Wet winter weather breaks record

Weather service predicts snow could return tonight

Posted: Monday, January 06, 2003

Juneau went from Christmas wonderland to slushy, icy wind tunnel over the weekend.

As some of the last vestiges of snow and ice melted from lower elevations this morning, the National Weather Service issued another high wind advisory. The highest wind gusts at the Juneau Airport peaked at 52 mph on Sunday, mirroring conditions Saturday.

The storm is the result of a strong front that has been stuck over Southeast Alaska for the past couple of days, said Julia Ruthford, a meteorologist intern with the National Weather Service in Juneau.

"Waves, or kinks in the front, have brought periods of stronger winds," she said. "The front is going to move through today and hopefully out of here."

A station at Sheep Mountain, an exposed site 3,542 feet above Juneau, recorded a gust of 133 mph Saturday afternoon, Ruthford said.

A look at December weather

Average temperature:

31.9 degrees, more than 3 degrees above normal.

Precipitation:

5.86 inches, 0.45 of an inch above average.

Snowfall:

7.7 inches of snow fell in December, about 3 inches below average. The first snow of the winter season fell Dec. 14, setting a record for the latest winter snowfall. The previous record was set Nov. 20, 1980.

Source: National Weather Service

The high winds came mixed with higher-than-normal temperatures and plenty of rain. Juneau set a record for rainfall Sunday - 1.15 inches - topping the old 1.01 inch record set in 1971. Precipitation Saturday was 0.93 of an inch.

The temperature at Juneau's airport was 44 degrees this morning, but weather service was forecasting freezing temperatures and a 40 percent chance of snow tonight.

"The temperatures should be getting back somewhere closer to normal," Ruthford said. "We've had high temperatures and a lot of rain."

Local skiers and snowboarders got a taste of winter when the Eaglecrest Ski Area's lower runs opened Dec. 29. But ski lifts were closed today due to "tropical weather," according to Eaglecrest's recorded ski condition hotline.

"We closed Saturday morning. It was actually raining very hard with high winds," Eaglecrest business manager Gary Mendivil said. "We're waiting day-to-day to see when the snow is going to be returning."

It's unusual for Eaglecrest to open and close because of such erratic weather, Mendivil said. While Juneau has had plenty of precipitation, the warm temperatures have been troublesome for the ski area, he said.

"It's quite strange for there to be this big a warming period in January. Usually January is very, very cold," he said. "We had some really nice days of skiing and all of a sudden it took a turn for the worse."

The warm temperatures haven't helped snowmachiners and cross-country skiers, either. The Juneau Ranger District today closed the Lake Creek Trail winter route off Back Loop Road and Blueberry access/Dan Moller Trail in West Juneau to snowmachines and all-terrain vehicles because of a lack of snow.

The storm also pummeled the rest of Southeast Alaska. Wind gusts on the roof of the Ketchikan Airport terminal reached 81 mph Sunday night. Hydaburg saw a gust of 74 mph on Sunday morning.

• Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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