‘Seward’s Folly’ redux


So cold the snow stays frozen on a moose’s nose/Craig Medred photo

Coming off the warmest year in Alaska history, the state’s largest city appears headed for the fifth or sixth coldest January in the local climate record.

As of Wednesday, the average monthly temperature of 4.7 degrees was 12.5 degrees below normal, according to the National Weather Service.

That would put it between the 4.6 degree average of 1969 and the 5.1 degrees of 1956 in the Anchorage climate record at this moment, and the temperatures into next week are forecast to be well colder than normal.

The Weather Service is calling for lows to 15 to 20-degrees below zero through Sunday night with highs reaching only to five degrees.

 The normal high for this time of year is 23 degrees with the normal low dipping to 11. The forecast highs through the weekend are significantly lower than the normal lows.

It’s almost like someone flipped a switch on New Year’s Eve when an unusually warm and rainy, Seattle-like like Anchorage transformed into something closer to cold and snowy International Falls, Minn.

Growing glaciers

Officials with the Chugach National Forest on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage were Thursday warning recreationists of growing glaciers making trail travel difficult only a month after warning them to beware of thin ice because lakes had yet to fully freeze.

What a difference a month can make in Alaska.

“…Ice continues to grow and wreak havoc in many trail locations,” the agency’s trail report said. “Carter Lake trail glacier continues to grow at a half mile from the trailhead. Lost Lake trail in the first mile has numerous icy chutes that are quite slippery and sno-goes (snowmobiles) have found them.”

The glaciers the agency referenced aren’t the traditional kind formed by snow accumulations, but the kind built by overflow or “aufeis” glaciation, a regular seasonal event in Alaska.

Regular or not, it can be a headache as feet of ice accumulates.

“Because these white features that endure long into the green of summer are so striking, scientists have studied them for years,” writes Ned Rozell from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. “They have found that aufeis (German for “ice on top”) is often downstream of underground springs that gush all winter long.

“Many Alaskans know this ice as overflow. Its gradual buildup has created glaciers on Alaska roadways and has in midwinter forced people from cabins as their property slowly transformed into a skating rink.”

The skating-rink problem is what is now causing chaos on some Kenai trails despite the best trail-repair efforts of Chugach forest staff.

“A hundred feet of trail at mile 5 (of the Resurrection Pass Trail) had a landslide and is difficult passing on a sno-go with the glaciation that is building in this area and very little snow to build up tread around the slide,” reported trail tech Irene Lindquist. “If you travel on this section of trail be sure to have a buddy or two to help get down the ice and then back up on the trail.”

Meanwhile, she continues to warn of thin ice in places although Kenai Lake has finally frozen over fully. The ice thickness is increasing rapidly, but areas around inlets, outlets, seeps, pressure ridges and avalanche runouts remain potentially dangerous.

These risks will go down as the January deep freeze continues.

Color Alaska blue

The National Climate Center eight- to 10-day lookout issued today says there is a 70 to 90 percent probability that most of Alaska will stay frigid through Feb. 2. The federal agency seldom makes such bold predictions. 

Probabilities are more often in the 50 to 60 percent range either colder or warmer. The chilly prediction this time seems to stem in part from a nicely stable arctic oscillation – that spin of air around the north pole famous for sucking warm, wet, “Pineapple Express” weather north from the mid-Pacific into Alaska and pushing cold, windy “Polar Vortex” storms into the American Heartland.

MIT scientist Judah Cohen, the vortex expert, believes a troposphere-stratosphere-troposphere coupling over the pole means the “arctic oscillation (AO) could remain predominantly in the positive phase for up to two months.  Positive AO favors relatively mild temperatures for the Eastern U.S., Northern Europe and East Asia….”

When those areas warm, Alaska is usually cold, although not necessarily as cold as it is now. Cohen is expecting the coldest of the cold to focus over the Arctic east of Alaska. Some warmer air could then start to push north toward Alaska.

The Climate Center shifts its prediction come February:

“Probabilities for above-normal temperatures exceed 60 percent for the southern coast of Alaska and the Pacific Coast of the continental United States, consistent with the predicted impact of Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) related convective activity over the western Pacific. Probabilities of above-normal temperatures also exceed 60 percent for Northwest Alaska,” the center says.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Jon Gottschalck describes the weather phenomenon this way:

“The MJO is an eastward moving disturbance of clouds, rainfall, winds, and pressure that traverses the planet in the tropics and returns to its initial starting point in 30 to 60 days on average. This atmospheric disturbance is distinct from the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, which once established, is associated with persistent features that last several seasons or longer over the Pacific Ocean basin. There can be multiple MJO events within a season, and so the MJO is best described as intraseasonal tropical climate variability (i.e. varies on a week-to-week basis).”

