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Weathering the forecast

Even the weatherman is getting sick of Juneau's almost snowless winter

Posted: Monday, January 15, 2001

It has been a season of discontent for weather forecaster and avid skier Ed Plumb.

He would love to predict snow, but the National Weather Service employee must forecast with his head, not his heart.

"You know, we've got a big warm body of water ... you know, forecasting snow in Southeast is difficult ... you know, we've got warmer air moving in ..."

The forecast is not good for the Eaglecrest Ski Area, so it's understandable why Plumb would hem and haw about whether it should snow or rain.

Eaglecrest surpassed its record for latest opening on

Jan. 13, 1996. It snowed last week, but not nearly enough.

"We have about 8 inches on the ground at the base and probably 4 feet at the top," said ski area manager Paul Swanson, who was busy this morning plowing about 3 inches of wet, heavy snow from the Eaglecrest parking lot. "It's raining here at the lodge right now."

Eaglecrest officials want several feet at the base before opening.

Plumb was as pleased as anyone to see the flakes fall Wednesday through Saturday as 5 to 6 inches of snow accumulated throughout town. And he was just as sorry to see it washed away by rain and warmer temperatures on Sunday.

"I forgot what the white stuff looked like," said Plumb, who already has taken two ski trips to the Lower 48 this winter.

The mercury, which dropped to the low 20s last week, hit 40 this morning near the airport, downtown and at Plumb's office on Back Loop Road.

He reported the temperature at 32 near the Mount Roberts Tramway at about 1,700 feet. The Eaglecrest base sits at about 1,200 feet and the top at 2,600.

The warm, wet weather also has been tough on skaters, skiers and snowmobilers waiting to enjoy the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area.

"I suspect the ice is not very good and there's no snow on the ground," U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Pete Griffin said today.

On Friday the Forest Service announced there was enough snow for snowmachines on the Dan Moller Trail. Griffin estimates there's about a foot of snow at 700 feet on the trail off Blueberry Hill on Douglas Island.

If there is a silver lining, the winter has been good for wildlife. Griffin said open water and bare ground means more food for birds and deer.

"We should see greater fawn survival and young bucks should come through the winter healthier and with bigger antlers," Griffin said.

Meanwhile, forecaster Plumb plans to fly to Colorado next week for another ski vacation.

But he also hopes to hit the local slopes as soon as possible. Plumb did hike up Eaglecrest one day last month for some downhill skiing.

"It was marginal, especially with the devil's club sticking out," he said. "They didn't have any leaves but the stumps were there, thorns and all."

Mike Sica can be reached at msica@juneauempire.com.



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