Wet, dry extremes add up to average rainfall

Meteorological excesses in Juneau have taken their toll

Posted: Wednesday, September 04, 2002


Correction to Story

The driest spring in Juneau's recorded weather history was followed this year by the third wettest July and the second wettest August, according to the National Weather Service.

While the beginning of September has brought summer-like days that may blur Juneau's collective memory of previous months, August's 10.51 inches was the second highest rainfall total for that month since the weather service began taking readings at the Juneau Airport in 1943. Forty-six days in July and August received 0.01 inches of precipitation or more; 15.24 inches of rain fell during the two-month period.

The wet second half of the summer is a stark contrast to spring, during which only 3.9 inches of rain - 6 inches fewer than average - fell on 27 of 92 days. March and April temperatures averaged 4.5 degrees below normal and May averaged less than one degree below normal.

Despite the dry-wet extremes, Juneau's year-to-date rainfall is only three-tenths of an inch below normal. "Pretty much when you average it all out, this year's been pretty normal," said Michael Mitchell, a meteorologist in the NWS forecast office in Juneau.

Whatever the statistics, Juneau businesses have felt the effects of this summer's cloudy days.

"I've been flying in Juneau for 34 years, and this is probably the worst summer I've seen," said Jim Wilson, owner of Coastal Helicopters. "We lost over 200 pre-booked passengers, and who knows how many walk-ups there would have been. I would say we lost close to 500 seats."

In addition to tourist bookings, Coastal lost about 10 percent of its industrial business, Wilson said. The company does mountaintop construction, repeater and power line work.

"The amount of lost revenue this year is greater than it's been in past years ... It's really going to hurt," he said.

Barbara Kelly, sales manager for Alaska Discovery, an adventure guiding service based in Juneau, said the company's trip to Pack Creek on Admiralty Island was hardest hit by the weather.

"We had flights to Admiralty that we had to cancel because the planes just couldn't go up. When that happens we have to refund (the customer's) money, and we have certain costs that we have regardless of whether the trip goes up or not," she said.

On the upside, she said, surviving a four-day kayak trip in the rain has some benefits.

"You find out that being out in the rain is not as bad as you thought it could be," she said.

For Juneau residents hoping to get a reprieve from the rain this fall, Carl Dierking, science operations officer for the weather service office, said not to count on it.

"Fall in Juneau is just a very wet time of year," Dierking said. "More and bigger storms are directed our way because it's the transition period from summer to winter. In winter, when the contrast between warm and cold air starts to intensify, we can see a lot of storms."

In fact, we may be in for a rainier winter than usual.

"We do have an el niño episode developing in the tropical Pacific, which has had some correlation to warmer conditions in the Gulf Coast, all the way from Anchorage to Juneau," said Mitchell. He said that Southeast Alaska probably will see the effects of this el niño from December 2002 to early 2003.

"When we have el niño, two extremes can occur," Mitchell said. "It can be really warm and no snow, or it can be really snowy, and I'm not willing to make that prediction."

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.

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