By Polly Keary, Editor
Less snow than usual, but otherwise average temperatures.
That’s what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believes winter will look like in Western Washington this year.
Earlier this autumn, meteorologists thought that this would be an El Niño year, in which warmer-than-usual temperatures in the Pacific Ocean lead to drier, warmer winters in the Pacific Northwest.
But the emerging El Niño pattern stalled in October, and now meteorologists aren’t quite sure what to expect.
For most of the rest of the country, there are still enough climate clues to allow experts to predict what this winter will bring. For those areas stricken by drought over the spring and summer, winter won’t bring much relief. The coming months are expected to be drier than average for much of the United States, including most of the Midwest, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.
Warmer-than-average temperatures are expected in most of Texas, the central and northern plains, the Southwest, the Rockies, as well as Eastern Washington, Oregon and California.
Conversely, Florida and Hawaii may have a cooler winter than usual, and Florida and the Gulf states may get more rain than is typical.
But for the coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest, while expected to be drier along with the rest of the region, the predictions are a toss-up when it comes to temperature.
“If you’re a little further east, it’s a little warmer than normal, but it looks like all of coastal Washington is in an equal chance area, which means there isn’t enough climate signal to say if it’s going to be colder, normal, or warmer than normal,” said Susan Buchanan of the National Weather Service last week.
But indicators are fairly clear about the coming dry weather.
“It looks like you’re in an area with a 40 percent likelihood to be dryer than normal,” said Buchanan. “That’s a pretty high percent, because that’s out of three options. There’s a 30 percent chance it will be wetter, and a 30 percent chance it will be normal.”
Operators of the Stevens Pass Ski Resort are optimistic.
The recent snowfall in the mountains has been erased by warmer weather and rainfall, but it is expected to snow again soon, said Nate Escalona, marketing manager of the resort.
And if it’s an average year, that’s not a bad thing, he said.
“It’s trending toward a neutral winter, not El Niño or La Niña, so a La Nada, which is average. And since we average 450 inches of snow a year, that’s good,” he said.
The resort typically opens Dec. 1, and Escalona foresees no reason why this year will be different.
Skiers will have a lot to look forward to when the resort does open, he noted.
“We did significant summer cleaning and grooming and we took down a lot of trees and branches and shrubs to open up some new spaces around the mountain,” he said. “There is a lot more open skiing.”
One risk of a warm winter is flooding, when heavy snows are followed by warmer rains and rapid melt-off.
There are some simple steps people who live in flood-prone areas should take, according to Mark Carey, a mitigation director with FEMA.
“One of the best ways residents can protect their homes and businesses is with flood insurance,” he said. “If you have a policy, take a moment to review it and ensure that your coverage is appropriate. Look around your home and identify things that are irreplaceable. If you cannot live without it, what are you doing to ensure it is safe?”
Most homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flood damage. Only flood insurance does that. And since it usually takes 30 days from the purchase of coverage for insurance to take effect, homeowners and renters are advised to consider insurance options as early in flood season as possible.
If you are already insured, now is a good time to make sure your list of assets is up-to-date and that you have photos of valuables as well as appraised value.
To learn more about flood risk and options for insurance coverage, visit FloodSmart.gov or call 1-800-427-2419.