Time For An Outbreak of Arctic Air This Winter?

Just finished up my presentation for OMSI tomorrow; I wrap up the past year’s worth of weather before the forecasters stick their necks out (for the meteorological guillotine?).  Made a new graphic this time, showing the coldest winter high temp at PDX:


You can pick out the years where we saw a big intrusion of cold arctic air here into the Pacific Northwest.  I figure if the high temp was 30 or below it counts, especially if the lows were down in the teens.

I would say there have been 4 real “big freezes” the past 20+ years:  December 1990, late January 1996, December 1998, and December 2009.  All of these involved several days of high temps well below freezing or extremely cold nights (in the case of 2009).

The Dec 1990 and Jan/Feb 1996 events were especially cold; 3 days of highs 19-21 in 1990, and 5 days below 30 degrees  in 1996.  The 2009 event saw no snow cover and totally sunny skies, allowing high temps to reach 30-34 each day, a little warmer than those other events.  The 2 other events on the chart above?  January 2004’s cold only extended down into far northern Oregon and didn’t last too long.  December 1998 was pretty cold, but no real strong east wind and it went out with a whimper.  Dec 2008 was mainly about the snow…we never had a several days long string of sunny and cold weather, so cold-wise it wasn’t that severe.

For region-wide severity, I would rank them this way:

  1. Dec 1990
  2. Dec 1998 (widespread)
  3. Jan/Feb 1996 (#2 if we’re talking Portland area only)
  4. Dec 2009

That shows how rare a BIG FREEZE really is here in the Pacific Northwest.  We only get a big one every 5-8 years I suppose.  We haven’t seen any “arctic action” for 3 winters, but it would not be unusual if we went another winter or two without it.

So what do YOU think?  That’s what the comments are for.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

83 Responses to Time For An Outbreak of Arctic Air This Winter?

  1. […] Time For an outbreak of Arctic Air This winter FOX 12 weather weblog […]

  2. WEATHERDAN says:

    This is my personal opinion only. This is my list of the 10 best Winters in Salem since 1950.

    Arctic outbreaks Snowstorms
    1. 1968-1969 Multiple Multiple
    2. 1949-1950 Multiple Multiple
    3. 1978-1979 Multiple Multiple
    4. 1970-1971 3 3
    5. 1972-1973 2 2
    6. 1985-1986 2 2
    7. 1988-1989 1 1
    8. 2008-2009 1 2
    9. 2003-2004 1 1
    10.1981-1982 1 1

    • Hal in Aims says:

      I wasn’t very old…but in 1950 in Gresham I can remember the Christmas tree being up and all of us rapped in blankets and the water in the toilet bowl frozen. House is no longer there. Area of Dex McCarty middle school.

    • Lurkyloo says:

      Hal, that’s some cold! I lived in TN during the winter of ’77. We lived in an olllld house, and we really only used the kitchen since that was the only room that we could heat — but I never saw the toilet water freeze. Damn.

  3. Rob - Southeast Portland says:

    00z EURO alert!
    After this trough kicks out the ridge flattens with some northwest flow aloft. Then a fairly shop trough digs down 135 W(The one responsible for a few model runs showing a deep low west of Astoria) BUT the real fun is after this. Check out what develops after day 7. Rex block at 160 W (High/Low) right at the sweet spot 160 W. This also coincides with the PV moving across to this side of the pole too. This looks very similar to the 6-10/11-15 day ensembles as well as the new Euro Weeklies.
    I like it! ‘Tis the Season!

    • David B. says:

      Still a ways out, but it is encouraging multiple models seem to be pulling that way. We shall see…

    • BoringOregon says:

      I heard nick talking about frost and frezzing fog soon?

    • Lurkyloo says:

      Rob, I can’t read that map and I don’t understand what the outcome would be if this scenario materialized. Can you (or anybody?) spell it out for those of us who can’t speak meteorology? Please? :}

  4. schmit44 says:

    10/27/2013 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:70 at MCDERMITT 26N(4464 ft) & Rome(4049 ft)
    Low: 51 at Port Orford(0 ft) & CW8449 Charlesto(322 ft)

    High:35 at MCKENZIE(4800 ft)
    Low: 14 at Sand Creek (US 9 (4525 ft ) & MAZAMA (4596 ft ) & DIMLKE (4726 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 46 degrees
    DANNER (68/22 ) (4225 ft )
    Lorella (63/17) (4160 ft)

