Winter 2019, A Real Dud So Far

January 21, 2019

7:30pm Monday…

Here we are entering the last 10 days of January and it’s still Dullsville on the weather maps for the next week.  Unless something pops up early-mid NEXT week (more on that in a moment), December and January end up with only one significant weather event.  That would be the January 5th minor wind storm.

It’s hard to believe, but this is my 28th winter forecasting in the Portland area.  Technically I was in Hood River for part of the 1993-1994 winter but it still counts.  Folks, up to this point I feel this is the most boring cool/wet season I’ve seen in my 28 winters forecasting in Portland.  1991-1992 (my first year after finishing college at U.W. in Seattle) was about as slow and so was 2002-2003.  In 2003 at least we saw a few pineapple express events in January.  Regardless, this would be in the top 3 out of 28 on the “meteorological boredom scale” if there is such a thing.

The reason?

  1. Occasional upper-level ridging or split-flow
  2. Systems that come through our area have often been weak
  3. A real lack of cold air behind systems for vigorous/cold showers

A few highlights:

winter so far intro

winter so far recap

The “winter so far” with the +3 degree departure refers to meteorological winter December-January.  We have not seen a widespread Pacific Northwest arctic blast since December 2013.  It’s been 5 years!

Not only has the weather been quiet this season, but temperatures have been unusually warm since Halloween.  Dry as well

winter so far recap2

We’ve done some catch-up in late December and now again in late January, but overall it  has been drier than normal since early November.


A building upper-level ridge along the West Coast dominates our weather for at least the next 7-10 days, possibly longer.  This has been well advertised by models for quite a while.  A couple of weak systems passing over the ridge give us lots of clouds and occasional light rain tomorrow and Wednesday.  Much of the rain will be focused on the mountains and not lower elevations.  Expect plenty of gloom but not all that much rain Tuesday-Wednesday along the I-5 corridor.

Beyond that the ridge strengthens later this week and through the upcoming weekend.  There are hints that we could see our warmest temps since December; sometime between Friday and Sunday.  850mb temps rise into the teens Saturday and we get weak offshore flow.  We are almost out of “deep inversion season” and we are not starting with a chilly airmass this week.  The result could be high temps one of those days approaching 60 degrees.  It is not unheard of to reach a 60 degree high in late January around here.  And it can happen in this pattern.  Stay tuned later this week for that.

Notice the strong and warm ridge on both GFS and ECMWF ensembles for Saturday:  Spring ski conditions in the Cascades!  Some 60s at the beaches possible as well.

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Most ensemble runs say this ridging will hold for most or all of NEXT week (through the last day of January).  But you see the ridge moves farther west on both GEM and GFS ensembles?  This is the last day of the month.

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Several ensemble members want to drop a cold system through Canada much closer to us next week.  If so, we could go from sunny and mild to sunny and cold.  But each run is different; very low confidence at this point.  The ECMWF ensemble temps show a continuation of mild temps into early February


And westerly (wet) flow returning as February begins…



  1. Drippy and gray next two days
  2. Sunnier and warmer Thursday through at least Sunday, possibly through the last day or two of January
  3. I’ll keep an eye on the middle of next week to see if we’re going to get any last-minute arctic air setup for either cold or snow.  At this point I’m not seeing anything that screams “pattern change”

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Another Low Snow Year In The Cascades

January 17, 2019

7pm Thursday…

I feel like we’ve done this before; here we are in mid-January and I’m blogging about low snowpack in the Cascades.

First, we have a great three day MLK weekend coming up for skiers/snowboarders.  There is plenty of snow for everyone:


And the only rain should be downpours for night skiing Friday night as a warm front moves over the Cascades.  Avoid that time; the rest of the weekend should be just fine.

snow report 3 days

That’s the good news.  The bad news? “Snow Water Equivalent” in the Cascades doesn’t look so great.

snowpack oregon plus facts

The lack of storminess and warmer-than-average temps has allowed the snowpack (as a percent of average) to drop this month.  Only SE Oregon is in good shape at this point.

It’s ANOTHER low snow year in the Cascades.  I just checked Mud Ridge, at 4,100′ just SE of Government Camp.  This station has seen below average snow water in mid-January 8 out of the past 10 winters!  Only 1 has been above average, and one right at average.  So you aren’t crazy thinking that we haven’t heard about big Cascade snow years lately.  What’s most interesting to me is the total lack of lower Cascade snowfall.  Again this year we’ve rarely seen any snow below 2,500′.  Way down in the foothills at 1,000′, I haven’t seen snow at my home yet this season.  First time that has happened since I moved there in 2004.

