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Atmospheric Conspiracy Behind Our Mild Winter Weather

The sign at Pike Place Market.
Flickr Photo/Jonathan Cohen (CC-BY-NC-ND)
Lots of rain and clouds, but few arctic storms. Why is the Northwest immune?

The East Coast is getting hammered by a “polar vortex” of low pressure that has moved south from the North Pole.

But the Northwest has remained largely immune to the apocalyptic storm due to a bubble of high pressure that has hovered over the coast for about three months.

The ridge of high pressure is “blocking the parade of storms that usually come in off the Pacific; at the same time it’s delivering cold air to the central and eastern part of the country,” said meteorologist Nick Bond on KUOW’s The Record. “There’s no simple explanation there, but just the atmosphere has conspired to get into this very weird pattern. So this air of arctic origin is getting right down into the central US.”

Larry Schick, longtime Seattle meteorologist and water management specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers, added that even though Seattle is at a higher latitude than Duluth, Minn., the area is buffered by the Rocky and Cascade Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Most of the Northwest’s weather comes from the west and travels a long way over the ocean, which helps moderate our temperatures. In fact, the record low temperature for Seattle was zero degrees Fahrenheit – a chillingly far cry from the minus-40 and less that Minnesota has been experiencing.

Bond predicts the mild weather to continue through January, but that could be bad news for the snowpack. That’s a problem for winter sporting and also summer water supplies. He estimated that the snowpack is about one-third to one-half of normal.

But with rain in the forecast for the rest of the week at lower elevations, Schick predicted that Snoqualmie Pass may get enough snow to open by Sunday.

Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.

Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012