Will winter ever come? Probably not this month

Posted: Monday, February 03, 2003

This winter has been warmer and wetter than normal, and a general outlook issued by the National Center for Environmental Prediction suggests the weather will continue on that track through the end of the month.

The mild temperatures and lack of snow are due to winds from the south that are bringing up warm air, said National Weather Service forecaster Jim Truitt.

Those winds are part of a semipermanent low pressure center known as the "Aleutian Low," which is deeper during El Niño, for reasons not entirely clear to meteorologists, Truitt said.

El Niño is a warming of the ocean off the coast of Peru that occurs every few years. It wreaks havoc with the world's weather system when trade winds change directions and cause the warm water to move. But it's not the immediate cause of Juneau's warm weather.

"The El Niño/La Niña issue is not as pronounced as it is down south," Truitt said. "That southerly flow when the Aleutian Low is in place is our immediate source of warming."

According to the NCEP outlook, Juneau can expect warmer temperatures to persist through August, though precipitation levels are expected to return to normal this month.

The average January temperature was 32 degrees this year, 6 degrees above normal. What's "normal" for a given time of year is determined by averaging temperatures and patterns over many years, Truitt said. January's high temperatures made it the fourth month in a row to average higher-than-normal temperatures, according to the weather service.

But January's highest temperature - 47 degrees on the 4th - was still 10 degrees below the record high for the month. Juneau received about 15 inches of snow - just a little over half what it usually receives.

Juneau's average seasonal snowfall by the end of January is 63 inches, but as of Friday it only had received 32.8 inches.

As to whether Juneau will see a more wintry winter in the future, Truitt stressed that it's impractical to construct an outlook for a year in advance, as there are many different scenarios that could result in more snow and colder temperatures.

"There are many different combinations and many different factors involved," he said.

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