Juneau residents who are feeling like this winter hasn’t exactly been normal are right. In fact, the capital city is in the midst of an “outrageously warm” January, according to a local weather forecaster.
And the phenomenon is not unique to the capital city, either. Yakutat, for example, had six inches of rain dumped during a 24-hour period Wednesday into Thursday morning, and Sitka reached 56 degrees Thursday.
“Whenever I see daytime highs in January similar to what we might see in the summer, the whole atmosphere is out of it,” said Rick Fritsch, a meteorologist and forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Juneau.
Juneau broke and tied the daily records for high temperatures Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, with temperatures reaching 47 degrees both days. On average, the daily highs this January have been 7.5 degrees warmer than normal, and the nightly lows have been 10 degrees warmer. The all-time high in Juneau for the month was set on Jan. 6, 1958, when the temperature reached 58 degrees.
“We’re not going to break any January records, but we have for individual days,” Fritsch said. “The warmth is impressive.”
He added that if temperatures were colder — as they usually are — the rainfall in Yakutat would have been at least 60 inches of snowfall instead.
“We’ve had more precipitation than normal, but significantly less snow than normal,” Fritsch said.
To be precise, Juneau has received 9.8 inches of total precipitation accumulation, which is already 4.25 inches above the historic January average, but there has only been 4.7 inches of snow — nearly two feet below average.
“It will be the middle of next week, if not later, before we see any snow,” Fritsch said, “but we might be getting to conditions where the temperature is a little more suitable for winter.”
Colder temperatures typically happen when air masses hit Juneau after coming from the Bering Sea to the west.
The reason for the abnormal temperatures is an atmospheric occurrence where warm air and moisture have been travelling up to Juneau from lower latitudes off the California coast, Fritsch explained.
“It can range from inconvenience for people who like snow and want to go snowboarding to situations like Yakutat,” Fritsch said.
Still, one month’s unseasonably high or low temperatures cannot be used to reliably predict how the next month will be, he added.
“The weather patterns around here make it very hard to make predictions month to month,” Fritsch said.