Washington's Mount Rainier towers more than 14,000 feet above sea level. That means chilly temperatures and snow are the norm, especially in winter. And when you aim a super soaker of moisture at it directly from the tropics, it means enough snow to bury a house.

Mount Rainier webcam

Mount Rainier is somewhere over there.

Over the course of the week, Mount Rainier and other high peaks in the Pacific Northwest are slated to receive up to 15 feet of snow. To put that in perspective, here are some things that are roughly that tall:

  1. A ranch house
  2. The average male giraffe (h/t Chris Dolce)
  3. Shawn Kemp standing on Detlef Schrempf’s shoulders and holding his hands in the air
  4. The amount of snow Boston got last winter…plus 6 more feet

The Cascades are no stranger to staggering snowfalls. Mount Baker ski area holds the world record for snowiest winter on record. In 1998-99, 1,140 inches of snow fell on the mountain’s slopes. That’s 95 feet for those who don’t have a calculator handy. The previous record holder was also in the Northwest: Paradise Station, which is on the flanks of Mount Rainier, got 1,122 inches (93.5 feet) of snow in the winter of 1971-72.

Both records were set in La Niña winters, which tend to favor cool and wet conditions in the region. La Niña is characterized by cool water in the eastern equatorial Pacific that influences weather patterns around the world. It’s counterpart, El Niño, is in full effect this year and while it doesn’t have a strong moisture signal either way, it tends to tip the odds toward warmer-than-normal conditions in the region.

 

 

And that’s the case with this week. An atmospheric river is sending moisture from the tropics to the Pacific Northwest, which means the storm is coming in hot. Warm temperatures mean that the rain-snow line will initially be around 7,000 feet. For context, most Washington ski areas sit in the 4,000-6,000 foot range.

Atmospheric river

An atmospheric river from the tropical Pacific is delivering heavy rain and snow to the Pacific Northwest and California this week.

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Heavy rain that is expected to fall below that elevation has much of the region under a panoply of flood watches, warnings and advisories. Washington and Oregon have already seen flooding and Seattle had its darkest day in nearly nine years thanks to the gloomy clouds.

As temperatures drop, the snow line will eventually fall to 3,000 feet by Friday, dumping snow on ski areas in the region. The storm will also send rain and snow to California, along with winds up to 95 mph on ridgetops on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

As for what happens on Mount Rainier, sadly neither Shawn Kemp nor Detlef Schrempf nor anybody else will be on the summit to measure totals from this storm, leaving us to ruminate on existential questions like if a snowfall record is set but nobody is there to measure, did it actually happen?