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.

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2 Responses to “Celebrating the end of the snow drought”

  1. Ed Schmitt Says:

    Thanks for the post, I always enjoy them.

  2. Roberta Austring Says:

    I think your theory about people who grew up in cloudy, cool climates is a good one. I grew up mainly on Annette Island; I have now lived on Kodiak for almost thirty years. When we get more than about two nice summer days, I definitely have the summer SAD symptoms you mention. I feel anxious outdoors about too much (unfamiliar) sky and/or sun exposure and when I’m indoors I’m uncomfortable thinking I should be outdoors. I also tend towards winter SAD, but since I gained some understanding of my feelings it doesn’t bother me much.

    Thanks for your post!

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