La Niña cycle could mean a cold winter for Juneau

Data suggest average temperature will be lower than normal

Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007

The coming winter is likely to be a cold one for Juneau, National Weather Service forecaster Rick Fritsch said.

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Presently there is a La Niña cycle that will intensify as the winter encroaches, bringing colder-than-average temperatures, Fritsch said.

"It's intensifying slowly, not dramatically, but slowly," he said. "We are coming into a time when we will feel the affects."

La Niña is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, according to the National Weather Service Web site. In contrast, El Niño comes with unusually warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific.

Other variables could change this, Fritsch said, but initial data suggest the overall average temperature should be lower than the yearly average.

"On any given day it might be warmer than normal, but overall when you consider the entire winter, we expect it to be cooler than normal," he said.

During January, typically Juneau's coldest month, the average evening low temperature is around 20 degrees with daytime highs around 30 degrees, Fritsch said.

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The National Weather Service is looking at data and other information for the total precipitation in Juneau this winter and will be releasing its findings in a couple of weeks, Fritsch said. But due to the expected colder temperatures, it's possible the city would have heavy snowfall this winter.

"At casual glance it does seem reasonable that we would see a little more snow (than average)," Fritsch said.

However, all the variables make it very difficult to predict the amount of snow that actually will fall, he said. For instance, last winter was a weak El Niño cycle, which at face value was supposed to result in warmer and dryer weather, he said.

"As we all know, we got hammered with the biggest snowfall on record in Juneau," Fritsch said.

Two storm systems, one in November and another in late February, turned a somewhat average winter into a record snow year, he said.

"Two systems took us from normal to biggest snowfall on record here in Juneau," Fritsch said. "And that's how variable snowfall can be. And that was supposed to be an El Niño winter."

After a record-breaking winter that tested the city's snow removal and plowing resources, man-hours and budgets, the Public Works department is gearing up for the season, Director Joe Buck said.

"There were a lot of lessons that were learned last year - that was one heck of a year," he said. "We've been really hustling getting equipment ready to go."

The department has been doing repairs on its plow trucks and snow blowers and has acquired the necessary sand and chemical de-icers it relies on for winter road maintenance, Buck said. Public Works also has been hiring seasonal workers to help keep the roads clear this winter.

Buck said Public Works is not worrying about the early weather predictions and listening to all the rumors.

"We prepare as normal," he said. "Everyone at this time of year is trying to predict what the weather will be like. ... We're prepared and ready for pretty much whatever hits us. We just have to be ready to go."

Although Public Works had to dip into the city's "rainy day fund" last year to cover cost overruns from the record snowfall, Buck said the snow removal budget is comparable to what it was last year and said the department can access more funds if need be.

"Everything worked out well, and this year would be the same basic process," he said. "It's kind of like you leave your money in your savings account until you need it."

Buck said Public Works will be mailing a flyer to every Juneau resident in the coming days detailing the snow removal process and property owner responsibilities.

Buck said he recommends people start preparing for winter by winterizing vehicles, putting on snow tires and even getting out their snow shovels.

Public Works will be ready to hit the streets come first snow, he said.

"If it snows this weekend, we'll be ready," Buck said.

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or

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