'Experts' offer differing ideas

Tough winter ahead?

Posted: Monday, October 02, 2000

If you believe the tabloid headlines in the grocery store checkout line, we're headed for the worst winter ever. But before you put that extra log on the fire, check out other predictions.

"There really isn't anything to say that (this winter) should be tremendously different than normal," said Dan Keirns, meteorologist, forecaster and self-described "weather guesser" with the U.S. Weather Service in Anchorage. "We should have a pretty standard winter."

Winter officially begins Dec. 21, Keirns said, with sunrise at 10:14 a.m. and sunset at 3:54 p.m., making a total of 5 hours and 41 minutes of daylight. The bad news is that it's 13 seconds shorter than the day before, but the good news is that the following day will have an added 10 seconds of daylight.

"Maximum temperatures in the Kenai area go from the mid-40s in October to the lower 20s in December and January," said Keirns, describing a normal winter. "The daily minimum average for that same time frame runs from the mid- to upper 20s in October to the single digits above zero and back into the teens in March."

Normal snowfall around Kenai is 4.5 feet, with approximately 10 inches of that in November, another 11 inches in December and January, about 8 inches in March, and significantly less in October and April, according to Keirns.

"It may be slightly cooler," was Keirns' overall prediction for the coming winter.

He invited visitors to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's climate prediction center World Wide Web site at www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov.

The Old Farmer's Almanac has been forecasting weather based on founder Robert B. Thomas' secret formula since 1792. His methods have been updated by the "most modern scientific calculations based on solar activity, particularly sunspot cycles," according to the Almanac's Web site at www.almanac.com.

The report carefully adds the following disclaimer: "It is obvious that neither we nor anyone else has as yet gained sufficient insight into the mysteries of the universe to predict weather long-range with anything resembling total accuracy." However, that doesn't preclude a good guess.

According to the almanac, Alaska is in for "an exceptionally cold" winter. January temperatures will remain normal, but expect the temperatures to drop during November, December, February and March. Snowfalls will be record-setting amounts across the southern part of the state, from the Aleutians to the Panhandle, giving snow removal crews their biggest workout in early November, the latter half of December, mid-January, late February and early March.

So much for predictions based on formulas and science. What are locals forecasting?

Emil Dolchok, 76, was born and raised in Kenai. He's been keeping his eye on the wildlife to give him clues about the upcoming winter.

"I'm pretty sure it'll be cold, but not as much snow because the robins and swallows left before the middle of July," Dolchok said. "Usually they stay just about until the end of July and then they disappear. But for some reason this year they left very early.

"I was out to the hunting grounds yesterday and today and the swans are gone. They were grouping up at one little lake like they do every year and they kind of stick around until October. But the last two or three days I've been going out there and I haven't seen any. I think they left," he said.

Dean Kvasnikoff was born in Ninilchik in 1941.

"There's not as many spiders this year," Kvasnikoff said. "So we're not going to have near as much snow as in the past two years. I look for colder temperatures, but less snow."

A little farther down the peninsula, Dave Clemson, who came to the Anchor Point area in 1950, has been keeping an eye on the bark beetles and woolly caterpillars to tell him what to expect this winter.

"It may be slightly colder than last year, but I don't think we're going to have any of that old time minus 30 or minus 40 weather. Winters are easier now than they used to be," Clemson said. Comparing snowfalls, he added, "I think we'll have snow, but not as much as during the record years.

"Based on more snow or less snow, there are only two possibilities, so I've got a 50 percent chance of being right," Clemson said. "If I'm too wrong, I'll leave the country."

Five miles north of Sterling, Dorothy Westphal, 79, based her predictions on plants.

"I've lived on the peninsula for 39 years and I think winter will be early and probably colder," Westphal said. "This is one of the coldest late summers that I can remember.

"It seems to me, and I don't write things down -- and I wish that I had -- that the fireweed was gone awfully early and the leaves have left the trees earlier than usual," she said. "And if you look up there on the Chugach Mountains, it's a lot of snow awfully early."

"If you want to quote something about why I think it's going to be cold, say I've ordered 10 cords of wood," Westphal said.

Snow and cold temperatures are one thing, but ice is another matter.

"I'm hoping we won't have an icy winter because those are the worst," said Westphal, who heats with an oil furnace and a wood-burning stove. "Us older people really worry about the icy conditions."

After hearing predictions made by peninsula residents, meteorologist Keirns said, "There is a lot of validity to those old rules of thumb. It's nice to see science being validated."

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