Humbug weather

The promise of snow delivered over the weekend for just about everyone in the Willamette Valley except Sweet Home.

High winds gusting up to 24 mph, according to the Weather Channel, were all Sweet Home had for weather Sunday night and Monday morning. In the late evening, from about 9 or 10 p.m. through midnight, tiny ice crystals could be seen swirling around up and down in lighted areas; but not a real snowflake was to be found.

Snow ringed the hills around much of Sweet Home, but the west end of Marks Ridge was mostly bare of the white stuff. Light amounts of snow could be seen on the top of Marks Ridge Monday afternoon, gradually thickening to the east.

“I’m really shocked,” said Charles Dalton, a meteorologist intern with the National Weather Service in Portland. “I can’t believe you don’t have anything.”

Theoretically, Sweet Home should have had the snow that fell everywhere else, but the ground was dry.

The weather system that brought the snow to the Willamette Valley was more than wide enough to include Sweet Home.

“Here’s essentially what happened,” Dalton said. “You have a low pressure system off the coast, rotating counter-clockwise.”

The east side of the system rotated moist air to the north over the Willamette Valley while dry arctic air poured south over the Cascades and through the Columbia Gorge, he said. The two systems met and created a band of snow-making weather starting in Beaverton and Portland’s west hills, gradually moving southward Sunday as far as Eugene, which had 4 inches of snow.

The moisture was in place as predicted, but the snow arrived later than predicted, Dalton said, because the cold air didn’t move from the north as quickly as anticipated.

“Why it didn’t give you any snow is beyond me,” Dalton said. The boundary between the systems was wide enough to include Sweet Home.

The boundary might have just missed Sweet Home to the west, Dalton said, or Sweet Home had enough cold, dry air above the city that snow fell but evaporated before reaching the earth’s surface. The phenomenon is related to the reason snow can fall when surface temperatures are in the mid- to high 30s, cooling the surface temperature.

Sweet Home will have another bite at the apple as another system moves in around Wednesday.

The gist of it is that there is still enough cold air in place with moisture moving in to create freezing rain initially in the south part of the valley, Dalton said. That will quickly turn to snow.

The depth of the snow is difficult to predict, he said, but his office is anticipating 2 to 6 inches in most areas.

That will be followed by more sunny weather with cold, dry arctic air spilling into the valley, and temperatures should return to where they were Monday.

The forecast for the weekend was up in the air at press time, with two possible scenarios anticipated.

One model predicts freezing rain warming up and turning to rain on Saturday and then transitioning to snow by Sunday, Dalton said. The second model indicates a sunny Saturday with snow on Sunday.

Either way, there’s another round of inclement weather late in the weekend, he said, and then more of the dry, cold arctic weather early next week, with a similar pattern and another system moving in by the middle of next week.

The strong winds on Sunday night ruined the Christmas living Nativity display at Harvest Christian Center Sunday night. On Monday morning church members were picking up the pieces of the Nativity, which they had planned to display this weekend, said Mike Brozek. Brozek said the backgrounds for the display had been set up Saturday, Dec. 13.

“Our pastor called and said the scene was completely demolished,” he said. “It’s a shame. At least the cross is still standing.”

Sweet Home High School received somewhere between 50 and 60 calls about whether school was open Monday morning. One caller said that all Linn County schools were reportedly closed.

As it turned out, Sweet Home schools were open.

“All the kids were crushed,” Principal Pat Stineff said, chuckling. “That’s how they feel €“ cheated.”

They’re not really feeling that horribly, “but they haven’t given up hope for a reprieve from school,” she said.

One teacher did not show up Monday, based on information that all schools in the county were closed, Stineff said. Some teachers, many who live out of town, had a hard time getting to school because it did snow everywhere else.

The school is planning on being open all week, weather-permitting, Stineff said.

If school is canceled for weather, Athletic Director Dave Goetz said, then for safety reasons, all practices and competitions will be canceled as well.

Local police are ready to go in case weather actually breaks out in Sweet Home.

“We’re always ready this time of year for whatever weather might be thrown at us,” Chief Bob Burford said. “The patrol cars are equipped with chains, and the department has two four-wheel drives available for getting up the hill, into Strawberry Heights, for example.”