No end in sight to the Alaska cold

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*No end in sight to the Alaska cold*

Overview

Recent winters have been generally warmer-than-normal in Alaska, but the cold this season has been harsh and unrelenting.  The forecast for the next couple of weeks doesn’t look all that promising either as colder-than-normal conditions should persist as we transition from January to February. In general, when Alaska is experiencing colder-than-normal weather for an extended period of time in the winter season, it is usually warmer-than-normal in the eastern US.  Indeed, this adage has been observed this month as warmer-than-normal conditions have persisted in the eastern US while Alaska has shivered. 

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The month of January so far has been well below-normal across Alaska and warmer-than-normal in the eastern US and Canada; map courtesy Weather Bell Analytics, NOAA

Details

After eight years in which winter temperatures have been above average in Alaska, persistent bitter cold has returned and snow is generally at or above the normal levels for this time of year.  It was just a few years ago, in fact, that Alaska’s annual dog sled race, the Iditarod, was in some jeopardy due to a lack of snow in Anchorage.  In March of 2016, they actually had to import snow from outside of the metro area to create enough cover for dog teams to slide through the downtown area.  During this month, the temperature in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, fell below zero on 16 of the first 21 days, averaging about 20 degrees below normal.  In Fairbanks, Alaska’s third-most populous city, they have recorded 10 days of minus 30° (F), the longest such stretch since 2012.

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Colder-than-normal conditions are likely to persist into the month of February across the state of Alaska according to the 06Z GEFS 2-m temperature anomaly forecasts; maps courtesy NOAA, tropicaltidbits.com

In terms of snowfall, there have been some significant accumulations despite the bitter cold which can often be associated with relatively dry overall weather conditions.  In Anchorage, for example, more than 5 inches of snow fell earlier this week which has brought their seasonal totals to around 44 inches which is close-to-normal for this point in the winter season.  The interesting thing about the snowfall earlier this week was how light and fluffy it was in the entrenched bitter cold extremely dry Arctic air mass.  The snow/water ratio for the 5 inches of snow was 28:1 which is about 3 times normal for Anchorage.  (The snow-to-water ratio in the eastern US is often around 10:1 and can be even less when there is “wet” snow).  

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The wintry scene in Anchorage, Alaska (photo courtesy AP)

Temperatures were near zero as Friday dawned in the state capital of Anchorage and more bitter Arctic air is moving into the region after a slight relaxation during the past couple of days. Temperatures as low as double digits below zero are likely by the early part of next week and could drop to as low as 50° below in interior sections of Alaska.  In fact, all indications are that colder-than-normal weather conditions will continue for at least the next couple of weeks.

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One final note, yesterday marked the 49th anniversary of the lowest temperature ever recorded in Alaska and in the US.  On January 23, 1971, the temperature dropped to -80° (F) at Prospect Creek which was the location of a construction camp during the building of the Alaska pipeline.

Meteorologist Paul Dorian
Perspecta, Inc.
perspectaweather.com

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January 25, 2020 at 05:01AM

One thought on “No end in sight to the Alaska cold”

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