national weather

Here we go again Alaska, if weather guru Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) has it right.

Get out the rain gear and the cleats for those walkways and roads that turn quickly from packed snow to slippery ice when things warm up.

The polar-vortex whisperer and Arctic oscillation monitor expects the latter will soon begin to weaken, spilling cold air into the middle of the continent and causing pressure ridges along the West Coast.

Alaska weather watchers know well what the latter means:

Warm, low-pressure weather systems tracking west to east across the Pacific Ocean get kicked north into the Alaska underbelly. Alaska temperatures climb. Snow starts to melt.

Skate skiing speeds up on the warmer snow until it gets so slushy the skiing slows down. Fat bike trails turn slushy and rutted. Holes open in creeks and rivers to mess with the snowmachine touring. Avalanches come down.

Winter as the state knew it earlier this month in all its white glory becomes a fond memory.

Temperatures around Prince William Sound and on the Anchorage Hillside were already touching 40 degrees by midday Wednesday. 

Cohen on Monday predicted more of this to come.

“Over the next two weeks, ridging/positive geopotential height anomalies are predicted to become focused across Alaska, Northwest Canada and the Gulf of Alaska forcing troughing/negative geopotential height anomalies across eastern North America,” he wrote. “This pattern will increasingly favor relatively mild temperatures across western North America.”

This is something of the new Alaska norm. Four of the warmest years on record since 1900 have come in the last five years with 2016 leading the charge with a mean annual temperature for the year of 37.2 degrees.

That was more than 5 degrees above the historic mean of 32.1 degrees and warmer than the 35.6 degree annual mean for Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in the Canadian wheat belt.

Whether this Alaska warming is a short-term phenomenon or a lasting climate change only time will tell. As the Alaska Climate Center notes, the climate in the state varies considerably from decade to decade, and there is no clear linear trend as “might have been expected from the fairly steady observed increase of CO2 (carbon dioxide)” since 1949.

What is most obvious in a graph of temperature from then until now are the cold decades and the warm decades which have been associated with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which shifts water temperatures from cooler to warmer in the North Pacific Ocean.

The PDO has generally been in a positive, or warm phase, since the late 1980s which has brought Alaska warmer weather and bounties of salmon. 

Today’s models

A well-published scientist, Cohen has linked sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific to Siberian snow cover and troposphere-stratosphere-troposphere (T-S-T) coupling events and come up with interesting ideas on how they affect the polar vortex – the swirl of winds that develop around the frigid blob of air above the ice at the North Pole as Earth spins its way through space.

His blog might be a little extreme for most, but weather geeks will love it. 

Cohen is now a visiting scientist at MIT, one of the country’s great think tanks, and the director of seasonal forecasting at AER, a consultancy providing weather data to businesses sometimes making big gambles on weather.

All of which is to say that when Cohen talks about weather and climate he probably has a better idea of what he is talking about than your Facebook friends, and here is what he is now saying:

  • Through the week, expect atmospheric ridging to “deepen and expand across Eastern Canada resulting in normal to below normal temperatures widespread across Canada with normal to above normal temperatures for Alaska.”
  • Starting next week look for ridging “anomalies across Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska with…normal to above normal temperatures across much of Alaska.
  • And as the month draws to a close figure on  “geopotential height anomalies downstream over western North America centered over in the Gulf of Alaska with more troughing/negative geopotential height anomalies across eastern North America. This will favor normal to above normal temperatures across Alaska.”

The short version? Warm and warm and warm.

That prediction happens to be in agreement with the National Climate Center assessment from December which put the odds between 60 and 70 percent for Alaska temperatures coming in above normal from now through March.

The 2,000-mile Iron Dog snowmachine race from the Matanuska-Susitna Valley to Nome to Fairbanks in February has already abandoned its traditional Big Lake start because of concerns about warm weather.

The race will start this year at Deshka Landing near Willow, Iron Dog organizers announced this week.

“We’ve held off as long as we could on making the decision to move the start from its traditional home on Big Lake,”  dog director John Woodbury said in a media release. “The Nov. 30 earthquake, combined with a slothy freeze-up and deep snow with overflow this year caused concern among our board of directors.”

