She’s Back: La Niña Arrives for Winter

Climate pattern likely signals average temperatures and above average snowfall for the Flathead Valley

By Molly Priddy
Residents remove snow along Fifth Avenue East in Kalispell. Beacon File Photo

In October, it looked like the predicted La Niña climate phenomenon was going to be a no-show this year, with advisories canceled and predictions of neutral climate conditions for the chilly season.

But on Nov. 10, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made the announcement: She’s back.

“As of the 10th of November, our climate prediction center issued a La Niña advisory,” National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Zumpfe said.

La Niña is the colder sister climate phenomenon to the warmer El Niño. During a La Niña year, the ocean surface cools, and sea surface temperatures fall below average in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Normal easterly winds along the equator become stronger than usual.

NOAA reports that this La Niña will follow on the heels of one of the strongest El Niños on record, which ended in June. The last La Niña pattern hit the U.S. in 2011-2012.

The climate pattern is predicted to be weak, but could still have an effect in Northwest Montana. Zumpfe said La Niña means colder, wetter conditions for the Pacific Northwest, which likely means average winter temperatures for the Flathead mixed with extra precipitation.

“It basically means a normal winter for us,” Zumpfe said. “But when you look at the precipitation, it is a little bit above normal.”

Last winter’s snow levels were below normal at 41.4 inches total in Kalispell. The normal amount, according to NWS, is 55.8 inches.

Zumpfe said Montana is still transitioning out of the weather pattern that brought some areas of the Flathead the wettest October on record. November’s temperatures have been 6.7 degrees above normal, which Zumpfe said is “pretty big.”

“There was only one day, the 17th of November, where Kalispell was one degree below normal. Otherwise every day was above normal,” Zumpfe said.

Kalispell hit a record high temperature of 61 degrees on Nov. 11, breaking the previous record of 59 degrees set in November 1989.

Mixed conditions seem probable for a little longer in November, he said, but there may be some changes headed this way after the Thanksgiving weekend.

“We might be turning the corner a bit towards more wintery conditions,” Zumpfe said.

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