Fresh off several winters of global warming, some in Alaska’s largest city were Wednesday wondering if the climate hadn’t flipped into some sort of new Ice Age.
As if to put an underline beneath a winter that has already reminded Anchorage residents inclined toward warm weather that their fantasies of becoming the new Seattle will have to wait, winter on Tuesday announced that it wasn’t going to go away quietly this year.
The message came in the form of up to nearly a foot of snow that closed schools and made life difficult for everyone but the kids happy to stay home.
Could it be only three years ago that the New York Times was quoting Camilo Mora, a geography professor at the University of Hawaii and the lead author on a then-new, global-warming paper saying “Alaska is going to be the next Florida by the end of the century?”
The claim didn’t seem so far-fetched a year ago, and Mora could still be right. Nobody really knows what is going to happen in the future. And though Alaska is enduring a cold and snowy winter this year, the evidence for climate change is strong.
Still, on Wednesday, it felt more like Alaska was in the process of becoming the next Greenland than the next Seattle.
Where’s the lawn?
Last year at this time, many in Anchorage were looking at their grass. Now, many are wondering when they will finally see their lawns emerge from beneath two feet or more snow.
Last year, Jeff Lowenfels, a gardening columnist for the Anchorage newspaper, was asking “Ready for an early gardening season?”
“OK, in the old days we would have about nine weeks or so to go before planting outside without fear of a frost,” he wrote. “None of us can be so sure of that now, not since El Nino started dating Global Warming (which no one in Alaska can deny — period) last fall. What we can say with pretty much certainty is that Planting Out Day is going to be earlier this year.”
This year, it was looking like the good old days were back. The tool of choice for yard work was the snow shovel, not the hoe, although for many people a snowblower or truck with a plow on front might have been better than a shovel.
At midday, there were reports of 10 and a half inches of snow on the ground along the Anchorage HIllside with more still falling. It was wet, heavy snow adding to a snowpack that remained a couple of feet deep.
Lowenfels “nine weeks” was looking almost a little too optimistic.
Winter’s shift away from the possible new-normal back to the old normal started in December when the big story was Alaska’ record warmth in 2016.
“Don’t let the recent snowy weather fool you — Alaska is having a really warm year,” the Alaska Dispatch News headlined on Dec. 30, 2016. And Alaska was, indeed, coming off a very warm year. But that was already changing.
December, according to the National Weather Service, ended three degrees colder than normal. It broke an amazing string of 14 straight months with temperatures above normal and along the way set a precedent for the entire winter.
January would be colder than normal, too, and February. And along the way the snow that had been largely missing for a couple of winters finally showed up. Anchorage lagged behind the norm for snow into mid-January, but it was above normal before the month was over, and it has stayed above normal despite a long stretch of cold, clear weather this month.
The official National Weather Service recording station near the Ted Stevens International Airport was actually well behind a normal March for snow until Wednesday when it received 8.4 inches. That brought the month’s total to 9.7 – 0.3 inches above normal.
Total snowfall for the winter as of Wednesday stood at 81.8 inches, more than a foot above normal. And March is sure to be the fourth straight month with temperatures below normal.
The high on Wednesday only made it to 29. Normal for the date is 38. The daily high in Anchorage has not reached the long-term average on any single day since late February. But the weatherman was offering hope for those who prefer Alaska’s short, warm, non-snow season over its long, sometimes cold, snow season.
Daily high temperatures were forecast to climb into the 40s as March slid into April.
Not everyone was taking that as good news. The Alyeska Resort in Girdwood just to the east of Anchorage had already announced it was extending its ski season through April 23 thanks to a bounty of snow, and there are those in the 49th state who would be happy with an endless winter.
It is doubtful they will ever see that wish fulfilled. But the winter of 2016-17 did appear to be giving them enough cold and snow to fuel hope.