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What To Expect 

Don't bother trying to predict the winter ahead

click to enlarge KRISTIN WHITAKER
  • Kristin Whitaker

Ski enthusiasts, head to the hills. Just embrace the winter ahead; don't bother trying to predict it.

"To tell you the truth, there's really not a lot to go on this year," says John Livingston, a meteorologist with Spokane's National Weather Service office, which tracks weather patterns in the region at Spokane International Airport and other measuring points.

That's because Livingston and his peers look to the "tropical Pacific" — the ocean along the equator from South America to Indonesia — for signs of unusually warm, cold or wet winters here in the Inland Northwest. Cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures, la niña, can warn of unusually cold temperatures ahead; warm temperatures, el niño, can mean a warm winter is coming. And this year, things look, well, unremarkable.

"If you want to condense it down into just a couple words," Livingston says, "It'll be a normal winter."

A normal winter in the region means about 17 inches of precipitation measured in liquid form, according to the National Weather Service. (Some areas in North Idaho can see as much as 60 inches of liquid a year, Livingston says.) Those 17 inches translate to snowfall between 45 and 50 inches, though the area's mountain resorts, of course, see much more. Mount Spokane reports average annual snowfall of 300 inches, and Lookout Pass can see up to 400 inches.

But even "normal winters" in the area can be unpredictable. Back in the winter bridging 1996 and '97, the Pacific winds signaled a neutral winter ahead. Then the area got "clobbered," Livingston says. A massive ice storm hit, December's rain and snowfall broke records and the spring brought river flooding and even tornadoes. So maybe it is worth holding out for some excitement.

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