Forecast: 'Mild winter' could feel snowier

Posted: Monday, October 20, 2003

Juneau may be in store for a mild winter, but it may seem cooler and snowier to residents who have grown accustomed to very mild winters, the National Weather Service says.

Tom Ainsworth, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Juneau, pointed out that last year there wasn't even any measurable snowfall recorded at the Juneau Airport until Dec. 14.

That was the latest first snowfall on record in Juneau, he added. And last winter was the warmest on record in Alaska.

Climate experts nationally have forecast this winter will be warmer than normal in Alaska and the far West. Ainsworth said he expects a warm winter but one closer to normal for Juneau. But he also said the long-range weather signals for Alaska are "mixed and complex."

John Jones Jr., deputy director of the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C., said last week that Alaska, the far West, the Southwest and the southern plains should expect warm temperatures compared to long-term averages.

For most of the country, including Alaska and the far West, there seems to be an equal chance of above-average, below average and average precipitation, he added.

El Nino conditions make Pacific Ocean water unusually warm, while La Nina conditions have the opposite effect.

"Without a strong El Nino or La Nina signal as a guide, there is more uncertainty in our forecast," Jones said.

Ainsworth said it appears the El Nino conditions, which generally steer warmer winter weather to Alaska, are shifting into La Nina conditions.

The last few winters have been so mild that the 30-year average seasonal snowfall at the Juneau Airport has dropped from about 96 inches to 93 inches. Last year, Juneau recorded only about 53 inches of snow.

An average season would bring another 40 inches of snow in the Mendenhall Valley, with the first snowfall around Nov. 4, Ainsworth said.

Different areas in Juneau often get different weather. Downtown tends to get less snow but more rain, and the deepest snowfalls are found beyond Auke Bay, Ainsworth said.

Although snow is visible on some coastal mountains now, Ainsworth doesn't foresee snow coming soon to where most people live, elevations below 300 feet.

"We've been in a rather mild pattern for three or four weeks," he said Friday.

He expects the mild weather to continue for at least another couple of weeks.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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