    Heaviest Rainfall:
    0.55″ at EW2137 Wasco(1401ft)
    0.55″ at BOULDER CREEK(3570ft)
    0.54″ at FIELDS(3373ft)
    0.53″ at EW0062 Dundee(971ft)

  5. WEATHERDAN says:

    In early December on a Friday night a very young Chuck Wiese was doing the 5:00 PM weather for KOIN-TV 6. He said we might see a few snow flurries on Monday and the a couple of days of cool to cold weather. What turned out was something far more Wintery than anyone had predicted. On Sunday December 3rd we got up to 43 in late morning but by late afternoon we had dropped to the low 30,s with snow flurries. Monday the 4th dawned clear and cold with a low of 18. The high was 33 with a strong North wind. On Tuesday the 5th it was a cloudy 18 degrees to start the day. The snow started about 10:00 AM. We reached a high of only 27. The snow continued all the way into Wednesday evening. Salem had accumulated 10 inches with 2 foot drifts. Then the skies cleared and it really got cold. Over the next 5 days our temps were -4/22, -12/20, -6/20, -2/23, -3/24. Then on the 12th we had another snowstorm with another 8 inches. This was on the 12th. Finally on Friday the 15th we got some ZR. Then came the pineapple express with many inches of rain and temps mainly in the 50,s and low 60,s. Finally in Early January we had another solid week of cold. Lows as cold as the upper teens and highs in the 30,s. Then winter was essentially over and we had an early and warm spring. We had some palm trees in Salem in 1972 though not nearly as many as today. All of them were killed off. Dallas which is just Southwest of Salem in Polk county dropped to -15. The lowest Salem has been in the last 40 years was -1 in early February of 1989. This was just after Salem got a foot of snow but the Portland airport only got 2 inches. The tv mets at the time Like Jim Little said the reason for that was the very dry air mass coming out of the Gorge caused most of the snow to evaporate before it hit the ground. And because the DP,s were so low the snow was so dry it just blew around. It was an interesting MEOW weather conference at OMSI on Saturday. Most of the MEOW presenters couldn’t make up their minds on whether it was going MEOW to be warmer or colder this Winter. Only Pete Parsons Winter forecast which was MEOW read by someone else called for some really cold and snowy weather this MEOW Winter. We shall see. MEOW oops I mean Peace.

  6. boydo3 N Albany says:

    Looking at the gfs operational, looks like the snow pack begins to build starting this weekend and continuing on……..

  7. pappoose in scappoose says:


  8. Garron near Washington Square says:

    Sorry I missed out on the OMSI show. Had a bowling tournament, and ended up cashing 1st place, so I guess it was worth it. Still, I feel like I will be repaid by the weather gods, and mother nature will do her best to punish me.

    My prediction: 10 arctic outbreaks, all ending with south wind events, no lowland snow, and a crummy ski season due to the fact I was unable to attend.

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      Good job Garron. I really like the reverse psychology method!

    • BoringOregon says:

      I thank maybe by jan 5th, we will have a huge arctic storm out break. With 10” of snow on the ground? In that reverse psychology thing works with sports to!!

  9. paulbeugene says:

    3pm Williams Lake to Bellingham pressure gradient is 10mb. Typical Fraser outflow event around 14mb plus.
    Hope BC in upper 50s with dewpoints in low 40s.

    Things should be different there by tomorrow morning.

    • gloriousnumber1 says:

      Reverse psychology? OK then! I say we will have a 2007 Winter with nothing below 1000ft, a bunch of inversions, ski season opening in mid January then a 2 week dry spell. This will be followed by a cool spring with conditions that would mean 2 feet of snow in Portland had it been 2 months earlier. Then we will have a cool, wet summer with hardly any sun.

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      That works, glorious!

  10. Lurkyloo says:

    Clouds here seem to be headed SW. East wind on the scene?

  11. boydo3 N Albany says:

    Models bring a pretty good storm next weekend. Snow in the mountains!

  12. sun has came out, and it is getting real windy…

  13. paulbeugene says:

    Low of 26 Tues AM and 28 Wed AM look good for EUG
    27 Tues AM, 29 Wed for SLE
    25 Tues AM, 29 Wed for HIO
    34 Tues AM, 34 Wed for PDX

  14. schmit44 says:

    Deadline to enter is Nov 2 at midnight.

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      It’s raining here at home.

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      My roof just started talking to me.
      Not loudly, but it hasn’t had much to say for a while!

    • BoringOregon says:

      Who called this forecast wrong!?!?

