Winter storms slam East Portland

Read our follow-up interview with the one outer East Portland weather forecaster who accurately predicted the recent snow and ice …

After the winter’s fourth snowstorm has ended, demolition continues at the New Copper Penny block — being developed as “Oliver Station”, in the Lents Town Center.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

While outer East Portland residents didn’t experience a “white Christmas”, ice and snowstorms swept through the area both before and after Christmas, starting in early December.

On December 8 came snow, followed by sleet and freezing rain – a relatively small, short-term event. Then, the city was paralyzed by a larger snow and ice storm on December 14.

Kids have fun sliding down this hill, and trying to ride out the “jump” at the bottom, at Prescott Elementary School in Parkrose. Annette Stanhope photo

After the Holidays there was a bit of snow and sleet on January 7. But, a once-in-a-decade blizzard on January 10 dumped 8 to 12 inches of snow in our area that stayed put for days due to cold temperatures. It is considered a major, almost-record-setting event.

To the delight of kids, and the distress of some parents, school was cancelled for days. Many shopkeepers in the area were closed, because streets were impassible to both their employees and shoppers. And, many officer workers telecommuted.

A day after the major snowstorm, traffic resumes – slowly – along SE Foster Road.

Many readers of East Portland News who read our article about the first two winter storms [CLICK HERE to open it], and also opened the link to our story a few weeks ago about the American Meteorological Society “Winter Weather Forecast”, may not have been surprised by this strong blast of winter weather.

At that meeting, held in late October, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Hydrologist and Meteorologist – and also professor of Earth Sciences at Portland Community College Southeast Campus – Kyle Dittmer stunned the audience in the OMSI auditorium with his prediction of four snow events.

Meteorologist and Weather Professor Kyle Dittmer follows up on his winter weather forecasts.

In a follow-up interview with East Portland News, Dittmer recalled, “When I predicted four snow events, two minor and two major, I could hear people gasping when I announced it, all way the up to the podium!”

Earlier in his career, Dittmer said he’d worked for the National Weather Service before moving on to his current position. “I’ve been here forecasting weather for the last 20 years, but in the last few years, I feel the weather has gotten better. My models use data from here in the Pacific Northwest, instead of using a portion of the national weather model.”

Part of his forecasting takes into account the “El Niño–Southern Oscillation” (ENSO) which is what he describes as an irregularly periodical variation in winds and sea surface temperatures over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean.

“I sometimes call the ENSO ‘the heartbeat southern Pacific’; and, there’s a direct correlation between its activity and the Columbia Basin water supply,” Dittmer explained.

In the Russell neighborhood, streets remain covered in deep snow after the fourth big snow storm. Ron Glanville photo

He goes on to develop a mathematical relationship to calculate the overall water, and over two decades has developed a “sliding snow event” scale ranging from 1 to 6, for each winter season. “If we are on the really strong side, it could be “6”; but this time I went with four snow events based on my calculations.

“I’ve waited for 20 years to feel this good about a forecast!” Dittmer chuckled. “It comes from choosing the ‘more correct’ years to use in the analysis. So, It’s not magic, it is experience.

“At the AMS meeting I downplayed that we’d get a big whopper of a storm in January so as to not incite unnecessary fear,” Dittmer said, “but we were long overdue for a big storm like this, which typically comes at the end of January.”

Riding ATVs, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct officers identify abandoned cars along I-205. Portland Police photo

Just before the major storm, the official NOAA forecasters underestimated the amount of precipitation heading into Portland where it met cold air pushed downward by the jet stream.

“Some of the moisture in what is called the Pineapple Express, an ‘atmospheric river’, peeled off and headed up north,” Dittmer clarified. “In terms of moisture coming up, we got a ‘fire hose’ instead of a ‘squirt’ – and that, when meeting the cold air, caused the large snowfall.”

As the major snowstorm begins, the streets of Montavilla are dusted with snow.

The winter season isn’t over yet, Dittmer pointed out. “We’re still in an active seasons that doesn’t end until Valentines Day and we could see another minor snow or ice event.”

According to his analysis, January will average near normal precipitation, about 102% of normal; February will average out to be about 98% of normal precipitation; and, in March Dittmer expects above normal precipitation, as much as 117% of normal.

It looks as if we might be in for more winter storms in the future, including another snow event this year.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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