Winter weather far from easy to predict

Posted: Tuesday, November 01, 2005

At best, Alaska's winter weather cane be described as unpredictable. From week to week on the Kenai Peninsula during the winter, area residents can expect anything from heavy snowfall to bone-chilling cold to rain.

Despite its quirky nature, however, meteorologists using sophisticated computer models do their best to give long-term outlooks that take into account past weather data and current information in order to provide a glimpse of what might be in store.

Such a computer model put together by the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center is calling for slightly above-normal temperatures throughout the winter. As for precipitation, the computers are saying things could go either way.

"For southern Alaska it's saying above normal temperatures and precipitation about equal chances above or below," said Dave Vonderheide, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

Vonderheide explained that Southcentral Alaska's weather likely will hinge on the "storm track," or which direction the jet stream takes as it moves across the state. If the storm track is to the north, he said warmer, drier weather should get pulled down from the Interior, while if the track is to the south, the peninsula could be in for a warmer, wetter winter fueled by warm ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska.

One scenario that also could unfold, he said, is if the storm track is in the middle. If that happens, he said storms could consistently run directly into Southcentral, pumping lots of moisture into the area and dumping snowfall across the region.

The track through the fall has mainly run across the Gulf, and if that pattern holds, snowmachiners and skiers should be in for a treat.

"If it does continue with that kind of a storm track, it'll keep us wet," he said.

If Vonderheide sounds cautiously vague, it's for good reason. Alaska has a reputation as being extremely difficult place to predict weather, and this winter should be no different.

For people looking for a less-scientific point of view on what the weather will hold, the Old Farmer's Almanac has been dishing out sage weather advice since the 1700s. This year, the Almanac's forecast is predicting southern Alaska will see slightly above normal temperatures and below average snowfall.

Whether computers or a book is right about this winter's weather, however, is yet to be seen. After all, what happens will ultimately depend on what kind of a mood Mother Nature is in.

She was unavailable for comment as this section went to print.



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