Last weekend’s storm made a small indent to this Crystal Crag cabin at Lake Mary. (Photo: Lunch)
The wild weather that caused area residents to batten down the hatches last weekend roared into the Eastern Sierra with the ferocity of a freight train. Driving rain and howling winds blasted the region and by Monday morning, trees had been downed, lawn furniture strewn here and there, street signs snapped in two and even an outdoor heater toppled.
If seemed like a typhoon and, well, according to local weather expert Howard Sheckter, that’s probably because the storm we just experienced has its roots in the same tropical system that spawned Typhoon Megi in the Pacific Ocean.
Sheckter said the storm was related to a tropical event in the Indian Ocean that moved into Pacific. “It ended up spinning up and drove it into the Pacific Northwest,” Sheckter said, which he added is a fairly common occurrence for October. With Mammoth on the lower part of the strong, diving jet, which in the upper atmosphere had winds in the 180 mph range, all that tropical moisture was dragged underneath the jet and ended up sprinkled liberally across the Eastern Sierra.
Sheckter forecasted 2-4 inches, and including moisture recorded on Saturday, part of the early arrival of the storm, at his measuring station near the Village at Mammoth, as of Monday morning he measured 2.65 inches of rain, 2.11 on Sunday alone. That figure accounts for more than half the 4.07 inches measured since Oct. 1.
Wind warnings called for 50-60 mile per hour gusts at resort levels, and 100-120 miles per hour over the ridges and crests. Sheckter clocked winds gusting to between 50 and 60 mph at his monitoring station on Sunday.
Sheckter said the wacky weather is due in large part to what he called a strong La Niña year. La Niña, essentially characterized by the opposite effects of El Niño, generally causes above-average precipitation across the Northern Midwest, the Northern Rockies, Northern California, and in the Pacific Northwest’s southern and eastern regions. Meanwhile there is typically below average precipitation in the southwestern and southeastern states.
“The Western Pacific is warmer than normal, and typhoons persist longer into the season,” he explained. “When they come out of the Pacific, because they form north of the equator, it’s important to pay attention to how they phase with the Westerlies.
Destructive ‘phasing’ brought strong rain and wind across Southern California, which is unusual given this type of pattern. You usually expect a drier than normal bias in a La Niña year, since Southern California in El Niño years has a wetter bias,” he said.
Sheckter said he’s not seeing any blocking downstream to the east, which would cause ridging and force storms to the north of us. “We’ll continue to see this kind of patterning until that changes,” Sheckter observed. “We should have a mean ridge over us and we don’t, and that’s leaving the door wide open to storm after storm.”
On the downside, he doesn’t like seeing warm water pools form so far out in the Pacific. He’d rather see them closer to Hawaii.
But really, aren’t we all more interested in the snow forecast for this season?
Sheckter was unwilling to go out on a limb (wise considering how many limbs blew down this past weekend).
“We have some things working for us and against us this snow year. Working for us: no blocking downstream, and no Hudson Bay low with a negative oscillation. We don’t have that setup in the La Niña so far,” he pointed out.
“Working against us is that warm water pool … big long-wave highs tend to setup around those pools, and that sets up ridging over the far western U.S., which would force a lot of precipitation to the north.”
If the Hudson Bay low remains weak into the latter part of November, Sheckter said that would be helpful, but he won’t know how that turns out for at least a couple of weeks. Will we have to endure another blast of wild weather? That, he thinks, will depend a lot on the typhoon situation. Another typhoon could mean more storminess, though Sheckter said that’s something of a mixed blessing. “I’m watching the ‘mojo’ out in the ocean. I like to see the air over the Pacific moving like that … it helps in terms of keeping the Hudson Bay low from setting up. The downside is that we might have to bear up with some more heavy weather for the near future.”
Shovelry isn’t dead …
In terms of how things look for winter in the long run, AccuWeather.com Chief Long-Range Meteorologist Joe Bastardi recently predicted that the worst of winter’s cold and snow would be from the Pacific Northwest into the northern Plains and western Great Lakes. Cities such as Portland and Seattle, which escaped with a very nice winter last year, should be colder and snowier this year. Fargo and Minneapolis to Green Bay will also receive above-normal winter snowfall.
Other cities predicted to receive above-normal winter snowfall include Fargo, Green Bay, Chicago, Omaha, Minneapolis, Detroit and Cleveland.
Bastardi predicts severe cold will hit Alaska and western and central Canada.
“The Canadian winter will be as harsh as last year’s was gentle,” Bastardi said.
The Farmer’s Almanac seems to generally agree with him, According to the 2010 Farmers’ Almanac, temperatures will average below normal for about three-quarters of the nation. Numbingly cold temperatures are predicted to predominate from roughly east of the Continental Divide to west of the Appalachians. The coldest temperatures will be over the northern Great Lakes and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But acting almost like the bread of a sandwich, to this swath of unseasonable cold will be two regions with temperatures that will average closer to normal—the East and West coasts.
Near-normal amounts of precipitation are expected across the eastern third of the country, as well as over the Pacific Northwest and Northern Plains, while drier-than-normal conditions are forecast to occur over the Southwest and the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes … that, sorry to say, includes the Eastern Sierra. Only the Central and Southern Plains are expected to receive above-average amounts of precipitation.
Fear not, however … according to the Almanac, just because three-quarters of the country is predicted to see near- or below-average precipitation this winter, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any winter storms! On the contrary, significant snowfalls are forecast for parts of every zone.
This weekend’s forecast calls for a colder, deeper system coming in. Sheckter said the system that just came through might slow down and spin up over the Midwest and provide blocking. “Northern California should get a good shot of moisture, then Southern regions should get theirs. Central California may get some precipitation, but that’s only if the system doesn’t get cut off,” Sheckter advised, which at press time was a possibility.
On a positive note, however, October marked Sheckter’s 30th anniversary forecasting weather for the media and the public. Last weekend, one could say he was given quite an anniversary present!