It's a matter of degrees

Warm, wet month limits snow to peaks

Posted: Wednesday, December 01, 2004

December is hitting Juneau, but looking a lot like November, thanks to just a couple of degrees.

Temperatures for November were 3.5 degrees above normal for the month even before Tuesday's above-average temperatures were figured in, said Pete Rahe of the National Weather Service in Juneau.

"The normal should be 33.3 degrees," said Rahe, a hydrometeorological technician. Through Monday, the average was running at 36.8 degrees. November 2003 was cooler than normal, with an average temperature of 30.6, according to weather service records.

The difference between rain and snow on many days has been just a matter of two or three degrees, he said.

The lack of snow has slowed business at Nugget Alaskan Outfitter in the Nugget Mall, said Nancy Potts, assistant manager. She said most of the people who buy snow boots or snow pants don't unless there is snow on the ground.

"We are certainly weather-driven," Potts said. "Without snow, you don't have people excited about skiing."

This November was wetter than last, with 8.32 inches of precipitation compared to last year's 6.22 inches officially at the airport, according to forecaster Michael Mitchell. But last year, most of the precipitation piled up as 24.9 inches of snow, according to weather service records. Because snow takes up more space than rain, winter snowfall totals often run higher than precipitation totals, which measure moisture.

This November was an exception, Mitchell said. Juneau officially got only two inches of snow this year, as the precipitation "was about 95 percent rain."

Juneau's airport recorded a trace of snow on Oct. 19. Normally that doesn't happen until Nov. 5, according to the weather service. And more snow is expected.

Mountain peaks are getting snow, though, Rahe said, noting that already 45 inches fell near the top of Eaglecrest Ski Area.

Eaglecrest has targeted Dec. 11 for its opening, said Jeffra Clough, its marketing director. In the 13 years she has been at the ski area, there have been only two when it could open for Thanksgiving, she added.

"We just don't have enough cover to safely open," she said. "We are getting snow up high. We will have a good base and good snow coverage."

The lodge at the base of the ski area is at 1,200 feet, she said. As long as there is precipitation, "if it's 38 degrees or lower around town, we usually get snow at the base."

At Play It Again Sports, near Costco in the Lemon Creek area, part-owner Rusty Scudder said he doesn't know what normal is because the store opened this November.

But he believes people would be buying more snow-sports gear if they saw more snow up close, he said. "There are lots of people buying skis. There are lots of people buying snowboards. I'm very confident we're going to get more snow."

Rahe said things should cool down as early as this weekend, with an "arctic outbreak" predicted to move in with drier, cooler temperatures.

That could change things. To get into a snowy mode, "usually you need to get cold air in place and the warmer air over the top of it," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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