Weathermen ponder a wild La Niña winter

Meteoroligical Society tries to predict what's blowin' in the wind

The Oregon chapter of the American Meteorological Society gathered Saturday for its 18th annual 'What Will the Winter Be Like?' forecast meeting at Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, 1945 S.E. Water Ave.

'It's not a 'Star Trek' convention, we're not that nerdy,' jokes Bobby Corser, a radio station producer and outreach coordinator, president of the Oregon chapter. 'Forecasters will get technical, but the average person can understand what's going to happen.'

The proverbial question at the meeting, Corser adds: 'How much snow is going to fall in the city of Portland?'

Well, meteorologists say not necessarily very much this winter. But, given that it's a La Niña year, we could see an active winter - meaning a windstorm or two, rain and possibly some flooding and maybe a cold snap.

An El Niño year means a warmer central Pacific Ocean current and thus a temperate winter. A La Niña means a cooler Pacific current, and possibly an active winter.

'There have been years where there is no clear signal,' says Mark Nelsen, KPTV meteorologist. 'You see forecasts all over the place.

'Last year was a strong El Niño year. This year it's a strong La Niña year. It's such a clear signal. Last year, we had a good idea it'd be a pretty dead winter and, sure enough - no windstorms, flooding and no amounts of snow. This year La Niña's coming, and it's obvious it should be an active year.'

Meteorologists jokingly call other years 'La Nada'; then again it wasn't all about 'nothing' in the last 'La Nada,' in 2008-09. About 22 inches of snow fell in the Portland area.

In a La Niña year, about 4 to 5 inches of snow falls. 'The thing that sticks out about La Niña winters, we have more action,' adds Nelsen, saying that the 1995-96 windstorm and major flood was a great example. In the last La Niña year, 2007-08, no snow was recorded in the city. 'But the foothills got a ton,' Nelsen says. 'We didn't have a cold blast that winter, but we had a lot of cold storms.'

The unusual Portland spring and summer - record rain fall in June (4.27 inches), coldest summer in 17 years (65.3 degrees) - also serves as a forecast for an active winter. And, this year's weather comes off last year's very hot, record-breaking summer.

During Saturday's meeting, Nelsen will give the 2009-10 review talk, while Tyree Wilde (NOAA-National Weather Service), George Taylor (Applied Climate Services), Pete Parsons (Oregon Department of Forestry) and Kyle Dittmer (Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission) will talk about forecasts.

Corser says he has always been fascinated with weather. 'I spend one or two hours a day looking at forecasts,' he says. 'It's the one thing I tell people that everybody has in common, regardless of background. Weather affects everybody.'

Meteorologists Nelsen, Dave Salesky (KATU), Matt Zaffino (KGW) and Bruce Sussman (KOIN) will be followed closely as winter approaches.

'We all get along great, always have fun when together,' Nelsen says. 'But we're competitive when it comes to significant weather events …. who's going to get it right?'