Wimpy winter marches on in Flathead

January 15, 2019

The weather station at Glacier Park International Airport shows a measly 1 inch of snow on the ground. Grass is still exposed on most lawns around Kalispell and not once has the thermometer dipped below 0 this winter.

Call it June-uary in Northwest Montana.

Since Oct. 1, only 15 inches of snow has fallen in Kalispell. Total snowfall at this point in the winter is typically closer to 34 inches, according to statistics from the National Weather Service in Missoula.

In fact, the most significant snowstorm to hit Kalispell this winter dropped all of 2.5 inches way back on Nov. 9. The biggest snowfall in December accounted for a whopping 2.2 inches - hardy enough to fire up the trusty snowblower.

Locations in the North Valley areas have seen a bit more snow, but not by much. About 5 inches is on the ground around Whitefish.

Temperatures have been well above normal, too.

The average temperature in Kalispell so far this January has been 35, about 5 degrees above the normal average of 29.5.

So what’s the deal with this wimpy weather?

“We’ve been in this blocking pattern,” explained Alex Lukinbeal, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula.

Lukinbeal said a strong high pressure system has been dominating the Northern Rockies all winter, splitting the jet stream to the north and south of the region.

“Instead of getting active winter weather with storms marching in from the west, this ridge is deflecting precipitation,” he said.

It’s a fairly typical scenario for an El Nino climate pattern, he added.

AccuWeather defines El Nino as a routine climate pattern that occurs when sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean rise to above-normal levels for an extended period of time. This influences weather across the globe, and typically means dry and warm winters in the Pacific Northwest.

The opposite is La Nina, which was in place last winter. For comparison, Kalispell had tallied 48 inches of snow by this time last January.

This winter’s dry weather is evident in the higher elevations, as well.

The snowpack in the Flathead Basin on Monday was 83 percent of average. In the Kootenai it was 88 percent of average, and the Lower Clark Fork was 84 percent of average.

Lukinbeal says a shift in the weather is possible later this week, with the potential for storms coming in from the west. A couple of inches of snow could fall Thursday into Friday.

“Hopefully we get back into a snowier pattern,” he said.

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