What does a warmer-than-normal winter look like in Anchorage?
Winters in Alaska are extreme, including some of the coldest and snowiest days in the country. So when the Climate Prediction Center suggests winter might be warmer and wetter than normal for the 49th State — what does that look like?
For starters, a warmer-than-normal winter often goes hand in hand with a wetter-than-normal winter because warm air holds more moisture than cold air. But will that moisture be rain or snow?
The quick answer is still likely snow. Most of Alaska stays cold enough all winter that even a bump in temperatures would keep most locations below the 32-degree mark, keeping all the precipitation in the form of snow.
The Interior typically stays cold enough that above-normal temperatures still mean bundling up to go outside and plugging the block heater in overnight. It’s Anchorage and many of the coastal communities with questions about how a bump in temperature will affect them.
Meteorological winter runs Dec. 1 through Feb. 28. Those are typically the coldest months of the year and the months referenced in the CPC outlook.
In Anchorage, the average day the high temperature fails to climb above freezing and stay that way is Nov. 1. By December, the normal high temperature stays between 24 and 25 degrees. Overnight lows fall into the low teens and even down to just 12 degrees by the end of the month.
January trends even colder in a normal year. High temperatures average between 23 and 24 degrees, while overnight lows drop to 11 or 12 degrees. Temperatures do begin to rise in February but it isn't until March that we regularly see temperatures above freezing.
Keep in mind, each of these numbers is the “normal” or temperatures on that specific day averaged over a 30-year period. Temperatures fluctuate from day to day. Highs and lows vary based on sky conditions, storm proximity, wind and a host of other factors. There are anomalies that average out over time and that's why a 30-year average is used when determining normal temperatures.
The CPC’s winter outlook compares the upcoming season’s temperatures to the 30-year normal. A warmer-than-normal temperature trend might be a few degrees above that long-time norm. But even assuming a 5-degree warmup, Anchorage still stays below freezing for almost the entire season.
In fact, warming Anchorage's average temperatures by 5 degrees still wouldn't bring the area above freezing until the second half of March, weeks after meteorological winter comes to a close.
This means that if the Climate Prediction Center’s winter outlook verifies, winter will still be filled with temperatures and, therefore, snow.
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