As March shivered toward April in America’s far north with the roads coated in ice and the moose dying of starvation, the National Weather Service was warning residents of Alaska’s largest city that “winter is not over yet.”
With the snow piled feet deep outside most homes, could anyone in touch with reality be thinking winter north of 60-degrees latitude was anywhere near its end? But then again a string of unusually warm winters did make it tempting to believe that global warming might be an overnight change, not a slower journey into a new future.
“Don’t let the recent snowy weather fool you — Alaska is having a really warm year,” the state’s largest newspaper trumpeted just as 2016 was coming to an end.
The headline was accurate to the extent that 2016 was a shockingly warming year. In Anchorage, 83 percent of all days posted temperatures above normal, and that phenomenon was repeated across the state.
But the story overlooked the fact December in Anchorage was on its way to ending a string of 14 months of above normal temperatures. December eventually ended up three degrees below the 19 degree norm, the weather service reported.
January hinted at a change back to what some had come to believe was the new norm of wet and warm, Seattle-like weather along the state’s Gulf Coast, but that didn’t last long. January ended 3.5 degrees below normal, adding a half degree onto the December chill.
February saw a little improvement, at least for those animals that prefer the warmth, with the temperature creeping back to an 18.7 degrees average – only 1.5 degrees colder than normal. But by then it was clear Alaska was back into the first real winter in years.
The 23 inches of snow on the ground in Anchorage as the month ended was a full foot above the norm for February.
And then came March. The first day ended nine degrees below normal, and it set a trend.
As of midnight on March 27, not a single day had seen a temperature creep above the long-term norm for the day, and every day but one had fallen below the temperature of the long-time norm for the day.
At this point, Anchorage is on track to post its fourth straight month of below normal temperatures even if the weather goes Honolulu-like for the next four days. And that doesn’t look likely.
Snow was already falling on the Anchorage Hillside on Monday night. It came only a few hours in advance of what had been predicted in special a weather statement earlier in the day.
“How much snow?” that statement asked.
“While snowfall intensity may not reach heavy enough amounts for our team to send alerts (watches, warnings or advisories), the duration of snowfall may have impacts to your activities… especially after the recent dry stretch of weather. It is possible that snow will continue through the end of the week.
“In the meantime, our meteorologists are updating their forecasts with the most up-to-date information and will have specific snowfall amounts available later this afternoon.”
A later forecast was calling for three to five inches by Wednesday before the weather begins to finally turn springlike in April, if it turns spring like in April. Monday’s temperature averaged 24 degrees – 6 degrees below normal.
Another cold one.
“When it’s spring time in Alaska, it’s 40 below,” country singer Johnny Horton crooned in 1959.
“The single was Johnny Horton’s sixth release on the country chart and the first of three number ones on the country chart,” according to Wikipedia. “The single spent twenty-three weeks on the chart.
“The song takes place in Fairbanks, Alaska, in the springtime…The lyrics say the temperature outside is −40 °F (−40 °C). While it is very rare for the temperature to actually be that low in the springtime in Fairbanks, it has happened. A low temperature of −40 °F (−40 °C) was recorded at the Fairbanks International Airport on March 30, 1970.“
Fortunately, the Alaska climate has since warmed. It only got down to minus-3 in Fairbanks on Monday. And, with the days getting longer fast and solar radiation washing the north, Fairbanks is about to make the big leap from the Alaska snow-season into the Alaska no-snow season.
The historic monthly low for March in February has a mean of minus 2.5 degrees; the low jumps more than 18 degrees to 20.6 in April, according the Alaska Climate Research Center. Meanwhile, the daily high climbs from a chilly average of 25.4 in March to 44.5 in April.
Not exactly balmy, but warm enough that Fairbanksans can usually hang up their parkees for the year.