Newer Alaskans who’ve come to favor the warmer winters of the last few years over the cold winters of the past – those being more like this one – can always hope the MJO kicks a warm, wet El Nino-like Pineapple Express north to take the chill off the 49th state.




















32 replies »

  1. The NWS was accurate a week out predicting this cold period when it first began weeks ago in their Forecast Discussions. They nailed it as they do an overwhelming percentage of the time even in Alaska. Critics of NWS don’t have a clue to the challenges of forecasting in Alaska.

    • A person can both know the challenges of forecasting, even in Alaska, and also be critical of the forecasting. Some might say that the nature of forecasting is to be critical of that very nature.

    • Is that tongue-in-cheek?

      The comment section content is an issue. With the Boss & others.

      If you’d like to vote, he’s counting. Make it so it isn’t a hanging chad.

      For extra credit, come right out & say what you like … or don’t.

  2. Currently where I am the temperature is lower than the forecast low for the day from multiple sources, this has been the case for much of the past three weeks. Some days the actual high never goes above the forecasted low temperature. You would think that the current forecasts would be updated to the actual temperature but then that would be to admit they are wrong.

  3. We live in a media vacuum where the daily “news” stories are either about Trump or the Weather?
    The biggest investigative journalism of the year was the Alaska Landmine reporting on the public easements to Campbell Lake?
    This goes on why dozens of other stories get little to no “investigation” daily.
    Just yesterday the police in Wasilla shot and killed a 26 year old man (father and husband).
    A quick look online shows his Twitter profile as a “Cyber Warfare Operator” at joint base Elmendorf in ANC with 8 years experience in the U.S. Airforce and yet NO reporters are picking up on this?
    Can you say PTSD?
    Sure it is cold outside, but there are more pressing issues currently facing our race.

    • Hey everybody, the weather outside doesn’t fit my predetermined narrative look away look away! It’s cold outside and I can’t make that into an anthropogenic global warming talking point, look away look away!

      Seriously Steve, the domestic abuser who was shot by police is a headline article on adn, it was on all the major tv news, and on all their websites.

      • And did any of the MSM ever report that he was active U.S. Military with 8 years experience of Cyber Warfare currently working at Elmendorf?
        Seems wierd to quickly label him a “domestic abuser” when you do not know his history especially related to PTSD?
        One months weather does not make Climate trends and we both know there are 11 more months to go.
        On an earthly average (around the globe) temperatures are rising…and one cold month in Alaska is not gonna change that global trend.

      • Hmm, Cyber Warfare, plus air force at Elmendorf and we come to the PTSD conclusion huh? FROM WHAT?? Um, ok!!!

      • Steve,

        What’s weird is writing about a guy shot by police on an article about the weather…that’s weird.

        Calling someone a domestic abuser when the wife called the police to report the abuse and fled with her children in the middle of the night is not weird.

        What’s weird is claiming that a domestic abuser who was shot by police is suffering from PTSD with ABSOLUTELY NO PROOF, it makes it especially weird when it’s done on an article about the weather.

        How’s the weather in your neck of the woods Steve?

      • Well Steve O,
        It looks like ADN’s updated story includes a press release from Elmendorf.
        Sorry you do not think this is warranted in discussion.
        22 active military personnel commit suicide every day in America and little discussion goes towards the problem.
        When you are chased by police and you exit the vehicle with a shotgun in your hands, you are essentially committing suicide.
        As for the weather in Willow…
        Sunny and Beautiful all day!

      • Time and place Steve, time and place. I find it incredibly disrespectful to veterans, especially those with PTSD for you to try and hijack a comment section about the weather and try to force a discussion about veteran suicides. This isn’t the time or place for that discussion.

        I hope you have another sunny, beautiful, and cold day tomorrow. Looks like there will be a lot of days like today on the horizon.

