Forecast: Warm temperatures, but more snow than last year

Posted: Monday, October 20, 2003

Local prognosticators are probably not going too far out on a limb in saying this winter's going to be colder than last.

Considering that the winter of 2002-2003 saw many records fall for warmest days and lowest snow total on the Kenai Peninsula, most would agree it will be colder and snowier this year.

Folks at the National Weather Service forecast office in Anchorage, however, see things just a bit differently.

While they believe Alaska will receive more snow, they're predicting warmer than normal temperatures again.

Meteorological technician Dave Vonderheide bases his prediction on history.

"The snowiest winters 1954-55 and 1955-56 were preceded by the hottest summer on record 1953," Vonderheide said. This past summer was unusually warm in Southcentral Alaska.

"The Copper River Basin has been getting really cold very early," he said.

Low temperatures at Snowshoe Lake should be averaging about 23 degrees this time of year, but the area has already seen temperatures down to 7 degrees.

"If the Copper River Basin is cooling at a quicker rate, it would lend cold temperatures to storms coming in from the Pacific, which would hold to my prediction that it will be snowier," Vonderheide said.

"This is a real long shot," he said. "Because of the warm preceding summer, coupled with the earlier cold in the Copper River Basin, it should be snowier than average."

Normal snow totals are in the 60- to 70-inch range, he said.

As far as temperatures go, Vonderheide said, "The Climate Prediction Center back East is looking at the lack of an El Nino or La Nina. They're giving Alaska (a prediction of) above normal temperatures."

El Ninos and La Ninas are names given to warming and cooling events in the Pacific region that affect sea surface temperatures and atmospheric pressures, which in turn affect weather around the globe.

"Winter's going to be harder than last year," longtime Kenai Peninsula weather watcher Abby Alla said with a laugh.

"There's also going to be more snow than last year. This is all joking, right?" she said.

Actually Alla, proprietor of Ridgeway Farms, said grasses in the fields have stopped growing more quickly this year than in the past and she's had to move her horses off pasture earlier.

She did offer to venture a bit farther out on the limb to say, "There'll be more snow than average."

Philip Kimball, who spends a good deal of time outdoors in Sterling with his master-gardener wife, Rosemary, said, "I haven't got all my wood in yet. From that standpoint, I'd say this winter's going to be warmer."

"Actually this year, the robins stuck around later. They're usually gone just after moose season Sept. 20 this year. A couple are still here," Kimball said during the last week of September.

"I haven't seen any geese migrating yet either," Kimball said.

"It usually takes a big storm up in the (Yukon) Delta to chase them out. It seems to be kinda late," he said.

Kimball, who has lived in the Sterling area for about 25 years, said so little snow covered the ground last year, he and his wife lost all of their strawberry plants.

"There just wasn't any insulating layer of snow (to protect them)," he said.

Although he stopped short of saying he is wishing for more snow, Kimball did say it's been up to 10 years since "we had four or five feet of snow on the ground."

"Last year I didn't even start my snow blower," he said.

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