Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Winter arrives—5 months late

Storm drops heavy snow across Idaho’s mountains

Express Staff Writer

Fresh snow blankets the mountains north of Ketchum on Tuesday. Photo by Willy Cook

Idahoans wouldn't have known it was nearly June by looking out the window over the weekend.

Across much of the state, a strong Pacific storm that arrived early Saturday morning brought sudden snowstorms at the mid to upper elevations and heavy, record-setting rainfall in some valleys. The storm marked the continuation of a series of wet weather systems that have cooled Idaho since late March.

In the Wood River Valley and surrounding areas of south-central Idaho, the weekend storm brought snow squalls that left many upper-elevation roadways white with snow. The erratic weather—which residents of the northern Rocky Mountains often equate with spring—saw moments of sustained snowfall, and moments of sun just minutes later.

So far this month, precipitation totals have been a bit above average.

Current rainfall totals for May for the Wood River Valley were not available from the weather service. However, according to the National Weather Service office in Pocatello, Stanley has registered 1.06 inches of rain since the month began. Normal for this time in May is 0.92 inches.

To the south, Twin Falls has received 1.18 inches of rain so far this month, compared with normal rainfall of 1.06 inches.

According to National Weather Service forecaster Dan Valle, Challis received some of the highest snowfall totals in south-central Idaho on Saturday. The rural town in Custer County saw 6 inches of snow fall on Saturday evening alone.

"That's pretty unusual for this late in the spring," Valle said.

Valle said the storm hit the Oregon coast before heading east into southern Idaho. The system settled over the region for an extended period of time on Saturday, which contributed to the high precipitation total. The storm, which also spread north into Montana, should lessen the immediate concerns over the coming wildfire season and lackluster waterflows in the state's rivers.

And more should be on the way later today.

"We're going to have another storm system Wednesday afternoon (that will) linger through the weekend," Valle said.

Among the hardest hit areas by the Saturday storm was the Boise area.

According to Bill Wojcik, a weather forecaster for the National Weather Service office in Boise, readings at the Boise Airport indicated 1.41 inches of rain fell over the 24-hour period Saturday—"a pretty amazing amount of precipitation."

The previous record for rainfall on May 22 in Boise was in 1965. On that day, just 0.57 inches of rain fell.

Wojcik said Saturday's rainfall totals in Boise are the 13th highest ever recorded for any day of the year.

The storm also meant heavy snowfall in the mountains north of Boise. At a remote weather site near the Bogus Basin Ski Area, an estimated 15 inches of new snow was measured on Saturday. The result of the snowfall could be seen in a stark white line cutting across the open, grassy hillsides in the Boise Foothills.

The scene was more reminiscent of a mid-winter day in Boise.

Temperatures also set records in Boise on Saturday, with the high only reaching 46 degrees. The previous record was 52 degrees in 1998.

Looking more longterm, the weather service is calling for close-to-normal temperatures and precipitation for the region into June.

Jason Kauffman:

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