December 2012: Wet & “Mild”

December capped off one of the simultaneously wettest and driest calendar years for the inland northwest.  Aside from a few sub par numbers in southwestern ID/eastern OR including the Owyhee mountains, where rain gauges are few and far between, the water-year is off to a great soggy start.  Precipitation for river basins derived from SNOTEL data show all basin at or above normal, with some locales +30%.


This has translated into respectable snowpack numbers, particular in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, and a rather mixed bag for snow water equivalent numbers in the inland northwest.


Aside the recent cold + stable air mass that has kept valley locales colder than mountains during the night + day due the strong inversion and lack of diurnal heating to promote mixing, well-above normal temperatures have been the rule across the region + broader western US.


Using the North American Freezing Level tracker we can take a look at an estimate of Nov-Dec precipitation that fell on days where the average temperature at 2000-m was below 0C across central Idaho.


Fairly lousy efficiency, and rather different from what one sees due west over the Cascades at 2000-m over the two-month period. I can not speak definitely as to why these differences arise other than potentially a lack of pineapple-express type systems that can do a number on the more-maritime snowpack and less so for the inland mountains.

As 2012 ends, we recall the record, or near record dry spell from mid-July through September, and record demolishing precipitation numbers in March and June for parts of the region. A few stations across the northern extent of the domain including Glacier N. P., and Sandpoint ID ended up with their wettest year on record.


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About John Abatzoglou

John is an associate professor of Geography at the University of Idaho. John's interests are centered around climate and weather of the American West and their impacts to people and natural resources of the West. John and his Applied Climate Science Lab at the University of Idaho have published nearly 100 papers and book chapters on climate science, meteorology, and applied climate science connecting climate to water resources, wildfire and agriculture. The research group also develops web-based climate services that connect climate data with decision makers to help improve climate readiness of societies and ecosystems.

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