    • dharmabum says:

      I saw that Mary Loos @ KATU had a pretty good rainfall predicted for Portland on her Sat. morning weathercast!

    • David B. says:

      Rained for several hours this morning in the Puget Sound area. Not a whole lot, but the most in a while. We did get a wetting drizzle on Friday when the overcast got thick enough, so it’s only been a couple days since our last moisture.

      It’s on the blustery side with sunbreaks now. Looking forward to a sunny day tomorrow.

  15. schmit44 says:

    10/26/2013 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:78 at RED MOUND(1753 ft)
    Low: 56 at QUAIL PRAIRIE LO(3183 ft)

    High:47 at TURNER(296 ft) & DW5586 Beavercre(1407 ft) & DW6452 Russellvi(1329 ft) & HIGH POINT(1935 ft) & DW0380 Sandy(1600 ft)
    Low: 12 at DIMLKE (4726 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 57 degrees
    Lorella (74/17 ) (4160 ft )

  16. Ron says:

    It was interesting that between Kyle Dettmer, Jim Little, and Pete Parsons (in absentee) they had over 20 analog years between them and only agreed on three. Tells you how difficult long range forecasting is. They all use different algorithms and climate indicies Still hard to tell who will be right. Maybe all of them,maybe none of them. We just have to wait and see.

  17. David B. says:

    1990 was only my second winter in Seattle. I had a flight out of SeaTac on the December 19th. Tuesday the 18th dawned with a mix of rain and wet snow. It was a chilly wet day with precipitation shifting back and forth between rain and wet snow… until about 2PM, if memory serves.

    Then it as as if a switch was thrown; the temperature plummeted and cold, dry snow started falling at an amazing clip. By that evening, no less than 14 inches of drifting snow covered my yard and driveway and the temperature was in the mid-teens. It was the sort of snowstorm I thought I had left behind when I moved away from the Rockies.

    I tried to cancel my flight but the phones were down because the lines were jammed. I did thankfully have a set of chains for my car, having moved from snow country. So early the next morning, I used a garden spade to excavate the driveway, chained up, and headed off to the airport.

    I remember a frightening scene of my almost getting into an accident from someone ELSE’s out-of-control vehicle on I-5 near Northgate. South of downtown Seattle, the amount of snow decreased rapidly. There was only about 3 inches on the ground at the airport.

    In terms of sheer amount of cold, dry snow, it was by far the most impressive until the December 2008 snows I experienced while living in Portland*, and has served as a standard by which to judge lowland snow events for me.

    * Which, all in all, felt quite comparable in severity to me.

    • Sarah in West Linn says:

      Great story! Thanks.

    • dharmabum says:

      I remember December 1990 very vividly, the 2nd year with my diesel p.u. and I had diesel fuel gel in their cans out in the storage shed. And several neighbors had problems with their diesel trucks that gelled and would not run. Got to use flow supplement when it gets down around zero. We had a -1 degree low during that outbreak.

  18. Lurkyloo says:

    So High Desert Mat was the only one who went to the meeting at OMSI?

  19. PaulB brought up Fairbanks October temps as an indicator of upcoming PNW winter wx. I suggested his suggestion needed a more rigorous statistical approach. So I decided to the analysis myself. I used stampede pass December and January average temps from 1950 thru 2012/13 as the measure of winter severity. Average October Fairbanks temps were a stronger predictor of stampede pass dec/jam temps than either pdo or ENSO. So indeed, this warm October in Fairbanks suggests lower likelihood of severe winter ( ie, maybe 55%-60% odds warmer than avg)

  20. High Desert Mat says:

    Want to thank you Mark for doing the weather meetings analysis of last winter. As I won the Davis weather station at the meeting. Thanks Mark!! Lol

  21. Keeping my eyes on the 500mb charts. Waiting… Watching…

  22. oldwxwatcher says:

    For real arctic cold the one I always think of is December 1964. Went to bed one night with snow showers and temps in the low 30s and woke up the next morning to clear skies, a strong east wind and a temperature of 17°. Take a look at this Daily Weather Map for conditions at 10 PM that night: http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/rescue/dwm/1964/19641217.djvu

    8° with an east wind made for a decent wind chill effect. The temp didn’t get out of the teens the next day. A low with overrunning moisture came in from the west a day or two later. The east winds picked up and when precip started falling evaporative cooling lowered the temp to 6° at my place in east Portland by the time the snow was able to make it to the ground. Several inches fell, blown around by the wind. The cold air became very shallow the next day and the snow changed to freezing rain with an air temp in the teens. Hours later the south wind broke through and we were then in a pineapple express pattern for a few days that caused all the snow to melt and led to much flooding.