      • Steve O,
        I know you want to be the locker room bully and tell me what is appropriate and what is not, but this is not your site.
        Get over yourself!
        As for the current temperature, I do not find it especially cold for January in Alaska.
        The more disturbing situation is the ongoing suicide of active duty service members in America.
        “Of the more than 30,000 suicides in this country each year, fully 20 percent of them are acts by veterans,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki at a VA-sponsored suicide prevention conference on Monday.
        The spike in the suicide rate can most clearly be attributed to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the high number of veterans returning to the U.S. with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

      • Steve Stein,

        Your debate-technique makes Greta Thunberg seem hip & in-command.

        Bait-and-switch, check. Provoke and cry victim, check. Repeat, repeat, repeat … sheesh.

        Whether you studied to learn this stuff from others (it often calls to mind the techniques of known promoters), or actively developed it on your own, or just stumbled into it, doesn’t matter much.

        However it came about, you should upgrade your act. I mean, if you want to ever become effective in the marketplace of ideas … yeah, technique counts (for better & for worse).

        Greta had some remarks at Davos recently, that sound like they actually are her words. Only days before, a glitch at Facebook revealed that, as many suspected from ‘her’ words, others have been putting them in her mouth.

        So maybe Greta is ‘in growth’. This is always potent stuff … enabling people to escape their rut, find a way out of the corner they ended up painted into. Not necessarily easy stuff … but ultimately the stuff of evolution.

        Take a clue from Greta, Steve. Step out of the same-ol’, same ol’ comfort-zone. You’ve got native smarts; you don’t have to sound so much like you’re practicing the Saul Alinski Rules …. as though by trying the same thing over & over & over, you will one day get different results.

      • Steve,

        Get over myself? That’s funny. I’ve never claimed this to be my site and never pretended to, I know that I am a guest here I try and behave accordingly. I’ve never tried to hijack the comment section to push a completely off topic narrative the way you do so frequently. If I don’t like or care to comment on an article I don’t, unlike you who obviously thinks that it is your place to tell the owner of this site and anyone who reads the comment section that they should be writing and reading about completely different subjects that have nothing to do with the subject at hand.

        Enjoy the weather.

      • “Enjoy the weather.”
        I am…sunny and beautiful again up here!
        Almost feels like Spring…noticed the water dripping on the south side of my roof for the first time in 2020 today.
        Sure does not seem “cold” for January in AK?
        I am predicting an early spring in AK this year.
        Get out and enjoy the trails while the rivers and lakes are still solid.

      • I’m glad to hear you are enjoying the weather Steve. You must have one hell of a microclimate where you live to have water dropping from the roof while it’s in the single digits or lower all around you, congratulations on picking such a great location. Seeing as this will probably be in the top 5-6 coldest January’s ever (well, at least since record keeping began) I wouldn’t say it’s a been a particularly warm month. Where I live we’ve been colder than the forecast virtually everyday this month and most days we are well into double digits below “normal” which is one way to say average, but not exactly an accurate way. I’m glad it’s been this cold for this long, this is going to stop the spruce bark beetle in it’s tracks.

      • Steve o , looks like Steve Stein likes to lie or needs to add insulation to the south side of his roof so the wood stove quits melting the snow off of it .Maybe he’s just high as a kite . In that case the drips are probably purple! Now we should give him some benefit for stating the obvious. Much of Alaska is not particularly cold compared to historical measures. For a climate alarmists I’m surprised Steve Stein doesn’t insulate his home better . He’s apparently producing a lot of wood stove carbon to melt the snow off his roof. Guess he doesn’t mind being part of the alledged problem. Maybe inside his subconscious he knows carbon concerns are a farce ! Ever notice these climate alarmists use more than their share of energy- al gore . . Quack quack. A real genuine person would be living in a bidarka underground heating with a candle wearing a parka living without windows or electricity . Bunch of Quacks paying lip service to actress Greta ! They love their personal jets ! For thee but not for me ! Liars liars – oh obama just got a mansion by the seaside – the rising seaside – not ! Who paid for it ? His sneaky corrupt connections ! Did they artificially lower the price to give him a kick back for political favors! Ah but no one looks no one cares ! That’s the order of politics today! Sell America down the river ! Great obama Write a book to promote race baiting ! Says on the cover a book about race ! Hypocrisy anyone. We’re all naive and led like sheep wake up wake up . Stupid is the norm because we accept it ! It’s ok to be unscientific and make our own reality’s ! Wake up before we flush the treasure of freedom from the culture of America! Obama was a con! Who was his handler ?