Snowmobilers Vanton Pettigen, 66, and his wife, 64-year-old Laverne, died when their snowmachines went through thin ice on Big Lake on Dec. 20, according to Alaska State Troopers.

A cold snap followed about a week later to put a solid layer of ice over the lake. There is now enough ice on the lake to support the traditional winter ice road, but the ice thickness is below the norm and the Iron Dog usually attracts dozens, if not hundreds, of motor vehicles on the ice for its start.

The good news for both Iron Doggers and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race mushers who follow them north in March is that despite the warmth there is, at least at this time, a couple of feet of snow on the ground north into the Yentna River drainage, up into the Alaska Range, and across the north slope of the range in the Kuskokwim River drainage. 

Big Lake is on the northern edge of the Anchorage Metropolitan Area, which saw a very warm end to 2018. October was 6.6 degrees above normal, and November even warmer at 7.9 degrees above the norm.

December was again 6.6 degrees above normal, but January began a big cool down with temperatures on several days dropping below zero for the first time all winter.

It has since warmed up. The National Weather Service ended 2018 predicting a low ice year for Cook Inlet at the front door of the state’s largest city, and the Wednesday forecast said “temperatures may be conducive for
melt rather than growth” this week.

At 1,000 feet on the Hillside above the Inlet, where the Wednesday temperature never dropped below 35 degrees and peaked at 41 degrees, the snow pack was settling fast.





















13 replies »

  1. The Alaska temperatures make it seem that it will soon be annexed by Missouri–or maybe Louisiana. (I am sweltering more than usual in MO, and have visited LA during a warm month.)

    • That is interesting Bill, kind of like the worldwide year without a summer caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 and same thing to a lesser degree with Krakatoa in 1883.

      I’m glad to see you reading up about our history Bill.

  2. The IronDog move to Deshka Landing doesn’t make a whole lot of safety-sense to me. Yes, Big Lake had a couple tragic fatalities early this year. But Big Lake has since frozen enough to drive trucks on it. Maybe folks have forgotten, but there has also been a death in a notorious hole in the Big Su a couple of miles below Deshka Landing. This hole opened up in 2009(?) just before the Iditarod and claimed a life (snowmobiler). Iditarod teams had to hug the east bank that year to avoid the hole. And this open hole was the reason why early season traffic out of Deshka Landing was routed overland to Rolly Creek this year (something that is rarely done). The spot where the hole is below Deshka Landing is usually a chaotic maze of tracks. So it’s easy for people, like IronDog spectators, to get duped into driving over thin ice. If I were running the IronDog, I would definitely have kept the start at Big Lake. That part of the Big Su below Deshka Landing creeps me out when I go by it, winter and summer. Some serious powerful water flow there, at all times of the year.

    • Tim,
      You are right about that spot about 2 miles south of the landing.
      It has been a challenge this year as well.
      Several channels converge at that point and have not been fully frozen for many of the last past winters.
      I managed to get through hugging that east bank as you said, but just so you know the trail leaving the landing was still not marked as of today with any trail markers.
      The markers do start near the mouth of the Deshka River where the Rolly Creek trail comes down.

      • Steve . I know you hate trump but being as you are distrustful of geo engineering- (as am I ) please take a look at a website called written by health ranger aka mike Adams . Much of his stuff are things you and I see similar to , he is probably more extreme veiws that you or I but he is informed and a scientist with the good of Americans and the earth in mind . He is trump supporter but ignore that as he has informative point of veiws on many items . Vaccines – geo engineering and much more . Please look up his article counterthink . I’m not sure I agree with his premise of a planned doom of mankind but the results will be the same weather it’s planned or not . He has a 45 minute video about it that I was intrigued by . Gotta go have a good day .