    It’s something I’ll never forget.

    • Lurkyloo says:

      That’s a great story, Oldwx. I cannot imagine temps that low here — it would freak me out! No wonder you remember that …

      I distinctly remember going to the grocery store before the big ice storm of ’04. The wind chill was 17 degrees or so, and the East wind was howling. My hands were numb before I could get my groceries into the trunk of my car.

    • Hal in Aims says:

      yep…along with 78-79 and 79-80…almost forgot the 68-69 thing…drifts covering the tops of the stops signs in Gresham…and a large black pile of gravel, slush ,etc. in Rockwood at the end of June…

    • PaulO says:

      ´64, yes, 2nd grade and a family Christmas trip to Texas and 24 hours at PDX waiting for the flight to get out…

  23. paulbeugene says:

    It will probably end up being a top five warm October in Fairbanks, AK, probably warmest since 1938. Looking at records, that is not a good prognostic sign for a “great winter” here in the PAC NW.
    1938-39, 1943-44, 1952-53, 1954-55, 1962-63, 1969-70, 2002-03, 2006-07, 2009-10 are winters following warm Octobers in Fairbanks.
    Amongst those winter weather seasons, only Nov 1952, Jan 1963, and Dec 2009 had a notable arctic intrusion. Of those only Jan 63 had any mentionable snowfall.
    Maybe this winter is one in which you have to go to Snow Bunny to build a snowman and my winter forecast may be worse than junk bonds. I hope not.

    • SW says:

      With these type of statistics, it make you wonder how any one could call for a wild winter and cold. It’s to bad that even professionals need to get involved in this type of hype.

    • Your Fairbanks analysis is flawed statistically speaking. What you need to do is plot all years Fairbanks October temp vs Nw temp anomaly dec-feb
      Or total snowfall so you have some statistical power. Your observation is of only anecdotal interest

    • paulbeugene says:

      If I include all years in Fairbanks with greater than +5F departures for Oct since 1932, that gives me 15 years. 7 of those following winter seasons had trace or 0.0 snow totals in Eugene. 9 were less than 1 inch. One was greater than 10 inches (2003-04).
      9 of 15 years did have lowest temps in teens or lower.

      Maybe not so bleak but still a bit concerning.

  24. schmit44 says:

    10/25/2013 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:78 at ILLINOIS VALLEY(1389 ft)
    Low: 57 at QUAIL PRAIRIE LO(3183 ft)

    High:47 at ALFORD(298 ft) & TURNER(296 ft)
    Low: 17 at Horse Ridge (US (4160 ft ) & Beatty (4320 ft ) & Sand Creek (US 9 (4525 ft ) & Worden (4080 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 53 degrees
    Horse Ridge (US (70/17 ) (4160 ft )
    Beatty (70/17) (4320 ft)

  25. Greg Carstens says:

    Hi Mark

    Interesting chart for sure.

    I have been watching the weather up here very closely since 2008 statistically speaking and since then there really has not been a big arctic outbreak as I would more classically know it. When I say that I mean temps dropping into the teens after a 5 or more inch snowfall here in Southeast Tacoma.

    I think I remember the 1980’s and early 90’s the best because I had to drive to get to work in those events. I remember the big 16 inch snowfall in December of 74 surely and there seemed like there was more than that with drifts along the north side of the house up to close to 3 feet. I was to young to remember 68. Only 6 years old then.

    We’re due for what I consider the classic Arctic blast. I hope I am good for well more than the 2.7 inches of snowfall last year in mid December.

  26. Mark forgot to mention FEBRUARY 1989, which was an amazing blast and very snowy for the southern Willamette Valley.

    I’m rooting for a moderate arctic blast where we just enough cold air to set Portland up for a decent snow event toward the end. Let’s say 3-4 days where PDX has highs near 30 and lows in the upper teens, and DLS gets highs in the mid 20s coupled with lows in the 5-10 range.

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      My chart only went back to 1990. Yep, 1989 would be all the rest of those.