So no, this isn’t a horrific snow season like 1991-1992 or 2004-2005, or 2014-2015, but we’re limping along once again.  I see maybe a foot or so at Government Camp coming up Sunday and early Monday, but then mainly dry or even some rain in the mountains the rest of next week.  Anecdotally it seems to me we are getting more ridging the past 10 years than in the past, often centered somewhere near the coastline.

Speaking of…models still show strong upper-level ridging much of these next two weeks.  Check out the ECMWF run showing ridging this next week, and the week following:

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And you can see the below-average precipitation forecast for the entire West Coast.  California will be drying out along with the Pacific Northwest.  If these maps are correct, January will go out mild and dry.

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Tomorrow will be a soaker once we get past about 9am.  A warm front with lots of moisture throws steady rain our way all afternoon and evening.  But Saturday is an “outdoor day” since a stationary front sits across southern Oregon.  Most likely the NW tip of Oregon and SW Washington remain dry during the daylight hours.

Enjoy your weekend!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Quick Gorge Snow/Ice Update

January 16, 2019

7pm Wednesday…

Some good news in the Columbia River Gorge.  Well, actually bad news for kids; I think there won’t be an “Ice Day” or “Snow Day” for some of those kids.

We’re only talking a difference of maybe 3 degrees, but that’s enough to take some areas “out of the running” for snow or ice accumulations.

WESTERN GORGE (Corbett to Bonneville Dam)

  • Freezing rain is only likely well above 500′, more like 1,000′ around Crown Point.
  • Most roads will remain clear, ice glazing mainly on trees/objects and not pavement.
  • School closures unlikely
  • Highest wind in next few hours, then it backs off a bit after 1-2am

CENTRAL/EASTERN GORGE (Cascade Locks/Hood River/The Dalles)

Light snow at times between now and around 1am, then mainly dry rest of the night

1-4″ with lightest totals down at freeway/river level.

I-84 remains either mainly clear or just slushy

Some school delays/closures still likely here


  • Light rain and/or freezing rain at times.  Freezing rain spots should be only above 1,000′ in Hood River, White Salmon, & Wind River valleys

mark gorge wintry weather

Not only are temps just a few notches warmer than I expected 24 hours ago, but this band of frozen precipitation is gone after midnight or so.  The brand new RPM model run for 1am:

rpm clouds rain snow

So there you go, this is still the “biggest snowfall of the season” in the Gorge, showing what a real dud this winter has been so far!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen




Columbia River Gorge Snow & Freezing Rain Wednesday Night

January 15, 2019

8pm Tuesday…

A chilly airmass is still sitting over Eastern Oregon below about 4,000′.  That cold pool of air continues to feed a gusty east wind through the Gorge.  You can see it in the cool colors on the 925mb WRF-GFS map:


The pressure gradient from The Dalles to Portland was up around 10 millibars earlier yesterday, but it’s down to around 7 right now.  The pressure difference directly impacts the wind speed out there.  This chart reads from right to left


Temperatures are within a few degrees of freezing from the Corbett & Mt. Pleasant areas in the western Gorge all the way to The Dalles.  So right now we are maybe 5 degrees colder than last week when we saw a dusting of snow above 500′ or so east of Cascade Locks.

Tonight and most of the daylight hours Wednesday we’ll be dry as a dying system moves overhead.  Sure, a few sprinkles west of the Cascades and a few flurries in the central/eastern Gorge, but that will be about it.

Tomorrow evening and night a wet system moves overhead.  The flow of cold air will actually INCREASE as a deep low pressure area moves towards the coastline; the strongest east wind of this event will be the result in and near the western Gorge.  At the same time precipitation arrives around sunset or just beyond and falls through that cold airmass.  It appears now that it’ll be mainly snow from around Bonneville Dam eastward.  A thinner layer of cold air from there to Corbett/Cape Horn areas means freezing rain & ice pellets are likely in the western Gorge.