      • Opinion,
        Thanks for the info.
        By the way…
        I do not hate Trump as you say (never met him).
        But, I will call him out on all his lies and hypocrisy (like how data shows the wall will not stop drugs or how he is not a globalist).
        How can a business person with hotels and resorts around the globe claim to not be a globalist?
        I also do not like how he treats women…like “pussy grabbing” comments.
        I just do not feel a man like Trump who had everything handed to him by his father really understands the struggle of average Americans.
        Research the truth about Trump’s bankruptcies and his shady business deals with foreign nationals.
        His dad seems like he was a very hard worker.
        Contractor type with “boots on the ground” not “head in the clouds”.
        The link below I listed on geoengineering shows government documents with patents for “ice nucleation” going back to the 1920’s and cloudseeding operations like “operation popeye” used extensively throughout Vietnam.
        Lastly, yes…I agree vaccines are another concern…
        Aluminum and other heavy metals mixed in with cultures from monkey organs used to grow vaccine.
        Does not seem like a “boost” to our natural immune system by any means.
        Thanks for the reply.
        Have a good day.

      • “I’m not sure I agree with his premise of a planned doom of mankind but the results will be the same weather it’s planned or not.”

        Planned doom of mankind, um, I’ll pass. Let me just guess here without reading a word the man has written that there are nefarious actors out there that are determined to destroy mankind. Most likely via vaccines, altered foods, not eating enough pig fat etc. How am I doing?

  3. Craig, I enjoy your blog but you seem to suffer from an Anchorage myopia. If you replace the word “Alaska” with “Anchorage” in this article it would make more sense. While more people live in Anchorage and Matsu, it is hardly, geographically speaking, representative of the entire state. The interior is seeing minus 50s this year already with more cold weather by this weekend. We are a little low on snow for the year but because we rarely get above freezing all the year’s snow is there to play in.

    • yes, the Interior has seen some minus-50 this year. it was colder then hell along the Yukon.

      but those statewide means in the story are statewide, and if you go look at Fairbanks in recent years, it is following the statewide trend. 3.9 above its mean in 2016. (

      2.3 above the mean in 2015. ( 3.2 above the mean in 2014 (

      i can’t find a 2017 summary on the climate research center’s database up there, but it ended crazy warm if you remember:

      yes, Fairbanks remains a cold spot, but not as cold as it once was. and yes, a shift from -50 to -46 is nothing like an Anchorage shift from 29 to 33, which starts things to melting. but it is warming.

      the real question is whether this is part of some long term shift (climate change) or just a decadal blip. the ever-longer growing season up north would seem to point toward the former, and that is significant on a variety levels from wildlife carrying capacity to agriculture to the northward march of forest to permafrost fading.

  4. Chances of a “normal” snow year not looking good for Anchorage.
    By Tracy Sinclare |
    Posted: Sun 3:46 PM, Nov 25, 2018 |
    Updated: Sun 4:13 PM, Nov 25, 2018

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Anchorage has seen only 2.3 inches of snow for the season through Nov. 24.

    Based on the early low snow totals and the expected El Nino this winter, Climate Specialist Rick Thoman tweets that the chance of Anchorage reaching a “normal” snow total for the season is about 11 percent. Thoman looked at snow totals during previous El Nino winters.

    A normal snow year would mean Anchorage would receive 74.5 inches of snow. Thoman says Anchorage has an 88 percent chance of seeing 30 inches or more of snow this winter and a 53 percent chance of 50 or more inches.

    Fairbanks is in a little better situation. As of Nov. 23, the city has received 9 inches of snow and has a 21 percent chance of seeing a normal snow fall season.

    Typically, by Nov. 24, Anchorage has seen 18.2 inches of snow. Snow totals so far for the 2018-2019 season are 15.9 inches below normal.

    The Climate Prediction Center says there is an 80 percent chance a weak El Nino will form between December 2018 and February 2019.

    When an El Nino pattern occurs, winters in Alaska, particularly southern Alaska, tends to be warmer than normal. The three-month outlook from the CPC for Dec.-Feb shows the entire state of Alaska is forecast to be warmer than normal. The southern half of the state has a slightly better than average chance of seeing more rain and snow.

    El Nino is created when there are warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. For it to be considered an El Nino, the sea surface temperatures have to rise above .5 degrees Celsius or about .9 degrees Fahrenheit.

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