Lily pads sit frozen in ice in a pond near Soldotna on Tuesday afternoon.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
When will it end?
That’s the question many central Kenai Peninsula residents are asking in regard to the bone-chilling cold and unusually snowless conditions that have prevailed in recent weeks.
Unfortunately, according to forecasters, the answer isn’t any time soon.
“It looks like it will be the same pattern for a long time, at least the next week or so,” said Louise Fode, a meteorologist with National Weather Service forecast office in Anchorage.
Using past weather data, current information and sophisticated computer models, Fode attributed this current frigid, moistureless weather to a “blocking pattern” caused by high pressure.
“Basically, there is a strong, high pressure mass centered over the Bering Sea that is bringing down cold, dry, arctic air from the north, main portion of the state,” she said.
Current temperatures for Kenai are nine degrees colder than the 30-year average, according to Fode. Snowfall is also well below the 30-year average of 8 inches by this time, with 2.3 inches typically falling in October and 5.7 inches in November.
Fode said for this below-average pattern to end, the high-pressure system needs to shift a little to the west.
“That would allow low-pressure storms to come up from the Gulf of Alaska that could bring warmer temperatures or snow,” she said.
However, Fode said nothing indicates that the high pressure will leave any time soon.
“It’s still the beginning of winter and anything could happen in regard to the rest of the year, but in the short term there’s no significant storms coming that will change anything. It’ll just be more cold,” she said.
This is bad news for those who look forward to winter snow-dependent winter recreation.
“We haven’t been able to do much of anything,” said Les Crane, president of the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers snowmachine club.
Crane said waiting for snow isn’t anything new for him, particularly since he favors waiting for a good snow base before riding, as opposed to some powder hounds who rev their motors with the first light dusting of white.
“I was brought up that you don’t ride until there’s 10 inches to a foot of snow, so I usually don’t expect to do much riding before Thanksgiving or Christmas,” he said.
Crane said he is still hopeful that snow will come, though, and he and the Cabin Hoppers are preparing accordingly.
“I’ve been doing some tinkering, working on the kids’ machines, making a few modifications,” he said.
“We’ve also been going out and doing trail maintenance to clear downed trees. Those nasty wind storms we had blew down quite a bit,” he added.
Crane said the Cabin Hoppers also do quite a bit of grant writing during their off months, and they will be implementing some of the fruits received from these labors.
“We’ve been working on grants for bridges and we got some to go over a few trouble spots like Deep Creek and they’re up there and ready to be put in,” he said.
Phil Hoekman, president of the Peninsula Sled Dog and Racing Association, said the current weather also is restricting many mushers to having their dogs pull four-wheelers, rather than sleds.
“We want snow,” he said.
Hoekman explained that PSDRA’s trail network next to the Soldotna Airport runs on land owned by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and as such, the mushing trails cannot be put in or groomed until there is a sufficient base to protect vegetation.
“We need to have a foot of snow before we’re legal to put in trail,” he said.
While disappointed that there wasn’t more powder on the ground, Hoekman still took an optimistic view of the current weather.
“I’m just thankful it’s not getting down to 35 below like in the Interior,” he said.
Hoekman added that he was also hopeful this current pattern would only be temporary.
“We get these highs every year, and they usually pass and it gets better,” he said.
Hoekman added that when this system does finally break and snow arrives, mushers won’t have to fear thin ice on any trails that cross water.
“Lakes and swamps should be frozen so they won’t be a problem,” he said.
Local skiers aren’t faring much better. Pete Sprague of Soldotna, who’s on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, typically hits the slopes between assembly meetings, but said that’s not the case so far this season.
“I’ve usually skied in the backcountry by Halloween, but not this year. It’s been pretty dreadful,” he said.
Sprague said many skiers were turning to area lakes while waiting for enough powder to fall on the trails, but the recent winds even ruined that.
“Most of what was on the lakes blew off,” he said.
Like so many others, Sprague is in a holding pattern, but added, “I’ll have the skis ready to go for the next snow storm.”
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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