A Bit Too Much Snowy/Stormy Mountain Weather & Lowland Snow Update

January 11, 2020

3pm Saturday…

Nothing is more relaxing than a day off work, sitting by the fire, perusing the latest maps/models and meteorological info.  What could be better???  Isn’t that what everyone does?

I’ll be back at work tomorrow, but nowadays everything we need to make forecasts is available online (free or behind a paywall) and can be done from home.  It wasn’t like that 29 years ago when I first began forecasting in Portland.

Today has been a great day for skiing in the mountains.  I see 15-21″ new snow has fallen since Friday morning on Mt. Hood, most of that since sunset Friday.  The problem is high winds.  At 1pm Mt. Hood Meadows closed down after putting lifts on standby for an hour or so.  It’s just too exposed up there in the middle of a storm.  This is a four day long storm folks.  Tomorrow’s wind could be similar as another wave of heavy snow arrives.  By the time the snow tapers off Tuesday morning, we can expect another 3 to 5 feet!  Here’s one snow forecast from a weather forecast model (WRF-GFS) through 4am Monday


We’ve got very large waves on the coastline and some occasional downpours in the lower elevations, but neither is too noteworthy since we’re in the middle of the storm season.

What you really want to know about is lowland snow for next week right?  Now that we’re within 2-5 days of this lowland “snow chance episode”, we’re getting a clearer picture of what’s ahead.

I see two specific periods in which there is a decent chance at least parts of the lowlands west of the Cascades will see sticking snow.  

  1. Monday evening/night
  2. Wednesday (or possibly Wednesday into Thursday)

Notice I didn’t mention tomorrow, tomorrow night, Monday daytime, or Tuesday?  That’s because it’s too warm tomorrow (40s), slightly too warm with strong southwesterly wind Sunday night (snow unlikely to stick much below 1,000′ along I-5 corridor), and a bit too warm Monday (36-40 degree day).  Then Tuesday will likely be dry, or mainly dry and 35-40 degrees too.  That’s why I’m thinking your lives should continue as normal during those times.


Increasing rain/snow mix Monday afternoon may change to all snow from the metro area south to Eugene around sunset and beyond.  If temps drop down to 32-33 degrees that evening and moisture keeps coming down, this could be a setup for a sloppy 1-3″ snow somewhere between Portland and Eugene.  Everything has to work out just right for this to happen.  So it’s just a chance for now.  But you should be thinking there’s a possibility at least part of this area (including Portland/Salem/Albany) could get sloppy/snowy roads Monday evening/night.  It’s still over two days away so tomorrow we should have a much better idea.  If something fun/snowy is going to happen in the lowlands, this is the first chance.


This is our classic setup for a real snow or snow/ice storm.  If enough cold air pours out of the Gorge and into the metro area (and north), we could be left with a snowy/windy/frozen day in Portland.  Of course that extends east into the Gorge as well.  One of those days where most/all schools shutdown and it’s tough to get around.  A real snow day is a possibility.   Models are forecasting a dusting to 6″ (at the high end).  This is why I don’t show snow forecast maps from models many days ahead of time; totally irresponsible and then they get passed around on social media.  Three days ago they were throwing around numbers like 10-20″.  There are strong hints that the cold air may not extend south of the metro area.  It’s quite possible Salem/Albany get little or no snow out of this second event.  And nothing at the coastline.


It’s very clear that this week’s flirtation with snow/ice/cold is a one shot deal.  All models swing us back into the mild “split jet stream” setup we’ve seen all winter by next weekend and beyond.   Two of our models have a mild south wind and end of freezing conditions by Thursday morning.


  • SUNDAY EVENING & NIGHT:  Rain showers change to rain/snow showers mixed overnight into Monday morning.  Little or no sticking at lowest elevations and no freezing.  Trace-1″ up around 1,000′.  Maybe a few inches up around 1,500′  Monday morning commute should be perfectly normal, except some snowy roads up around 1,000′ and above.
  • MONDAY DAYTIME: Scattered light rain showers turning to steady afternoon rain.  Mixing w/snow by sunset and possibly changing to all snow and sticking later…beyond 7pm.  Yes, I’ll keep a close eye on this so we can avoid a 2pm, 4pm, 6pm etc… jammed freeway surprise.   Zero to 3″ late Monday evening through the night.  Best chance south of Portland.  Yes, I also realize zero to 3″ sounds ridiculous.  I’ll narrow it down tomorrow afternoon.  Some models keeping all the snow from Salem south at this point.
  • TUESDAY:  Partly cloudy, a flurry or two.  Areas that have snow-covered roads from Monday night would be icy.  But where it doesn’t snow Monday night, both commutes Tuesday will be fine.



This weather pattern is a lot of work, but for a weather geek like me it’s nice to have something interesting ahead.  That’s after 2.5 months of “meteorological melancholy” since Halloween.  I took one day away from the weather maps/models yesterday then jumped back online this morning.  One message sticks out:  The GFS has been terrible leading up to this event, constantly pushing in cold arctic air too fast plus too intense.  I had a feeling that was the case but looking back at maps 2-3 days ago that’s very clear.  Other models have turned a little milder but they were never crazy with the arctic air to start with.  In fact it’s now clear no arctic air moves into the Portland metro area until it gets pulled in through the Gorge Wednesday.  For the geeks this has gone from what could have been an epic event to a typical (somewhat) brief midwinter snow/ice episode with no arctic blast.

That surface low moving by to the north Sunday night gives us far too much onshore flow for lowland sticking snow, even with 850mb temps down around -7/-8, especially since showers appear to dwindle to almost nothing by Monday morning.  I think Monday morning will be a non-event for 95% of us; some grass on some lawns/barkdust here and there but any real snow (1/2″ or more) up around 1,000′ and above. Tuesday’s forecast is easy because the surface low passing through Oregon Monday night is gone.  We’re left with -8/-9 at 850mb and flat gradient.  That should allow us to climb up around 36-40 degrees (assuming ground is bare).  But about that Monday low…

The ECMWF came in this morning going gangbusters with precipitation Monday evening.  It sends the surface low from Florence to La Grande, throwing up around .60″ precipitation over south/east metro!  A light northerly breeze at the same time = possible sticking snow.  The 18z RPM gives us maybe an inch of snow.


ECMWF (snowiest) says 2-4″ at least.  This is 12 hour precipitation from 4pm Monday to 4pm Tuesday.  I guarantee this will shift north or south on future runs.


Reliable WRF-GFS says band of precip stays mainly south; hosing metro area with little or no snow, but 2-3″ Salem to Eugene.


As for the 2nd event, both GFS and ECMWF are bringing a very deep low close to the coast, far enough north to put Salem/Albany pretty much out of the running for snow/ice.  Check out the WRF-GFS pressure pattern midday Wednesday…a tad windy in the Gorge maybe?  Strong south wind on the central/south coastline the same time.


That 2nd event is far out in time so I’m sure this will be changing as we get closer.

So remember, the first real chance of lowland snow (for some of us, not all) is Monday evening/night, other than that you’re in the clear.  That’s it for now.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen