Anchorage on track for 2nd-warmest winter ever

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The state's largest city is on track to emerge from one of its warmest records.

This is the first winter on record in which the official temperature in Anchorage has not dipped below zero. The last time the city saw negative digits was 420 days ago, when it hit 10 below on Jan. 16, 2000.

''It has to be a record, because every other winter has at least two occurrences of below zero at the airport,'' said meteorological technician Dave Vonderheide of the National Weather Service.

''It's been so warm. It's going to take a horrendous outbreak of cold air to even threaten below zero at this point,'' he added. ''It's likely that we're going to stay warm.''

Give credit or blame to the jet stream, the high-altitude river of air that controls much of the region's weather.

''We've had a storm track that kept taking the storm centers to the west of us,'' Vonderheide said. ''That kept us in a very warm southerly flow of air off the ocean.''

The Russian Far East and Siberia, parts of Canada and the eastern United States were colder than normal. Alaska was warmer. The result has changed the face of winter from Fairbanks to the Bering Sea.

''We never hit 40 below, and that doesn't happen often,'' said Anton Prechtel, a lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. ''The winter's been very, very mellow here.''

The Bering Sea ice pack never grew to normal size. On Feb. 19, a date when the ice normally reaches the Pribilof Islands, the edge had pulled north of St. Lawrence Island, said ice forecaster Russ Page.

''It was about 180 miles further north than ever recorded (for that date) since 1953,'' Page said.

The ice has since moved south toward St. Lawrence Island, Page said. ''The ice is still farther north than ever recorded (for this date), but it's a lot closer.''

In Anchorage, temperatures dropped into the single digits on only eight days, reaching 2 on Feb. 24, according to records posted on the National Weather Service Web site.

Baring an unexpected cold snap or heat wave, the 2000-01 season will remain second in average warmth to the 1976-77 season, a winter marked by a strong La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean.

That year, the city averaged 29.5 degrees Fahrenheit for the six months between October and March. Through the end of February of this year, Anchorage has averaged 28.2.

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