Archive for the ‘Alaska Weather Events’ Category

Why does the snow sparkle so?

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

Lately around here we’ve been blessed with decent snow cover. A nice change from the last two winters. Nice fresh show that stays fresh thanks to lack of warm surges. To add to the beautiful scene, the snow has had lots of sparkles of light reflecting off the surface from the bright moon or nearby lights (there’s plenty of time to see this with days still solstice short). Here’s a couple photos (click on them for larger versions).

_mg_484120170104_150607-reduced

Why so sparkly lately?

The answer is not in the snow itself, but what happened to the snow after it fell. It is true that normal snow crystals can and do sparkle, but the really big sparkles we’ve seen take bigger crystals… in this case frost crystals that have formed on the snow over a few days. This sort of frost is called surface hoar, ie., hoarfrost that has formed on the surface of the snow. Check out the daytime photos (of the same snow in the upper photos) that show the detail. One clue is the small amount of frost on the alder twig in the second photo.

20170104_150625-reduced 20170104_150715-reduced Hoarfrost in general tends to form during light wind situations when there are cold surfaces and lots of water vapor to crystallize onto those surfaces. The most rapid frost formation occurs when there is a source of liquid water close by such as a stream or fog. Yes, we did have some fog in Haines over the last few days. Uncommon during cold weather at this time of year…because the calm winds which allowed the fog to form are uncommon during cold weather here. Note for backcountry travelers: New snow over surface hoar can create a weak layer in the snowpack and increase avalanche danger.

Precipitation patterns & perceptions

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016
20160930_172321-rduced

Pick-up soccer on the Haines school sports field on 30 Sep 2106. Most years the field or the weather are not in too good of shape at this time of year.

Of all the weather elements, precipitation seems the most chaotic when it comes to spatial and temporal patterns. In reality, I think wind is probably more variable over both time and distance, but I guess we must understand that, since we don’t talk about it nearly as much as peculiar precipitation patterns such as long wet or dry periods, heavy precipitation events, adjacent areas getting very different amounts or types of precipitation, etc. When do these peculiarities rise above perception and prove to be truly unusual? (more…)

Celebrating the end of the snow drought

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

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.) (more…)

Alaska weather on a roller coaster

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Wind-blown dust in Haines and other places.

forecast-map

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. (more…)

Flying through the JAWS of Southeast Alaska Weather

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

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. (more…)

Two kinds of cold in Alaska

Friday, February 1st, 2013

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. (more…)

Why is it so cold in Glennallen?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

The question in the title came to me in an email, but for every email I get there are probably hundreds asking the same question in Glennallen. Sure, there are thousands more asking it about where they live, be it Fairbanks or Juneau or Orlando for that matter. But I want to look at what appears to be a unusually cold spot this winter, the capital of the Copper River Valley, population, after throwing in close neighbors Gulkana, Gakona, Copper Center, etc, of a 1,100 or so very tough Alaskans.

Let’s look at the weather depiction map from yesterday Morning, courtesy of the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit. A great example, as Gulkana (that’s where the weather station is located), labeled with its 4 letter code PAGK, was the colder than any station except Northway (PAOR)! It was 40 below (Fahrenheit or Celsius, take your pick), colder than Fairbanks at the time and most of the rest of those off the map to the north. Those around it are way warmer, with only Eureka (PAZK) being in the same ballpark. Talkeetna (PATK) and Anchorage (PANC) are not even below zero! Are not all these places in the Southcentral zone?

(more…)

Termination dust waits for no one

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

When I moved to Alaska in 1982, I was a real cheechako. I did not even know what termination dust was. The term was never mentioned in meteorology school. It does not appear in the meteorology glossaries of the NWS, American Meteorological Society or the Weather Channel, nor is it in Wikipedia. Back then it was a bit of an initiation for new arrivals to figure out what the others were talking about. Here are a couple recent examples, taken Tuesday evening, August 28th. (I back-dated this post a few days to that date.)

Looking west from the Haines High School track. (more…)

The (literally freezing) cold Alaskan summer continues

Friday, June 29th, 2012

The cold, cloudy, wet weather has been with Alaskans since May, with a only a few short breaks here and there. Here’s a recent example from the usually warmish Copper River Basin: A rainy day Wednesday in Glennallen (wx data from close-by Gulkana–that’s where the airport and weather station are for the Glennallen area) with a high of only 48F (9C), then some clearing overnight allowing the temperature to drop to 29F (-2C), the coldest spot in the state Thursday morning. That’s right, below freezing in late June.  And it’s the 6th day in a row that the cold spot of the state has been at or below zero Celsius. (more…)

Summer 2012 forecast for Alaska

Friday, June 1st, 2012

After a particularly nasty winter, Alaskans usually hope for a nice summer to erase the memories. Actually, a lot of Alaskan’s do that after every winter.  Well, we are just finishing up (or still waiting for the end of, depending on what part of Alaska you live in)  a very tough winter in most parts of Alaska, so hope runs high for the summer. Will it soothe or disappoint the weather weary?

The truthful answer? I don’t know. Seasonal forecasts for the warm season have little skill in Alaska. Worse than winter forecasts, which are far from reliable.

There are two points pertinent to this issue:

  1. Temperatures vary much less in summer than in winter. While that might make it easier by reducing the potential forecast error,  in reality the forecast needs to show skill within the context of that variability. This is the technical explanation. From a human standpoint these smaller temperature variations seem to be relatively more important in summer, perhaps because there is more outside activity. There is about as much grumbling about a 3 degree colder than normal summer month as there is about a 6 degree colder than normal winter month.
  2. Correlations of summer weather in Alaska with climate systems such as the El Nino/La Nina are either too weak or as yet too poorly understood to be a very useful predictor of a particular summer. Frankly most people have been trying to figure the links with winter weather, probably because winter weather is seen as more important (dangerous, costly, etc.) and I suppose that is right to an extent.

So I’m not putting much confidence in my prediction, and asking you not to as well. This is more of a theory to be played out over the next 3 months than something to make decisions on. (more…)