    • ocpaul says:

      Yeah Karl, that was a notable cold/snow blast. I remember how the end of Jan 1989 was close to 60 degrees. That was a beautiful arctic invasion.
      For this winter: I would predict a 99.9% chance of record cold and snow! (7-8 days out on the models)

  27. Rob - Southeast Portland says:

    00z GFS has joined the EURO taking the energy/shortwave out of British Columbia further west down through central Washington and Oregon. Not that it’s going to make a big difference. Even with a favorable digging trough and northeast flow aloft the air mass out of BC/AB simply isn’t that cold. The PV up north of Hudson’s Bay/Nunavut is too far detached from the flow out of the Canadian prairies to supply bitterly cold arctic air. After that we see more progressive northwest flow for chilly temps and good bit of rain. Mountain snow at the Ski Resorts too with fairly low snow levels.

    00z EURO
    Trended slightly further west with the “chilly” trough Sunday night – Tuesday. Aside from that not much to write home about. We see roughly 48 hours of northwesterly zonal flow, but then we’re right back into a ridgy/split flow combo pattern with another cut-off upper low spinning south well west of California. Split flow all the back to 160-170 W.. No consolidated westerlies.

  28. Are you kidding me? A couple winters where the lowest high temp was in the 40’s in PDX? That is depressing…
    Hopefully, the well publicized advanced Eurasian snowcover, amplified pattern, cold PDO, and absent El Niño conspire to deliver the arctic goods this winter .
    The dry Fraser outflow Sunday/Monday will be an appetizer, with several courses of arctic entrees to follow (in seattle) later this winter season. God knows we paid our dues with the October fogmageddon

  29. Joe Mizner says:

    Folks who have lived up here since the 1930’s think the heavy rain in September was mother natures “shot across the bow” to warn and allow farmers to prepare for a harsh winter during these nice days we are currently having. Question, was the winter or 1978-9 really as harsh as they say it was?

    • archangelmichael2 says:

      Unless the heavy rain in September was *it* for our winter. We might have spent it right there.

      Good new is maybe the fogmagaddeon is happening now instead of December/January which would be killing any chances of snow in the mountains if the inversion happened then.

      Though of course we could be stuck in mild SW zonal flow all winter with snow levels 4,500 feet until March then have a record snowy march with *flirts* in the valley and a cold wet spring with record skiing into June after a foul up winter.

      Whatever the case I hope it’s not as dry as last winter where Jan-March some stations outdid 2001.

    • archangelmichael2 says:

      The snow would be like you’re girl friend flirting with you but you never really get you’re prize. It’s just out of reach and she purposely teases you knowing how far you’d go.

    • WEATHERDAN says:

      The Winter of 78-79 was second to the Winter of 68-69 for cold and snow. The weather turned cold around Veterans day and didn’t let up until Groundhog day. We had a very nice October until the last few days of the month. Then our first cold snap came about Veterans days when lows dropped into the teens. Thanksgiving was cold and foggy and came on the heels of a snowfall of around 2 inches. December saw several small snowfalls. Then starting Christmas Eve the temperatures plummeted due to an Arctic outbreak. About the 28th we had a snowfall of around 4 inches. New years Eve dropped to 10 degrees in Salem. We had a snowfall of around 6 inches about the 3rd of January. It stayed in the 30,s for highs until about the 8th. We had more small snowfalls that month. Then about the 28th we had another Arctic outbreak and more widespread snow. Finally the Winter weather broke in early February. It was cold for so long that Winter that the Columbia river was frozen over at The Dalles for weeks. Also Pendleton hadn’t seen a daily maximum above 32 degrees from Veterans day until early February. I was 24 years old that Winter and enjoyed it thoroughly. Of course I understand that it is a real hardship for many people to pay their heating bills during such Winters. Peace

  30. Sifton says:

    + I’m in again!

  31. Sifton says:

    IMHO I think man made factors are the main reason arctic action & big snow totals are rare & not like decades past……….& the trend is only going to continue.

    • archangelmichael2 says:

      I looked up on microfilm in the 1930s for our area and all except 1937 we had sucky winters.

      1937 had 2 feet of snow that took out communications between Salem and Portland and only shortwave radio worked which even then was not all the time nor good reception. It took a week before things got back to normal and people were tougher in those days too!

      Though their was a lot more *cold* to it then today’s winters due to clear skies allowing temps to bottom out below freezing.

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      You in! Again!

    • BoringOregon says:

      Omg… I lost :(.

    • ocpaul says:

      I disagree. Carbon levels are at record highs and the world temp has been flat to slightly cool since 1998. Of course humans affect their environs, but not to the degree you imply. IMO

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      Give it 20 years, then we’ll know!

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