Pacific Ocean Says: “Buckle Up, Kitsap!”

PART II: Why Kitsap May See Colder Winters Ahead

…and Why Kitsap May Not.


This is a pretty typical forecast: it may be cold this winter, and it may not. Either way, I’m right! (And wrong!)

But seriously, there are some clues that hint at a very interesting fall and winter season around here. Personally, I’m not seeing an exlusively “cold” winter per se, but I believe there will be moments this winter that will impress even the biggest of weather enthusiasts.

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about the PDO, or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. “The Pacific Deca-whaaa??” It’s OK…I can’t even say it right. But the PDO plays a big part in our weather around here, especially in the wintertime. The definition of the PDO is, put in my own words, an El Nino-like pattern that changes in variability every 20-30 years in the North Pacific Ocean. Don’t confuse the word “El Nino-like” with “being exclusively like El Nino”. You know how we go from La Nina to El Nino and vice versa every few years? The PDO works like that. It goes through warm and cool phases, except it is centered in the North Pacific (see image at the top of this post) and affects us directly.

“So why should I care?” Well you should care! The bolded 4 words above tell you why. Now let me show you a graph from 1900-2007 that displays the PDO trends:


Look closely at the above graph. I know it’s a bit blurry, but you should be able to make out the general trend. Notice from about 1945 to 1979 or so the big jagged period of prologned blue blobs. That signifies a roughly 30 year period of a negative phase of the PDO. During that time, the Northwest experienced some of the harshest, snowiest and coldest winters on record. We can use 1950 and 1968 as examples.

Then from about 1980 to about 2004 we entered a strong positive phase of the PDO. This resulted in warmer winters, some of which were VERY warm. Take 1998 for example or 2002. While the rest of the country may have been cold during these years, we were “baking”.

Now here’s my point: look at roughly 2005-2008 on the graph. Notice something a little eerie? The 2008 PDO, which is when this graph cut off, was the lowest since about 1950, and current trends continue the negative, or -PDO, reading. Now, from the 1945-1979 period there were definite “warm” episodes mixed in between the cold phase, but these warm anaomlies were not severe or nearly strong enough to blast the -PDO out of the water (pun!)

This is why I feel the Pacific Northwest may be in for some pretty rough, cold and stormy winters ahead. Weather does indeed happen in cycles, and it appears it is restarting a cycle from 60 years ago. If that’s true, we could experience active winters until the 2030s. Right now this is pretty much speculation, but I’m just sayin’, as the good Eagle Scout I am: Be Prepared!

BUT, we must remember, this year is an El Nino year and while 2006 and 1968 were both FANTASTIC winters despite the El Nino, we are certainly due for a warmer than normal winter. We’ll shall see!

Any thoughts on this subject? I know for a fact there are several people out there that know more about the PDO than I do. So speak up! 🙂

Have a fantastic day,

Matthew Leach

Forecasting Kitsap

Questions? Comments? E-mail me at

32 thoughts on “Pacific Ocean Says: “Buckle Up, Kitsap!”

  1. Very ‘captivating’ headline!

    Thank you for the explanations. With climate more in people’s conversations since when small farmers got together, the more people are familiar with the basics, the wiser conclusions they will draw.

    Mathew, I think you are on the cutting edge of a new type of public weather reporting that shifts the reporting from soap opera to science, an opportune time. Scientific equipment has definitely improved over the wet finger in the air and a ruler for measuring the length or a horses coat. You are doing a fantastic job.

  2. You are right on with our records and memories. So it is the PDO. We came here in the late 70’s. We had a few years of 90+ inches of rain for those years. Snow, A good many folks out in the Crosby area had frozen water pipes and snow. 60 inches over the winter season. Our nephew from Florida spent a few months with us when his ship “Ranger” was here for repairs. His first experience in driving in snow. “It isn’t the driving that is tricky, It is the stopping!, he quiped. He also was momentarily disoriented one morning when he stepped out of his detached apartment and could not see his car, A bright red Mercury sports car. But there was a large igloo in its place and everything was white. 15-18″ snowfall in one night. Last winter ’08-09, we had 60 inches. Between the snows & melts, we never had less than 13 ” on the ground. ’07 we had 16 inches of snow on the ground when we got 12 inches of rain on top. We kept pretty quiet about losing part of our road after we heard how hard other places where hurt, Chehalis, etc. We always keep plenty of food and water for man & animal for winter snow periods.

  3. Tom: Thanks! That’s a very high compliment. I’m glad you are having a positive experience with my blog! 🙂 And I agree with you: weather is more than 7 day forecasts. There’s a lot of scientific and technical aspects to the study!

    Donna: Wow, that’s interesting and very detailed! Thanks for sharing! I wish I was around to experience what your nephew experienced! We probably came pretty close to it back in December 😉 Thanks for your input, Donna. I always appreciate it.

  4. I hear so many people say it doesn’t snow in the Western Washington lowlands. If I talk to them longer I find out they moved here within the last 20 yrs. Last winter was a real wake up call. I love the snow, but I think my next vehicle is going to have 4-wheel drive.

    Thanks for a great educational Blog. I hope you are planning on studing meteorology in college – you have a great future as an eductor.


  5. Connie: I know what you mean. If the past 3 winters have proven anything, it’s that the Western Washington lowlands are capable of dumping quite a bit of snow!

    And thanks for your comment. That really means a lot. I would love to someday become a Weatherman on the local news and then teach meteorology in some university. We’ll see what happens!


  6. This is wonderful! Thank you for explaining what the PDO is and how it works. We had a recent weather conversation in which we talked about weather cycles and remembering what the weather was like when we were kids. Now I can show people that chart and say “See?? There it is!”

    Love your comment about weather as science rather than soap opera. It reminded me of all the panic when storm warnings went out a couple of years ago – the Wind! The Wind!

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