will be much colder than normal."

If you think that sounds like a prescription for a lot of snow, you're right. Wax up the skis.

"As in past La Nina winters, there is a strong possibility of above average snowfall in the mountains this winter," Taylor said. "Furthermore, there is an increased likelihood of significant snowfall in the western valleys, especially in late January and early February. There's probably a better than even chance that we'll get snow, even at the lowest elevations."

The greatest precipitation, compared to normal, will occur in Western Oregon, Taylor said, with the northwestern counties hit especially hard.

Eastern Oregon should have mild, fairly normal weather early in the winter, but it will get much colder than average by February and stay unusually cold into March. It will be somewhat drier than normal in this region during early October and the month of November, about average from December to February, and wetter than average in March.

La Nina conditions are expected to wane slowly during the next several seasons, climate experts say, leaving the Pacific Northwest only its 20-year wet and cold cycle to wrestle with.

At any rate, Taylor says such weather is good for the fish. Which, in fact, most Oregonians may feel like by next spring.