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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 22 - 28, 2003


Who stole the snow?

Above normal temperatures dominate Idaho

"We’ve certainly had great comments about the skiing and how warm it’s been on top of the mountain," Sibbach said. "The sunny days bring people out."

JACK SIBBACH, Sun Valley Co. spokesman

Express Staff Writer

Down coats are collecting dust this winter throughout Central Idaho as temperatures continue to hover above long-established norms.

"Overall, it seems like everybody’s had a warmer winter, and that includes us," said Sawtooth Avalanche Center Snow Ranger David Gordon, who predicts avalanche danger using a myriad of indicators, including temperature.

In an attempt to turn around the abnormally high temperatures so far this winter, Paul Kenny’s Ski & Sports owner Brian Webber shaves the pate of shop manager Scooter Carling to appease the snow gods Tuesday in Warm Springs. Among their other invocations for the day were "Better skiing through baldness," "Ski Baldy…bald," and "Shave it, it will snow." Express photo by Willy Cook

For a period from November through this week, temperatures recorded at the U.S. Forest Service’s Ketchum Ranger Station were 8 percent higher than normal. So far, January is 16 percent warmer than normal, with 17 of 20 days recording temperatures above the freezing mark, 32 F. January’s average high temperature for a 30-year period, beginning in 1973, is 31.

This year’s average low temperatures are higher than the 30-year average, too.

For the period from November through this week, the average low was 15, compared with the 30-year average low of 8.

"It’s good news for our customers, who are using less electricity to heat their homes," said Idaho Power spokeswoman Lynette Berriochoa.

Berriochoa said the deviations from normal are even greater in Boise, where December was 22 percent warmer than normal, and January, so far, is 23 percent warmer than normal.

Despite the warm temperatures, the Wood River Valley continues to be one of the only drainage basins in the entire Northwest at or near 100 percent of its average snowpack. Because most of Idaho has garnered considerably lower than normal winter precipitation, Berriochoa said the utility is concerned about its ability to produce hydroelectric power this summer.

"It may be challenging for us as a mainly hydro power utility, because we’re not seeing the precipitation that we need," she said.

With near-normal snow cover and warmer-than-average temperatures, skiing has been phenomenal, Sun Valley Co. spokesman Jack Sibbach pointed out.

"We’ve certainly had great comments about the skiing and how warm it’s been on top of the mountain," Sibbach said. "The sunny days bring people out."

Sibbach said the beautiful weather over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend helped spur excellent skier days. On Saturday and Sunday, 10,001 skiers and snowboarders schussed down Bald and Dollar mountains. Last winter, the same two days drew 1,954 fewer riders and skiers.

National Weather Service Forecaster Mike Huston, based in Pocatello, said this winter’s warm temperatures are typical of an El Niño weather pattern, which usually produces warmer and drier weather across the Northwest.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, El Niño has reached its "mature state" and will linger through the end of the spring. The phenomenon occurs when sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean remain above average for more than several months. It usually triggers atmospheric and weather changes around the globe.

"Typically, El Niño impacts on the U.S. are strongest during the winter and early spring due to changes in the jet stream and the pattern of storm activity," said NOAA’s lead El Niño forecaster Vernon Kousky. He added that this El Niño will continue to be weaker than the strong 1997-1998 version.

Forecasters expect El Niño to continue to bring drier-than-average conditions around the Ohio Valley states and Northern Rockies, wetter-than-average conditions along much of the southern tier of the nation and, warmer-than-average temperatures across the northern tier states.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.