Forecasters: Prepare for snow. Probably.

Oregon

ENSO Neutral weather pattern complicates predictions at annual winter weather forecast conference

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Portland area residents should prepare emergency supply kits to help survive up to seven snow storms and a possible wind storm this winter.

Or maybe not.

Those were the mixed messages presented at the 27th Annual Winter Weather Forecast Conference sponsored by the Oregon Chapter of the American Meteorological Society at OMSI on Saturday, Oct. 26. It featured forecasts by three local forecasters who only agreed on one thing — this winter’s weather is hard to predict.

The reason is because the region is now in the grip of an ENSO Neutral weather pattern, which is short for El Nino Southern Oscillation. El Nino winters are typically warmer and drier than average. La Nina winters are colder and wetter. But ENSO Neutral winters vary greatly, meaning they can be much warmer and drier or much colder and wetter than average, making forecasting difficult.

“That makes it extremely hard to predict anything,” said KOIN 6 News meteorologist Kelley Bayern. “Anything can happen.”

Nevertheless, Bayern and the other two forecasters stuck their necks out. All three predicted the Portland area will experience more snow storms than average, with Bayern also predicting a major wind storm.

“Wind storms are more common in neutral years, and we’re overdue for something big, but not as big as the Columbus Day Storm,” said Bayern, referring to the 100-year windstorm that struck the Pacific Northwest on Oct. 12, 1962, causing $230 million in damages. She also predicted nine inches of snow will fall on the valley floor this winter, compared to the 20-year average of 6.4 inches.

Kyle Dittmer, a meteorologist and hydrologist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, predicted seven snow storms.

“There will be two moderate events with three inches or more, which will shut Portland down, and two minor events with one inch or less, which will also shut Portland down,” said Dittmer, joking about the well-known inability of Portlanders to drive in any amount of snow.

Tyree Wilde, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, was the most cautious. He did not predict a specific number of storms or inches of snowfall, but noted that 60% of the snowiest winters on record happened in ENSO Neutral years.

The event included a review of last winter’s weather by Mark Nelsen, a meteorologist with KPTV 12 and KPDX 13. He said last winter was relatively mild, with the first serious snow not falling on the valley floor until February.

Also speaking was Dr. Clifford Mass, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, who taught both Bayern and Nelsen. He presented the results of research into the so-called “Blob” of warm water that has been appearing in recent summers in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, saying it is likely caused by high pressure over the area and has been increasing minimum average temperatures along the western parts of Washington, Oregon and California.

Mass also presented preliminary results of ongoing research funded by Apple on whether climate change is contributing to wildfires in Washington and Oregon. He said the results to date are mixed. Warmer weather is making the forests drier but also reducing the easterly winds that have historically helped fuel the most serious fires.

During a question-and-answer session at the end, Nelsen and Mass both worried that social media is public anxiety about upcoming weather events. They said responsible forecasts are exaggerated or repeated even after they have been changed.

“We have a lot of responsibility when we put a forecast out there. There’s huge message confusion caused by social media,” Mass said.

Oregon is the largest and most active chapter of the American Meteorological Society in the country. It was founded in 1947 and has approximately 180 members. Although its goal is to advance the science of meteorology, anyone with an interest in weather can join. You can learn more at www.ametsoc.org/chapters/oregon.  

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

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