What does winter have in store for Whatcom? With a strong El Niño, it’s anyone’s guess

A growing El Niño and a new long-range forecast are strong signs that Northwest Washington will see a warmer-than-normal winter with less rainfall than average.

A report issued last week from the Climate Prediction Center indicates a 71% chance of a strong El Niño, a seasonal phenomenon that steers heavy winter storms south of Washington state.

On Thursday, the center issued its forecast for December, January & February, calling for a 60-70% chance of above-normal temperatures and a 40-50% chance of below-normal rainfall.

“I think there’s a lot of evidence that we’ll have a warmer than normal winter,” state climatologist Nick Bond told The Bellingham Herald in an interview late last month.

That was even before the most recent reports that doubled down on what meteorologists were already thinking.

Still, a seasonal forecast doesn’t preclude extreme weather events such as lowland snow or flooding, National Weather Service meteorologist Harrison Rademacher told The Bellingham Herald.

“Obviously, weather patterns have their own systems within them. You can’t rule out anything so far in advance,” he said.

Western Washington just endured a rare three-year La Niña pattern, which normally means colder and wetter winters in Whatcom County.

In that period, Whatcom County saw three rounds of flooding on the Nooksack River, killing one person and causing more than $200 million in damages.

Mt. Baker Ski Area averaged 679 inches of snow over that period, an important statistic because spring snowmelt, along with winter rainfall in the lowlands, contributes to the amount of water available for agricultural and residential use.

In the El Niño years of 2014-2016, that average was 516 inches. In the El Niño years of 2005 and 2015, so little snow fell that its signature event, Legendary Banked Slalom, was canceled.

Because of the El Niño forecast, the U.S. Drought Monitor lists Whatcom County in a period of severe drought, and indicates that dry conditions will continue.