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Alaska: Where's winter?

Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Anchorage, Fairbanks and other parts of Alaska are reporting a very mild winter.

The state's two largest cities reported record-tying temperatures on Tuesday and a stretch of unseasonably mild weather throughout November.

So far, this has been the warmest November in Anchorage since 1917, the first year of local weather records, according to the National Weather Service. The daily average temperature this month has been 34.2 degrees, or 13 degrees above normal, the agency said.

Tuesday brought a high of 55, topping the day's record of 53 degrees set in 1936.

''Man, it's mild out there,'' meteorologist Bob Hopkins told the Anchorage Daily News. ''It's crazy.''

In Fairbanks, the temperature reached 44 degrees on Tuesday, tying the previous record high set in 1956 and continuing what has been one of the weirdest winters on record in Fairbanks.

Almost all of the nearly 15 inches of snow Fairbanks received in October is gone, having melted or turned into ice a few days after most of it -- about 10 inches -- fell on Oct. 19. That was followed by a 26-day snow drought through Nov. 15.

To top it off, it rained Tuesday morning, turning area roads into sheets of ice. So treacherous were the conditions that officials closed the schools.

All the while temperatures have remained well above normal. The period from Oct. 16 to Nov. 15 was the fifth-warmest period for that stretch on record at the weather service. The coldest temperature recorded at the airport so far this year is 3 degrees below zero on Nov. 11 and Nov. 17. The low temperatures for much of the past month have been warmer than the normal highs. The normal high at this time of year is 7 degrees above, and the normal low is 11 below.

''This one has more personality than anything I remember recently,'' meteorologist Ted Fathauer told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

On the Kenai Peninsula, heavy rains caused floods, damaging roads just as crews were finishing repairs from October floods in the same area. Damage to a bridge even closed the Sterling Highway to Homer just south of Anchor Point.

For reasons not fully understood, a huge ridge of high pressure is sitting along the West Coast of the Lower 48 and Canada, Hopkins said. This bulge acts like a diverting dike for low-pressure systems that migrate across the North Pacific from near Japan.

Instead of continuing eastward, the lows swirl northward, sucking winds along as they hit the Chugach Mountains. After topping the peaks from the southeast, the winds pick up speed on the downslope, becoming compressed and, therefore, heated.

But don't put the parkas in cold storage just yet. Weather experts say winter will descend on Alaska eventually.



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