El Nino year could mean some deviance from average climate -- but not much

Winter forecast: 'It's gonna snow'

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Alaska is heading for a winter that will be a little warmer than last year with close to normal precipitation totals, according to the National Weather Service.

However, temperatures on the Kenai Peninsula will be "a little cooler," said Dan Keirns, meteorologist in the Anchorage forecast office.

Asked for a winter forecast, Keirns said, "It's gonna snow."

Specifically he predicted a normal amount.

"You could safely say 4 1/2 feet," said Keirns.

Cooler than average temperatures are expected for the peninsula.

Sndw Fact

The maximum re-corded total snowfall at Kenai was 118 inches in the winter of 1994-1995. That winter also had the snowiest recorded month, 51.6 inches in November 1994.

The winter with the least snowfall was 1980-1981, when only 14.9 inches fell altogether.

Snowfall varies around the Kenai Peninsula and from year to year, but when all the numbers are averaged, they come out fairly consistent. The mean annual snowfall at Kenai is 61.8 inches; at Cooper Landing, 42.2 inches; at Kasilof, 53.6 inches; at Homer, 56.0 inches and at Seward, 80.4 inches.

Individual snow crystals can fall from the sky. Snowflakes are collections of snow crystals loosely bound together into a puff-ball. These can grow to large sizes, up to about the width of a hand in some cases when the snow is especially wet and sticky.

Normally, temperatures are in the 20s in November; mid-teens in December; 12 degrees to 3 below zero in January; upper teens in February; and low 20s in March, according to Keirns.

"Temperatures should be roughly between 12 and 20 degrees through the winter, maybe a little warmer ... mid-teens through mid-20s," he said.

The year 2002 is predicted to be an El Nino year, but according to Keirns, "It isn't going to be that strong of an El Nino this year."

During stronger El Nino years, warming of central and eastern Pacific Ocean water can alter ocean currents and lead to unusual temperatures and precipitation amounts, according to the National Weather Service.

"In Alaska we will see some additional storms and increased cloudiness because of the El Nino, which will result in it being not as cold," said Keirns.

A weather service report on El Nino states, "In Alaska, the impacts are significantly less than what typically occurs to the south, and they are not necessarily strongest in the winter."

The report says 21 El Nino events have occurred since climate stations were established in Alaska in 1930, and the correlation between El Ninos and the amount of rain or snow across the state is "pretty weak."

"All of the state, with the exception of western Alaska (west of 157 degrees West) usually has warmer than normal temperatures during an El Nino," according to the report. The city of Dillingham lies roughly at 157 degrees west.

The report concludes by saying "weather-climate during these (El Nino) events is highly variable with little predictability."

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