Fair Weather

Tomorrow kicks off the Southeast Alaska State Fair in my hometown of Haines. Some people have asked “why Haines, and not Juneau,” the largest city in the panhandle, or Ketchikan or Sitka for that matter, if we are talking size. Well, since this is a weather blog, we’re going to talk weather. I think the answer will be clear, or at least fair.

For a summer outdoor event, precipitation is the main threat. Wind is a close second. Sure, it is nice to have warmth and sun, but those usually go along with dry weather: if it is dry it will almost certainly be warmer than if it is wet.

Here’s a graph from the Western Regional Climate Center (actually two graphs merged on my computer):

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The (literally freezing) cold Alaskan summer continues

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer 2012 forecast for Alaska

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. Read the rest of this entry »

The winter of 2011-2012 — when will it go?

Memorial day is used in many areas as a marker for the start of summer. Not in St. Paul, Alaska. Today they observed the holiday along with rain, freezing rain, temperatures hovering around the freezing point, and sustained winds around 25 mph, bringing wind chills down to the teens (in F, or around -12 C) . This is one of the more extreme examples of the extreme winter that does not want to leave.  I usually do not include May in a winter summary, but this year it seems to want to be in there.

How bad was the winter? In a nutshell, most of Alaska had much more snow than usual, the exception being the interior, where snowfall was not far from average. Here’s the final standing in the Iditasnow, the friendly inter-community snow rivalry. (click for larger version)

total snowfall for 2011-2012 season

total snowfall for 2011-2012 season

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Cold Spring in Alaska

If you have been waiting to see some statistics on how our winter of 2011-2012 rated compared to climate history, or if you were hoping for a long range forecast (educated guess) for the summer of 2012, stay tuned, I am working on both. I’ve been preoccupied with getting the 2013 Alaska Weather Calendar printed and out to stores. That rush is easing and I hope to increase the blogging frequency at least to where it was before. If you would like an automatic email when a new article is posted, sign up for that service under “Subscribe to Posts” either on the menu items across the top of the page or on the right hand sidebar items.

Of course, I can’t really do a winter wrap-up or declare a winner in the Iditasnow until winter is a little more over, can I? Look at what has been happening around the state:

In the Arctic, no one expects anything like spring weather for some time to come. In fact, the weather there has been pretty average for this time of year: Temperatures in the 20s F (around -5C) with some wind, a little snow and blowing snow lately. However, just a few days ago it was below zero on the North Slope and Bering Strait area. After a very snowy winter in Kotzebue, the 27 inches (69 cm) of snow on the ground is holding steady with well below freezing temperatures.

Shishmaref194-71371

The plows are still needed in Shishmaref. Click on the image to see it full size.

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Iditasnow update & more snow rollers

Haines beach volleyball court

Since the leap day checkpoint report, most towns have slowed their snowfall pace. Haines and Yakutat, however, have been running hard, each having added an impressive 50 inches this first half of March.

The Top Ten as of 15 March

place town total through 3/15 % of average % of record current depth
1 Haines 357.1” (9.08 meters) 243 116 61” (1.55 m)
2 Yakutat 313.3 (7.97) 218 78 85 (2.16)
3 Kodiak 134.9 (3.43) 196 84 12 (0.31)
4 Barrow 65.0 (1.65) 172 83 13 (0.33)
5 Anchorage 129.4 (3.29) 158 97 34 (0.86)
6 Juneau 130.5 (3.32) 151 66 Trace
7 Haines Customs 342.6 (8.72) 131 93 95 (2.42)
8 Valdez 426.0 (10.84) 131 76 87 (2.21)
8 Kotzebue 78.1 (1.99) 131 65 54 (1.37)
10 Cold Bay 87.7 (2.23) 120 76 23 (0.59)

Remember, the standings are based on snowfall this season compared to the station’s average yearly snowfall. (No, I did not come up with this rating scheme to just to put Haines in the lead). Read the rest of this entry »

Not the last great Alaska snow race

Today is the start of the world famous Iditarod trail sled dog race (“the last great race”), so I thought maybe I should give an report on another (unofficial) great race: the Alaska snow race. It has been a very snowy winter in many parts of Alaska and there is plenty of talk and a little bragging and comparing between towns, so why not make a little fun of it? In no way am I wanting to make light of the real hardships experienced in places like Cordova and Valdez, where schools were closed for more than an isolated “snow day” due to fears of structural failure of school buildings, among other problems. Believe me, I understand the issue of dealing with tons of snow, since I live in one of the major league snow towns (Haines). What I want to do is compare details of a longer list of places facing heavy snow this winter, and look at why. First the standings, as of the leap day checkpoint: units are inches for snow and feet for elevation.

table

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How dense is snow?

The huge section of heavy old snow pictured below finally slid off the roof of our shed sometime in the middle of the night recently. Luckily, it remained jammed vertically in the snow below and did not fall against the shed. What do think it weighs? Click on the photos for a better look…it’s the same berg from opposite ends.

_MG_8135 _MG_8126

It would not be hard to estimate the weight of this thing if we knew its density. And you might want to know the density your snow for a variety of reasons. One of the more common reasons is to figure if the weight of the snow might damage something. Check out the scene from our school a couple weeks ago: Read the rest of this entry »