El Niño drives dry weather

Meteorologist says precipitation below normal in Juneau

Posted: Monday, February 08, 2010

Precipitation fell below normal this winter in Juneau as the effects of El Niño increased through the season.

Snow and rainfall is below normal, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Bob Tschantz, who said Sunday that the city has seen nearly 20 fewer inches of snow than a normal year.

Juneau had 49.2 inches of snow at Juneau International Airport as of Sunday, which is 19.2 inches below normal.

After three straight years of above-average snowfall, residents surely noticed the change.

By this time last year, 130.7 inches of snow had fallen at the airport.

"We're definitely dry in the snow bucket," Tschantz said.

Precipitation is not being made up in rainfall.

Since the first of the year, 5.27 inches of rain fell - more than half an inch below average. Going back to December, Juneau's rainfall this winter was about 2 inches below average.

Warmer ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean bring warm air to Juneau during an El Niño cycle.

Higher temperatures usually mean rain instead of snow for Juneau, but storm tracks within the region have kept much of the precipitation away, Tschantz said.

The past few winters, Juneau experienced record snowfalls as weather was dominated by La Niña - colder ocean temperatures in the Pacific that bring colder air to Southeast.

This winter, with its strong November snowstorms, did not bring classic El Niño weather until recently. The mild weather with low snowfall amounts seen the past three weeks are more typical of an El Niño pattern, Tschantz said.

About 20 inches of snow fell the first two weeks of January, and Juneau hasn't seen much since. Only half an inch fell during the last two weeks of January as temperatures hovered 4 degrees above average.

So far this month, a trace of snow fell as temperatures have been 7 degrees above average.

Juneau last experienced a day with temperatures that didn't exceed freezing on Jan. 12.

The coldest day so far this winter was New Years Eve, at 8 degrees.

El Niño is expected to stick around through the winter, but will start to take less of an effect on local weather by late spring or summer, Tschantz said.

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