Celebrating the end of the snow drought

happy skierWhile some folks back east may have been mightily inconvenienced by recent snows, here in Alaska most people like to see a little snow in the winter. This winter many of us have seen very little. Here in Haines, one of the snowiest sea level towns anywhere, things were looking pretty brown until last week, when we got almost a foot of nice light snow. You could almost hear the relief around town, as folks got back into the swing of snow removal, or dusted off their skis. My family did both, plus made a batch of snow ice cream. (Never made snow ice cream? Strangely, as a meteorologist, Alaskan, skier, etc, I’d not even heard of it for my first 20-some years in Alaska! I was going do a whole post on snow ice cream but discovered it’s not the novelty I thought it was…just Google it.)

How little snow has there been?

Well, the 10 inches that fell on January 28th and 29th a little more than doubled our seasonal accumulation. We had virtually no snow through November, and an inch of new snow overnight on Christmas eve was too close of a call for not having a white Christmas, something folks take for granted around here.

How unusual is that?

Bare ground in mid winter is certainly not unheard of in Haines. Christmases with little or no snow happened in 1974, 1985, 1989 and 1993, but weather records for Haines are not complete enough over the years to analyze it much further. If you look at Juneau‘s longer records, keeping in mind that it is warmer and less snowy than Haines, you’ll find about a one in five chance that Santa would have to lower the wheels on his sleigh to make a dignified landing. That’s the nature of the maritime climate of Southeast Alaska, and the farther south and/or closer to the coast you look, the more transient the snow cover becomes. It can snow harder here than most of Alaska, but it can also melt faster.

Here’s a graph from the Alaska Climate Research Center showing snow depth so far this winter in Juneau compared to the “average” winter. The average is made up to a large extent of big dumps and big melts, but this winter has been warmer (hence lower snow) than even the usual mildness (SO FAR – forecast below).

Elsewhere in Alaska things have not been quite as bad: Looking at Anchorage, you can see they had little or no snow on the ground through November and not too much since.

Fairbanks has gotten 30 out of its usual 50 inches to this date in the winter, and their snow depth has been a bit low, but they’re better off than more southerly areas of the state. This fits the pattern of warmer winters being highly correlated with less snow in the warmer parts of Alaska and less so (or the opposite…warmer winter=more snow) as you consider colder northerly locations. Barrow has been warm this winter and their snowfall has been above average (although their snow on the ground has not been so (difficult to measure either in Barrow.) More on that in this post.

Nome’s snow cover was sparse early on but caught up at the end of November:

What’s next?

Over the past week most of Alaska’s had a big drop in temperature. Will the cold stick around this time? It looks like it will for a while: a week or two for northern and western Alaska but a week at most for Southcentral and Southeast. The forecast for the balance of the winter from the Climate Prediction Center continues this winter’s trend of warmer than normal. But keep in mind…the three month forecast deals in probabilities that don’t get a whole lot more decisive than a coin toss.

Please use the reply link to leave comments, ask questions or tell what you do to celebrate snow where you live.

Sea breezes: an Alaskan spring-summer staple

You’ve heard it said…Alaska has sooo much coastline… We do, about 34,000 miles (54,700 km) worth, and we have the perfect weather phenomenon to go with it: the sea breeze. The sea breeze is a local wind blowing from water to land arising from the relative warmth of the land vs. the water. Warmer land leads to rising and/or expanding air and lowers the surface pressure, drawing in the cool  air off the water. It is not unique to Alaska–It is found Read the rest of this entry »

Is April a dire weather month in Alaska?

I try to keep the number of errors in my Alaska Weather Calendar to a minimum. I have a team of freelance editors and proofreaders to help me, otherwise it would be hopeless. My hat is off to them. Nonetheless, errors slip by, Read the rest of this entry »

Alaska weather on a roller coaster

Wind-blown dust in Haines and other places.


Red flag wildfire danger for the Mat Valley.

Strong pressure gradient along coast.

Back into the freezer

The strong “January thaw” that pushed well into the interior and tied the all time January record for Alaska is being pushed toward the back of our memories by seasonal and colder weather. Boy, it feels colder after a long warm spell! Wind chills here in northern Southeast Alaska are bouncing down to 5 to 15F below zero (-20C to -26C) at times. Read the rest of this entry »

Flying through the JAWS of Southeast Alaska Weather

While waiting to board my Alaska Airlines flight from Juneau to Seattle April 9, the all-to-common announcement came over the PA about a likely weather delay. As I happened to have my laptop handy with Internet access available, I quickly checked the Juneau airport weather observations. I did not see any weather issue that would keep the 737 on the ground. The ceiling and visibility were way above minimums. The wind was strong, but pretty well aligned with the runway…not too bad. Here are the observations in METAR format (click here for help in reading them).

PAJN 091353Z 12021G36KT 10SM -RA FEW018 BKN036 OVC050 06/02 A2918 RMK AO2
     PK WND 12036/1349 PRESFR SLP880 P0001 T00560022
PAJN 091453Z 13028G37KT 7SM -RA FEW013 BKN032 OVC045 05/03 A2914 RMK AO2 
     PK WND 13041/1431 SLP867 VIS LWR S-SW P0000 60004 T00500028 58048 

PAJN 091553Z 12022G33KT 3SM -RA FEW013 BKN032 OVC045 05/03 A2912 RMK AO2 
     PK WND 12036/1501 SLP859 P0004 T00500033

What was I missing? Before I could dig deeper, one of the pilots got on the PA and re-educated me, and the whole crowd–mostly seasoned Alaskan flyers with way more weather and aviation savvy than you’d find at a typical airport down south. Read the rest of this entry »

Signs of Spring in Alaska

We’re a few days into Spring, at least according to astronomers. Last Wednesday (3/20) was the Vernal (Spring) equinox–equal night, equal day. While the flowers may be blooming many places in the Lower 48, such traditional signs of spring are a long way off here in the frozen north. But here are a few signs of the season for this equinox time of year in Alaska: Read the rest of this entry »

Two kinds of cold in Alaska

Dry cold, wet cold?   no.

Winter cold and summer cold?  no. Bitterly cold vs extremely cold?  no. Calm vs windy cold? close.

All these would make good blog subjects, but what I’m thinking about today is domestic cold vs imported cold. Seriously.

I have a good recent example. Read the rest of this entry »

The power of the sun

Although the world apparently did not end on Dec 21, 2012 the date triggers strong feelings for most Alaskans every year. Of course it is because it marks the winter solstice…the shortest day of the year…and the promise of longer days ahead. It’s a few weeks past the solstice before most Alaskans notice any change, and even longer for the increasing solar radiation to have any noticeable effect on the weather. So, congratulations, we’re about at that point, and in my psychological bag of tricks for keeping upbeat through the Alaskan winter, it is the point beyond which things have got to just keep getting better. My advice is to get outside as much as possible and ingest some of the increasing daylight. At this point in the cycle (January 12th) here are the daylight stats:

city day length (hr:min) daily change (hr:min)
Barrow 0:00 n/a
Kotzebue 3:45 +0:08
Fairbanks 4:54 +0:06
Nome 5:02 +0:05
Anchorage 6:16 +0:04
Bethel 6:22 +0:04
Juneau 7:00 +0:03
Kodiak 7:08 +0:03
Ketchikan 7:37 +0:03
Adak 8:13 +0:02

Read the rest of this entry »