Another warm winter is in the forecast for Southcentral Alaska but don’t pawn your favorite snow-sport gear just yet. Higher than normal temperatures are expected for the entire winter but forecasters say warmer temperatures are more likely to come in the latter half of winter, meaning we may get a few cold, snowy months – October through December – before everything goes south on us.
“We have a strong El Niño in the tropical Pacific this year, and this significantly tilts the odds toward a warmer-than-normal winter,” said Rick Thoman, Climate Science and Services manager for the National Weather Service Alaska Region.
El Niño occurs when sea surface temperatures south and southeast of Hawaii are significantly above normal, enough to influence the movement of giant tropical thunderstorms.
“And under El Niño’s influence those tropical storms drive the higher latitude jet streams, pushing warm temperatures north,” he said.
Also contributing to the warming trend is higher than normal sea surface temperatures off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. While a warmer ocean won’t have much influence north of the Alaska Range, southcentral Alaska will likely be affected.
Though a warmer than average winter is nearly inevitable, historical data and current modeling indicates that El Niño warming influence is more likely to strike after the New Year.
“So if it is a cold and snowy November, I hope people won’t be coming at me with pitchforks saying you told me it was going to be warm,” Thoman said. “If they do I will point out that November is not the end of winter in Alaska.”
If El Niño’s effects are delayed until the latter half of winter, there is a chance, however slim, for an average snowfall.
While Thoman says he is all but certain temperatures will be higher than average when averaged over the entire winter, he’s not ruling out brief cold spells, and if we’re lucky that might mean decent snowfall.
“A couple of storms can run up your snow total pretty quickly,” Thoman said.
“That’s the thing with snow, if you get a big storm during the one week it’s cold, then you’re snow number can build up and once it falls it’s there. Alyeska can stack up a lot of snow in a week.”
We can only hope the jetstream and ocean temperatures cooperate in early winter to bless Alaska with enough cold and snow to cover the landscape. If they do and the winter weather comes early, or if it comes at all, don’t waste any time breaking out the skis, fatbike, snowmachine, or whatever you use to get out into the snowy landscape because it may not last.
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