There is not a huge amount of moisture available for a big snow/ice storm, but the best we’ve seen so far this season.  That doesn’t say much this year!  Here’s what I expect:

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  • Roads may turn icy in these areas anytime after sunset Wednesday, soon after steady precipitation arrives.
  • I-84 will likely remain bare through this event up to at least Multnomah Falls.  Expect snow on the freeway (or at least slush) for the Thursday morning commute east of there to The Dalles.  By midday Thursday and beyond, the freeway should be clear since temperatures are not starting out as cold as they could be.
  • Expect some school closures/delays in the Columbia River Gorge Thursday morning
  • Additional precipitation later Thursday may fall as freezing rain in the Hood River and White Salmon valleys, but I doubt it’ll be cold enough for river-level highways (I-84 and SR14) to freeze up again.
  • Expect a cold and windy night in central/east metro Wednesday night, but temperatures remain in the upper 30s, no freezing rain or snow.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

A Windy Monday, Cooler Too

January 14, 2019

9pm Monday…

The cold pool of air east of the Cascades deepened a bit today, sending that cold air sloshing over the mountains.  Government Camp was about 10 degrees colder today up at 4,000′.  The Gorge and central/east metro area were noticeably cooler too.    A huge field of low clouds marks the cold pool on this satellite image

satellite goes16 vis only

Another result of the thicker cold layer was a stronger wind that spread farther into Portland.

Portland airport saw a gust to 39 mph, and much of central/east Portland was regularly gusting 35-45 mph throughout the day

wind metro peak gusts east wind

Expect that wind to back off a little tomorrow for MOST of us and a bit more Wednesday.  That said, at the west end of the Gorge the strong wind will actually pick up a bit more Wednesday as a deep area of low pressure approaches the coastline.  Expect two more days of gusty and cool easterly wind!

warnings gorge and metro east wind

Tomorrow will be similar to today, then things get a bit more interesting.  A deep surface low move towards the Pacific Northwest coastline while slowly dying.  That happens Wednesday evening through Friday morning.   That pulls more cool air from the east through the Gorge during that time.  There’s no sign of a warming southerly wind in the metro area until late Thursday and no westerly wind to warm up the Gorge until Friday.  So I’ll be watching Wednesday/Thursday closely to see how much moisture will show up (for snow & freezing rain) and how cold temps will be.  At this moment there is a decent possibility we get something frozen from around Crown Point/Cape Horn east to The Dalles starting Wednesday evening.  This time it’s going to be a few degrees colder than what we saw the last week with that snow dusting.

Here in the metro area we’ll go into a wet/showery pattern Wednesday night and beyond.  Back to 40 degree nights and 50 degree days, plus or minus 5 degrees.  By the way, the overnight monthly run of the ECMWF continued the theme of a wet late week/weekend ahead, then a strong ridge near the West Coast for much of the following two weeks (mentioned in previous post).  Looks really cold in the Eastern USA the 2nd half of January!  The first slide show is 500 millibar heights, the 2nd is the departure in surface temps

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Here’s the precipitation departure, much drier than normal 2nd half of January (after this weekend)

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Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

Bright Sunshine, But a Chilly East Wind

January 13, 2019

7pm Sunday…

What a fantastic January day with a blue sky and bright sunshine.  If we aren’t going to get much-needed rain and mountain snow I’d prefer this over gray skies.  The coastline was quite warm today along with most of us in the western valleys of Oregon and SW Washington

todays observed highs orwa 2017

Strong high pressure is in control over the Pacific Northwest both in the higher atmosphere and down here near sea level as well.  We are still in “inversion season” for about 4 more weeks; meaning the sun angle (although rising) is still too low to allow that sunshine to warm the ground much.  The long winter nights mean cool air pools at the lower elevations.  In fact quite an extensive pool of cool (not cold) air has developed east of the Cascades below about 4,000′.  A late-morning GOES-17 image shows the large area of stratus (low clouds/fog) east of the mountains and mainly clear sky westside


This weather pattern continues through Tuesday/Wednesday, except we’ll add lots more clouds and even a few showers overhead Wednesday.  This is our classic east wind pattern in the western Gorge and Portland metro area too.  Right now it’s blowing 26 mph at PDX gusting to 35.  It was a windy day across a good chunk of our area; the area in orange shows who was feeling the wind today and continues to get nailed this evening.

warnings gorge and metro east wind

As I mentioned in the post last week, we’re headed into at least a few days of wet weather from Wednesday through this coming weekend.  Overnight temperatures rise up closer to 40 and highs stick to within a few degrees of 50 as we’ll get leftovers of California weather systems.  Take a look at the 6 day rain forecast down there!

ecmwf precipitation accumulation

We should see only around 1″ or so in the next week here in Portland.

