This winter, a normal snowfall is abnormal

No records were set. There was nothing abnormal about the snow that fell Saturday and Sunday in Juneau.

 

That was unusual.

According to measurements taken by the National Weather Service, February’s first significant snowstorm had dropped 6.5 inches of snow at Juneau International Airport by 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

In what has been an abnormally snowless winter, that figure represents more than a quarter of all Juneau’s snow since Dec. 1 and about one-sixth of its snow this winter. In a normal winter, Juneau would have had 63.2 inches of snow at the airport by Feb. 8. This winter, the capital city has seen 34.9 inches of snow, one of the lowest figures since recordkeeping began at the airport in 1943.

The weekend snow that Juneau saw Saturday and Sunday was a followup to a storm that dumped flakes on the central panhandle, explained meteorologist Wes Adkins of the National Weather Service in Juneau.

At the end of the workweek, strong northerly winds ripped across the northern panhandle. On Thursday, a wind gust of 140 mph was recorded on Sheep Mountain. On Friday, a gust of 114 mph was measured at Eldred Rock. “I think we were looking at archives, and we had never before issued hurricane-force wind warnings in the upper Lynn Canal in the 16, 17, 18 years we’ve kept records of that,” Adkins said.

With extreme winds and heavy freezing spray reported, the Alaska Marine Highway ferry Aurora canceled all sailings on Friday after delaying its departure from Hoonah to avoid the worst of the winds.

At the same time, a storm was moving north from near Haida Gwaii.

“We had this incredibly deep dome of cold air, and then we had this storm system moving up with some decent subtropical moisture,” Adkins said.

The strong northern winds and cold air near the surface levered the storm upward, creating what meteorologists call an “overrunning” pattern. As the moisture within the storm cooled at higher altitudes, it condensed into rain and snow. “The moisture ahead of this system had nowhere else to go except riding up over the cold air dome,” Adkins said.

Ketchikan got heavy rain at 34 degrees, Adkins said. In Petersburg, 14.5 inches of snow were reported in 24 hours ending Friday evening. Coffman Cove received 11 inches of snow; Craig had nine inches. In Wrangell, it was a foot of wet, heavy snow. In Hyder, 21 inches of snow were reported by Friday evening. Juneau, at the far northern edge, got only a trace of snow from the first storm.

The capital city’s snowfall didn’t arrive until the following day, when another wave of moisture moved over the panhandle, this time from the west-southwest. As before, the warm, wet air overran the cold air near the surface. It condensed and delivered the flakes that have been absent from Juneau this winter.

A third wave of moisture arrived Sunday morning, but it dropped its load of snow north and west of Juneau. At Haines, low visibility and whiteout conditions were reported Sunday morning. North of Skagway, the Klondike Highway was closed due to blowing snow and poor visibility.

Temperatures will begin rising today, and Adkins said the capital city can expect a brief break in the weather until precipitation returns Tuesday night and Wednesday. As temperatures rise, he said, Juneau can expect a return to the conditions it saw throughout January — snow turning to rain and temperatures in the upper 30s and low 40s.

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