Heavy snow not likely through February

Snowfall for season could be the lowest in Juneau's history

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2001

The unusual warm weather that has idled skiers and confused primroses probably will last through mid-March, according to the National Weather Service.

Meteorologist Aimee Devaris said a high pressure ridge along the West Coast is steering warm, rainy weather toward Alaska, while forcing arctic air east to the Lower 48. And for the next two months, there is no end in sight.

"There are indications we may return to a cooler weather pattern this spring, but at least for the remainder of much of the winter, it looks like we're in this warmer pattern," Devaris said.

"That's not to say we won't get snow in the higher elevations and occasionally we may see snow at sea level, but it's just not a good, cold, snowy winter for us."

The news did not sit well with the man who runs Eaglecrest Ski Area.

"No. Are you kidding me?" said manager Paul Swanson, who has waited in vain to open the resort. "For me to think things aren't going to change until mid March, I just can't believe that."

Swanson said he's not giving up on winter yet. If temperatures drop a couple degrees he still might be able to make enough snow for skiers, he said.

"This week they're talking about the temperatures being 34 to 35 (degrees) in town - that will put snow here," Swanson said Friday. "It's (forecast) to get down into the teens the following week and we should be able to make snow again."

If it all adds up to an additional 18 inches of white stuff on the mountain, Eaglecrest will open, he said.

That 18 inches Swanson is hoping for is nearly twice the total amount of snow Juneau has received so far. As of Thursday, only 11 inches had fallen at the airport since October - a fraction of snowfall compared to winters past. Last year, nearly 35 inches of snow had fallen by this time compared to 67 inches in 1999. Unless the weather changes soon, 2001 will go down in history as the year winter passed Juneau by.

"So far this winter, this has been the least amount of snow that we've ever had," said Devaris of the National Weather Service.

Although Devaris doesn't foresee heavy snow in mid-March, she said it's possible.

"Some of our heaviest snow events have happened in March, so it's nothing I'd rule out," she said.

That could be bad news for plants prematurely coaxed from the ground by the promise of an early spring. Master gardener Dave Lendrum said people should apply mulch to protect their gardens, if they haven't already. He said in the worst scenario a hard frost in March could kill flower buds or plants, but Lendrum believes Juneau gardeners are headed for the best growing season ever.

"When the soil is frozen really hard, when it thaws out, it's so difficult to work - but it never got to that stage this year," he said.

"Now the soil is nice, it's friable. If we avoid the frozen soil, we'll have a big jump on our growing season ... I'm very exuberant.. I'm optimistic."

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com

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