Models also appear to be latching on to a pattern change for the 2nd half of January; what was coined the “North American Winter Temperature Dipole” in a recent published study.  We know it as the “Western Ridge/Eastern Trough” pattern.  Warm & drier than normal in the west and cold/snowy in the east.  It begins to show up on all models about a week from now.  Here’s the ECMWF/GEM/GFS for Monday the 21st, showing some sort of strong upper-level ridging developing over or just west of the West Coast

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Then there is surprising agreement it’s still there a week later, on Monday the 28th

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Generally this means a slowdown in weather along the West Coast and lots of high pressure overhead.  If ridging is weak, we end up with weak systems bringing onshore flow, light rain at times,  and mild temperatures over the top of the ridge.

It’s interesting to note both the GFS and ECMWF ensembles have a hint of the ridge backing a little farther offshore.  That would open up the possibility of at least some cold air making it west of the Rockies.  That would be at least 10 days out from now.  So if you’re a weather weenie and concerned there is no sign of winter ahead; there’s still a chance…


What does this mean for our day-to-day weather the next 10-14 days?

  • East wind and sunshine continues through Tuesday
  • Wednesday through at least next Sunday we’ll see lots of clouds, rain at times, and mild temperatures
  • NEXT week (starting Monday the 21st), could be much drier but mild temps will continue.
  • There is no sign of lowland snow/ice or real stormy weather in the next 10 days.  Unless something pops up in the last week of the month, this January is going to end up a very mild January!

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

January Dry Spell & Lots of East Wind

January 10, 2019

10pm Thursday…

Today was nice wasn’t it?  Bright sunshine filtered through high clouds and temperatures for most of the metro area well into the 50s.  I mentioned Sunday that we’re headed into a slower weather pattern again; that sure is the case this evening.


  • I expect little or no rain until at least next Wednesday; you get at least 5 dry days
  • Increasing easterly wind through the Gorge and out into the metro area should keep fog just about non-existent
  • That wind will be persistent and strong east of I-5 in the usual east wind areas; West Hills and west slope of those hills too.
  • Expect lots of sunny days, sometimes with high clouds, and cool/clear nights
  • High temperatures drop a bit early next week as a “cold pool” develops east of the Cascades below about 4,000′

We are in a “split-flow” jet stream through the middle of next week.  Tomorrow morning’s GFS forecast of 500mb heights shows an upper-level ridge building over the Pacific Northwest and a system heading toward California


Then by Sunday a strong pocket of high pressure is overhead while California gets a soaking


This general setup continues through Wednesday or Thursday.  We get little/no rain next 6 days but almost the entire California coastline gets at least 2″, maybe much more in spots

ecmwf 7 day rain total wgauge usa

Meanwhile up here in the Pacific Northwest I expect a pool of cold air to develop in the lower elevations east of the Cascades.  This happens when we get strong high pressure overhead between November and late February.  Cold dense air = high pressure and it’s trapped east of the Cascades.

Of course that cool air will surge westward through the Columbia River Gorge; 24 hours a day through at least next Wednesday.   We just went through a period of chilly east wind and cold rain the past two days; today the pressure gradient dropped to a very weak 2 millibars from The Dalles to Portland.  But it’s already back up to 5 millibars, headed to at least 8-10 millibars through the weekend.   The result?  Expect the usual 55-70 mph gusts in the western Gorge and 75-90 mph gusts at Vista House.

Enjoy the sunny (but not so warm) weekend; quite a bonus in January.

What do we see farther ahead?  Well, there’s absolutely no sign of low elevation snow/ice in the next 10 days.  We may get something in the Gorge Wednesday/Thursday as moisture returns next week, but not west of the Cascades.

We will see some brief westerly flow and wetter weather the 2nd half of next week and the following weekend.  Models are then trying to develop strong high pressure near the West Coast beyond that time.  The next 3 weeks of the ECMWF monthly run last night show the cool/wet setup late next week then drier weather the following week or two as high pressure develops along the West Coast.  We’ll see, seems like models have been trying to develop these big highs too often this winter, backing off as we get closer.

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Here’s the 32 day rain anomaly.  Of course anything beyond two weeks is a real guess, although it’s interesting this is a typical mid-late winter El Nino setup.  Wet California and Dry Northwest.


And here’s the ECMWF ensemble snow forecast for Portland…obviously no sign of any snow.   One lonely ensemble member out of 51 thinks there could be a dusting in the hills one day late next week…  #SAD


The other night Wayne Garcia pointed out how weird it is that we haven’t even had snow CLOSE.  No reporters standing up at Sylvan brushing slush off the barkdust so far and no sign of that in the next two weeks.   I live at 1,000′ in the far eastern metro area.  This is the first time in at least 14 years that I’ve had no snowfall (at all) through early January.  Even in the bad years I have seen at least a half-inch or more by this point.  Strange stuff this year.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen