Heavy Rain, Fierce Winds Heading for the Northwest

By Michael Doll, Meteorologist
January 11, 2014; 4:28 AM ET
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Waves of rain and snow impacted the Northwest through the second half of this week, but the worst is still on the way. A powerful system promises to add fierce winds to the mix on Saturday, but it will largely avoid California and Nevada.

Winds on the ridge tops of the Cascades, Bitterroots and northern Rockies will easily blow in excess of 80 mph with gusts over 100 mph.

These winds will be funneled through some of the passes and will create hazardous driving conditions, especially those oriented west to east or southwest to northeast.

The powerful winds will rush down the lee of the Cascades and Rockies and create frequent wind gusts between 70 and 80 mph.

According to Senior Meteorologist Bob Smerbeck, "Chinook winds can locally gust in excess of 100 mph in northern Montana, specifically along U.S. Highway 2 just east of Glacier National Park."

The howling winds will impact drivers on Interstates 15, 90, 84 and 25. High-profile vehicles, such as RVs and tractor trailers, will be especially vulnerable to powerful crosswinds on north to south roads.

"The winds can also cause property damage, down trees and cause power outages," Smerbeck added.

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Rain will be heavy at times across western Washington and Oregon. The greatest amount of rain will be found in the Foothills of the Cascades and along the coast, where rainfall amounts through Sunday can exceed 4 inches.

There is a risk of localized flooding in some low-lying and poor drainage areas.

Folks in Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore., can get downpours at times on Saturday along with wind gusts 40-50 mph.

Snow levels will fall through the weekend and will get down to pass level in the Cascades with snowfall amounts of 1-2 feet expected. Snowfall of 6-12 inches is likely across the northern Rockies.

The heavy snow and high winds will combine to create blizzard conditions which can make travel extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Strong winds will spread into the northern Plains later on Saturday and into Sunday, with gusts topping 50 mph.

Drought Worsens in California

Unfortunately for drought-stricken California, this storm will pass to the north and fail to give the state some much-needed rainfall.

Additional storms over the next couple of weeks will pass by mainly north of California as well.

According to Western Weather Expert Ken Clark, "It may be totally dry from just south of the Bay Area and south of Sacramento, Calif., to the Mexico border with only a small amount of rain forecast farther north in California on Saturday."

In addition to a lack of rain at low elevations, there has been and will continue to be a lack of snow over the Sierra Nevada.

"The existing snowpack is shockingly low, and there is very little water in the snow," Clark stated.

This drought monitor map is a product of the National Drought Mitigation Center is shows conditions as of Dec. 31, 2013. Red areas indicate areas of extreme drought. Dark red areas indicate areas of exceptional drought.

In most areas, the amount of snow on the ground is only about 20 percent of normal. In the north, it is only 10 percent of normal for the season which ends on April 1. Of this amount only between 1.0 and 2.6 inches of water is held within the snow cover.

"Unless there is a big turnaround later in the season, California has the potential for major water shortage problems this summer and possible severe impact on the economy," Clark said.

Clark was not expecting any drastic changes in the dry weather pattern for the state through most of the winter.

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