Winter-loving Alaskans clinging to La Nina dreams of a winter better than the Seattle-soggy nightmare of a year ago best ignore the latest report from the national Climate Prediction Center.
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
Now, for those of you foolish enough to read past the break (if it was a mistake, you still have a chance to stop here), it appears the chances for that long-hoped-for La Nina are fading.
The Sept. 12 climate report is that tropical water temperatures are now “neutral,” and “ENSO neutral conditions are slightly favored (between 55 and 60 percent) during the northern hemisphere fall and winter 2016-2017.”
ENSO is the acronym for the El Nino-Southern Oscillation of warm water in the tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean. Climatologists and geophysicists generally describe what goes on there as water sloshing in a tub.
Sometimes the warm water is in the western Pacific and sometimes the warm water sloshes into the eastern Pacific. The latter triggers the El Nino phenomenon known too well to Alaskans in recent years.
Winds blowing over water pushing past Hawaii on the way to the West Coast of North America suck up ocean heat and storm north toward Alaska in the form of the so-called “Pineapple Express” . It then roars across the Gulf of Alaska to pound Southeast or Southcentral with wind and rain.
A lot of snow dreams have been washed away by this sort of weather in Alaska in recent years. Last year, snow sports didn’t get going in the 2.3-million-acre Chugach National Forest just south of Alaska’s largest city until the middle of December, which is about a month late, and then it seemed that just about every snow storm through the winter was followed by a thaw and rain.
Anchorage itself saw very little snow below 2,000 feet, which was something of a regional norm.
“Attack of El Nino? Maybe,” is how the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center summed things up.“The 2015/16 winter season was, like the past two seasons, characterized by above average temperatures but in contrast to the prior winters, there was about average precipitation in the advisory area.
“Snow to sea level happened on a few occasions but sadly was followed by rain. There was one minor cold snap in early December but after that the temperature stayed above average. Clear sunny days were a rare treat in between storms as most of the winter was dominated by this warm, wet and windy weather.”
Depression and hope
The gray, dreary winter left many depressed. Hope sprang early that a replay would be avoided.
Anchorage television station KTVA eased a La Nina bandwagon out the door way back in February, noting the state’s unusually warm winter, but headlining “El Nino fades with La Nina Possible for Next Winter.”
By July, KTUU-TV was reporting “El Nino becomes La Nina and what it means for Alaska.” KTUU weather reporter Tracy Sinclare did warn “a little caution before there’s too much excitement for a cold, snowy winter,” but a lot of fans of winter quickly tossed that warning aside.
It might be time to consider it again. Now as then, sea surface water temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska remain above normal, and that warm water is expected to continue to influence the weather of coastal Alaska no matter what happens with the Nina-Ninos.
Still, there is always at least a glimmer of hope. The whole La Nina-El Nino phenomenon isn’t as clear cut as some would like to think. La Nina winters are likely to be colder and drier than El Nino winters, but there is a huge amount of variability no matter which event is underway.
“For example,” the Alaska Climate Dispatch reported in 2010, “in what turned out to be the coldest La Nina winter in Fairbanks (1970-71), a week long warm-up right before Christmas brought several days with above freezing temperatures, and it even rained on Christmas Eve…(and) it is important to stress that during weak La Ninas, there is no pattern at all to observed temperatures and precipitation in Alaska.
“A weak La Niña occurred in 1964-65, which is amongst the coldest winters of the past 60 years over much of Alaska, and also in 2000-01, which is amongst the warmest.”
So there you have it, the coming winter is likely to be colder and drier than last year, or warmer and wetter, or pretty much the same.