Well, that was a surprise.
As National Weather Service officials in Portland wrote early Monday on Twitter: “In 82 years of record keeping, #PDX had never recorded more than a trace of snow in April. That ended today. Looking out the window, it appears there will be more than 0.1 inch when all is said and done.”
And then some. By late morning some areas had 3 to 6 inches of big, flat, wet snow, making springtime Clark County look like a scenic winter landscape. We are somewhat familiar with a white Christmas in these parts, but a white April is new to us.
As of Sunday evening, meteorologists had predicted a “light dusting” of snow for Monday morning. “A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect from 3 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday,” The Columbian reported Sunday on Columbian.com. “Lower elevations could get a dusting of snow — enough to make roads slick — while higher elevations such as Prune Hill or the Hockinson Heights could get up to 2 inches in spots.”
By sunrise, streets at all elevations were covered, creating some minor havoc on the roads. Above-freezing temperatures prevented excessive ice on the streets, but there was plenty of slush that needed to be navigated.
Meanwhile, downed trees contributed to power outages, with 14,000 homes in Clark County being without electricity at 8 a.m. And schedules for public transit and airlines also required some adjustments.
In other words, it was a typical snowstorm in many ways. But the unseasonable aspect of the weather event is reflected in one simple fact: Students and teachers were planning to return from spring break on Monday. Instead, schools throughout the county closed for the day after initially announcing two-hour delays.
We’re guessing that there never has been a post-spring break snow day in this area. We’re also guessing that plenty of parents had work schedules unexpectedly altered when children were gifted with a day of sledding and snowmen rather than textbooks and school assignments.
Believe it or not, the mid-April snow is related to climate change.
As the federal Environmental Protection Agency writes: “Warmer temperatures cause more water to evaporate from the land and oceans, which leads to more precipitation, larger storms, and more variation in precipitation in some areas. … Changes in the amount and timing of snowfall could affect the spawning of fish in the spring and the amount of water available for people to use in the spring and summer. Changes in snowfall could also affect winter recreation activities, like skiing, and the communities that rely on these activities.”
Monday’s snow might not qualify as an extreme weather event for Clark County, but it does represent how our climate is changing and how we must prepare for that change. For example, many plants that have sprouted for expected spring weather might be ill-equipped to handle sudden cold and snow. For another example, animals that have emerged from a winter of hibernation likely were surprised by Monday’s storm.
Over time, climate change is expected to alter the region’s flora and fauna. A new climate will result in a changing habitat that is welcoming to certain plants and creatures more than others.
None of that will be the result of a single mid-April snowstorm. For now, we can simply appreciate the beauty of a snow-white landscape. But we would be remiss to ignore the warning that accompanies it.