Does a later start to snow season mean less snow?
As the nights grow longer, many await that little joy of excitement they get when waking up to a winter wonderland. However, just scrolling on social media it's not long before you come across a post highlighting how depressing it looks amidst the lack of snow. After all, all we can seem to muster in Southcentral is a cold and dreary rain, which continues to propel us into the top 10 wettest starts to November.
Typically this time of the year, Anchorage would have already seen nearly a foot of snow, with at least an inch remaining on the ground, but temperatures climbing 10-20 degrees above average have kept any hopes of that from occurring. Thanks to persistent southerly flow and a blocking pattern in the upper levels of the atmosphere, our cold continues to be redirected elsewhere.
This begs the question of where is our snow, will we ever see it, and what does this mean for our overall snow totals through the end of the season? There's good news and there's bad news, so settle in as we dive headfirst into the science of what's going on across Alaska and what this ultimately means for the winter months ahead.
Why are we so warm?
Many things can be attributed to the warming pattern that has been a consistent trend across the state, including the lack of sea ice.
Like all ice, the Arctic goes through a freeze-thaw period, but due to a warming climate, that cycle has been disrupted and transformed. With sea ice at a new record minimum for this year, it's leading to more open water across the Arctic Ocean.
Open water, unlike snow, absorbs the sun's energy. This, in turn, heats the surrounding atmosphere. That's certainly something that we are experiencing now, as a warming trend has led to a blocking pattern in the atmosphere. Trapped underneath that is unusual warmth that continues to move around Alaska. Combine that with a series of storms to our south pulling in warm air and you have the recipe for a state that continues to see temperatures 10-20 degrees above normal.
This blocking pattern in the atmosphere not only prevents Alaska from cooling down, but it forces the jet stream to buckle, displacing the frigid air into the Lower 48. So while we continue to chill in 40-degree air, parts of the Lower 48 are dealing with record-breaking temperatures and wind chills dipping well into the teens.
But what does this mean for our snow chances and ultimately the winter season as a whole? Late last month, we detailed just what a warmer-than-normal winter would look like in Anchorage and while snow will still occur, here is a closer look at the numbers.
Later starts to the beginning of winter snow
You may be surprised to find out this isn't the first time in history that Anchorage has struggled to transition into a winter wonderland. Looking at the top 10 latest starts and diving into the data, you begin to see a trend of warmer air, snow and how they correlate.
One doesn't have to venture too far into the past to find a bleak start to the winter season. Last year, Anchorage only saw 0.4 inches of snow from Oct. 1 through the first week of November. There are several years that only saw a trace of snow through that time period and likely had many thinking the winter would under-perform — and rightfully so as that exact time period also included some of the warmest starts to winter on record.
Nine of the top 10 latest starts to the snow season saw an average temperature above 36 degrees. Those years also didn't see the first snowfall of 1 inch until the middle of November on average, which is nearly one month later than we typically see our first 1-inch snowfall.
The catch here is that while many years started winter warm and rainy, the cold eventually settled back into the state and brought plenty of snow to the region. These same years listed above also had an average snowfall of over 70 inches by the end of the season which is close to normal.
This is a breakdown of the top 10 driest — when it comes to snowfall — years in Anchorage. You can see how much snow fell up until Nov. 7, when the first snow was recorded and how much snow eventually fell that year:
|Year||Oct. 1 - Nov 7. Snowfall||First 1" snow recorded||Seasonal snowfall Totals (Oct 1. - May 30)|
The latest we've ever seen our first inch of snow was on Dec. 31, 1985. Long story short, it will get colder in Anchorage over the next few months and snow will eventually fall. However, each year is unique and this year sea ice continues to remain critically low, which is offsetting the seasons by several weeks and leading to a later start of snow across The Last Frontier.
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