Spokane's Winter Weather

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So what's so unusual about Spokane (Washington's) weather that I've dedicated a whole page to it?

Actually, Spokane's weather is generally pretty mundane, although it sometimes has some very interesting happenings.

When I was thinking about all the places in the good 'ol USA where I could retire, I was always impressed with the weather in what's commonly referred to as the "Inland Northwest" My research showed there are generally four decent seasons, whereas a lot of places I had been stationed at in my 24 years in the US Air Force had weather extremes. For example, Montgomery Alabama has humidity from approximately mid-April through late September or early October. The Omaha Nebraska area, while the summers are not too hot, they sometimes have some very brutal winters with snow falling horizontally - literally!

So I decided to settle in the Spokane area arriving in the quite hot summer of 2004. Little did I know what the winters a couple years later would bring!

The first three winters (2004-2005, 2005-2006, and 2006-2007) were, from what I understood - and later confirmed, quit normal, in both snowfall and temperatures.

Typically, Spokane's seasonal snowfall is around 44.7 inches - as measured at the Spokane International Airport, which is approximately 6.5 miles west-southwest of the downtown Spokane area.

So what has the last two winters (2007-2008 and 2008-2009) brought to Spokane? Snow, snow, and a whole lot more snow! How much snow?

As mentioned above, typical seasonal snowfall for Spokane is 44.7 inches.
The winter of 2007-2008 brought an unofficial total snowfall of 92.6 inches!
The winter of 2008-2009 brought an unofficial total snowfall of 97.7 inches!

Yes, in those two winters, we had an equivalent of four seasons' snowfall!

Oh, and one other interesting event --
The winter of 2007-2008 we set an all-time record of the latest ever recorded snowfall in Spokane's history (records go back to around 1870). The airport recorded a trace of snow on June 10th! . Yes, June 10th!

So I thought the snow trace on June 10, 2008 would be latest. We we're wrong! On June 18, 2009 Spokane recorded three-tenths of an inch of snowfall - actually hail which does count as snowfall!

Here's some tidbits from the 2008-2009 record-breaking snow fall courtesy of the National Weather Service office in Spokane. These were posted on a blog maintained by Kris Krocker, chief meteorologist on KXLY channel 4 in Spokane. So where to begin.???
I think a good place would be the charts I created using the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program. It displays the snowfall amounts from the winter of 1995-1996 thru last winter. Please note the following three items:
  1. I could not find any snowfall reports for the winter of 1996-1997
  2. Reported amounts are based upon preliminary reports. Preliminary reports are free on the internet; verified reports cost money!
  3. I am still researching for accurate data!

"Unofficial" Spokane Snowfall Report:

Spokane snowfall

"Unofficial" Spokane Snow Days Report:

Spokane snow days

So, is there a correlation between the number of snow days, the dates of the first and last recorded snowfall,
and the total amount of snow received in a given year?
The following chart shows the above data:

Winter Recorded Snowfall #
Snow
Days
Total
Snowfall
(inches)
First Last
Average Nov 12 Apr 3 56 46.0
1995 - 1996 Nov 7 Apr 18 40 52.3
1996 - 1997 Data not available
1997 - 1998 Nov 19 Apr 11 51 15.5
1998 - 1999 Oct 17 May 13 64 40.3
1999 - 2000 Nov 5 May 11 63 40.0
2000 - 2001 Nov 7 Apr 13 82 48.6
2001 - 2002 Oct 12 May 7 72 63.5
2002 - 2003 Oct 29 May 18 44 21.2
2003 - 2004 Nov 2 Apr 17 53 54.3
2004 - 2005 Nov 22 May 18 35 25.8
2005 - 2006 Nov 7 Apr 15 44 29.1
2006 - 2007 Oct 30 May 21 62 35.3
2007 - 2008 Oct 4 Jun 10 89 92.6
2008 - 2009 Nov 6 Jun 19 83 98.0
2009 - 2010 Oct 29 Apr 9 45 14.4
2010 - 2011 ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?


Some pictures from the two snowy winters of 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 (click on images to see larger picture):
Heavy snow
Heavy Snow - December 8, 2008
Spokane city street
Spokane city street - January 2009
Backyard
Backyard - January 27, 2008
Picnic table
Picnic table - January 27, 2008
Following pictures show 'little snow' versus 'snow':
Little bit of snow
'Little bit of snow' taken March 5, 2009
After 19.4-inch snowfall
'Snow' taken December 18, 2008
(after 19.4" snowfall)


Average First / Last Dates for Measurable Snowfall - Spokane Int'l Airport
Average First Date (Fall) Average Last Date (Spring)
Measurable
(at least 0.1")
1" or more Measurable
(at least 0.1")
1" or more
Nov 12 Nov 19 Apr 3 Mar 9
Source: http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/otx/outreach/review/features/snowfall_climo.php

Here's an interesting article I found describing the differences between snow, sleet, or freezing rain:

Will it be Snow, Sleet or Freezing Rain?

Among the greatest challenges NWS forecasters face during the winter months is determining precipitation type. Will it fall as freezing rain or snow? Weather balloons, launched twice daily from the NWS office in Spokane, are a crucial component of the decision making process. They provide measurements of temperature, pressure, and wind above the surface. Based on the vertical temperature profile, for example, a forecaster can determine if conditions are more likely to result in snow or freezing rain.


Snow

Sleet

Freezing Rain
  • Flurries : Light snow falling for short durations. No accumulation or light dusting is all that is expected.
  • Showers : Snow falling at varying intensities for brief periods of time. Some accumulation is possible.
  • Squalls : Brief, intense snow showers accompanied by strong, gusty winds. Accumulation may be significant.
  • Blowing Snow : Wind driven-snow that reduces visibility and causes significant drifting. Blowing snow may be snow that is falling and/or loose snow on the ground that is picked up by the wind.
  • Blizzard : Winds over 35 mph with snow and blowing snow reducing visibility to near zero.
  • Rain drops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects. However, it can accumulate like snow and cause a hazard to motorist.
  • Rain that falls onto a surface with a temperature below freezing. This causes it to freeze to surfaces, such as trees, cars, and roads, forming a coating or glaze of ice. Even small accumulations of ice can cause a significant hazard.
Snow Sleet Freezing Rain
Source: http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/otx/outreach/review/features/snowfall_climo.php

This page last updated: August 8, 2011