Oregon Winter Weather Records Broken, Some a Mystery to Scientists
(Oregon Coast) – From late January through late February, the state saw some mighty mood swings of Mother Nature. Snowfall records were broken, highly unusual dry spells caused fire dangers, howling winds hit the Oregon coast and inland, and everything in between.
Now, regional scientists find it easy to figure out the big snow, wind and ice events, but they're left with a sizable mystery about the dry stretches.
For almost all of the last two weeks of January, sunny and dry – though not always warm – conditions dominated the Oregon coast. By January 24, western Oregon and even the coast were under a fire watch. Burning was banned in Seaside and several places in Lincoln County, and even more extreme were two small forest fires that broke out on the north coast – virtually unheard of at any time of the year along the beaches. The Oregon coast was experiencing as little as 25 percent humidity, like the Portland and Willamette Valley areas.
Within a week, however, temperatures plummeted, and by February 1 there were ice warnings for the Oregon coast and other parts of the inland state. A week later, more ice storms hit, and by February 8 another round shut down a few events on the coast and made travel through the coast range or even the daily commute slick and scary.
By February 15, as Oregon was finally thawing out, high wind warnings were issued for the Oregon coast, even affecting Portland at times. Another high wind event hit a few days before Newport's Seafood and Wine Festival, knocking down the tents that housed the big happening.
Southwest Washington meteorologist Steve Pierce said there were records broken.
“The winter of 2013/14 will go down in the record books after three unprecedented February snow and ice storms in just five days blanketed the region,” Pierce said.
Portland International Airport had received more than 7 inches of snowfall for the month of February, which Pierce said was the largest February amount in 25 years.
High temps for some days were at record lows in the Portland area, clocking in at a mere 23 degrees.
“Last fall we mentioned that 'anything goes' in a La Nada winter, where neither El Nino or La Nina are present,” Pierce said. “We also expected, 'large swings in month-to-month and even week-to-week weather.' Once again, mother nature has not disappointed this winter. “
So how did all this happen?
Meteorologists at the Portland office of the National Weather Service (NWS) say they're not even sure why that dry spell occurred in the first place. Almost as much a mystery is why the abrupt change to high winds along with ice and snow., although those weather patterns make more sense when the region is in this kind of a weather pattern of neither La Nina or El Nino.
NWS meteorologist Paul Tollison said weather experts don't understand much about January. He said the dry spell had very little to do with what he called a “neutral year.”
“Those kinds of conditions and abrupt changes aren't fully explained by that,” Tollison said. “We just don't have a larger picture of why things switched over so quickly. I imagine there will be a lot of research on that. Somewhere down the road, maybe in the next couple years, we'll have some explanation.”
Tollison said the storms of various kinds are a little more typical of a neutral year such as this one.
“We typically have more of this dry weather during not a weak, but a medium or stronger El Nino year,” Tollison said.
He's definitely surprised by the dry stretch.
“In the 24 years I've been here I've never seen anything like it,” he said.
The ice storms made more sense. Pierce said these came from the Arctic up north and Pacific moisture from the west, then they came together directly over Oregon and dumped quite a bit of snow.
“This continues the pattern of significant winter snowstorms every five or so years in Portland,” Pierce said. “The winters of 1998/99, 2003/04, 2008/09 and 2013/14 all saw significant arctic outbreaks and/or snow at low elevations. This winter did not disappoint.”
Pierce said the cold air came in from Canada and was followed by several Pacific storms sliding on top of those layers.
“Cold air is heavy, dense and extremely hard to displace as long as the center of these storms continued to stay south of Portland, as they did,” Pierce said. “This allowed cold easterly low level winds to blow from the east transporting additional cold and dry air into NW Oregon and SW Washington.”
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