      • “Opinion”
        Glad to see you have a new handle this year…
        12 inches of insulation in my roof and I would be happy to send you an email of the icicles forming on only the south side of my roof.
        I picked a great spot.
        We get sun on the house from sunrise to sunset, something that is hard to accomplish in AK.
        Seems like you and Rod like to fake handle for bashing, but you “dog men” are easy to pick out of the narrow field of commentors here.
        What a joke!

      • Steve Stein, good joke ,Hah hah hah . You got the wrong line probably on both people but if it entertains you keep laughing. D P R for short. 12 inches of fiberglass insulation I assume ,wow you really outdid yourself. Mine has two batts of r-48 and they go two different overlapping directions. R-90 . Aprx 30” and that’s minimal in my mind . charts for northern Alaska recommend towards r-50 but that’s not nearly enough. You obviously went minimal for your area if you have ice buildup. The more likely problem you have is incorrectly sealed vapor barrier poor or incorrect venting space and likely warm air leaks into your roof structure. Poor construction in a nutshell,Talk to a code specialist or engineer he can help you or take some classes . Your icing is not from the sun unless you consider firewood and oil heat from the sun Which they are . Keep laughing and making jokes it suits you .

      • “Opinion”
        As a contractor, I would think that you understand that both the wood (inside and outside) the rafters also provides an “R Value” to the overall equation.
        With 12 inches of insulation and nearly an inch of wood inside and outside the rafters, I am reaching that target of R 50 (15 inches) that you just mentioned.
        I believe an inch of wood equals 1.5 inches of insulation in the R value equivalent…12 + 3 = 15
        Not to say there are not any leaks, but it seems weird that with a multi dormer roof design there are only 2 icicles of the entire house and they are both south facing where the snow slides off?
        Either way, glad you are doing well after the cold snap.
        Enjoy these sunny days!

      • Steve Stein , updated insulation recommended for Alaska is r-60 minimum to r-50 in attic areas . For cold areas in this era of energy conservation ,pollution awareness r-60 or r-50 is minimal. Pretty stupid really as northern Alaska should be rated even higher . As should southern climes be higher as well . At least equally insulated to northern . Even Navaho lived in heavy earth structures to defeat the heat . Most building recommendations are pretty minimal. Your 12 “ of insulation and an inch of wood is closer to r- 38 or r 40 if it’s not compressed by accident reducing its r value further . Totally inadequate for an educated environment aware guy such as yourself fix it if you can and also probably doesn’t meet current building codes but that’s something you have to take up with a code book or building inspector . My point is it’s not warm weather that’s melting your roof off. It’s probably not even lack of insulation. It’s probably sloppy construction with air leakage or accidental compressed insulation perhaps with poor or inadequate airspace ventilation. Stop using deflection/propaganda and think harder about what you see . You don’t need a contractor to Look up roof icing causes . Ps I’m a lot dumber than whoever opinion is so don’t slander him with assumptions 😜

    • Steve Stine – you are hilarious! When we get a warm spell you are all over “global warming”. When the weather turns cold & doesn’t fit your BS narrative you spin on a dime & admonish folks about commenting on the weather. STFU

      • Nothing like more sharp tongue comments from spineless anonymous handles who do not even have the courage to use their name.
        Must have touched a nerve with the mention of the U.S. Airforce member shot and killed by Wasilla police.
        What a tragedy!
        May he RIP and our fractured society regain some Empathy to repair the damage done by 20 years of war for oil in the Middle East.

      • Steve Stein,

        It’s called ad hominem.

        A type of fallacy.

        Ad hominem (Latin for “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, typically refers to a fallacious argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.

        Often criticized as ‘bad’ (immoral, amoral, anti-social, deceitful, etc), the real & nonnegotiable downside to ad hominem is simply that it’s fallacious. It’s ‘broken’.

        Fallacy-moves are inherently ineffectual and vulnerable.

        Ad hominem is as obvious as a kid with his hand in the cookie jar.

      • Steve, here is the thing. The USA is the #1 oil and gas producer in the world..So, that shoots down your “War for Oil” theory.. Also, I know for a fact, fact, fact that we paid the Iraqi’s between 60-80 cents per gallon of gas we BOUGHT from them. So, if it was a “war for oil”, and we really are the strongest military on the planet, why didn’t we just TAKE THE OIL IN BOTH KUWAIT AND IRAQ? So, these stupid cliches you throw out there are just stupid.

      • Bryan,
        Exactly who is getting that 80 cents a barrel?
        The Atlantic Council recently stated “These events are happening at the worst of times when the Iraqi government is in shambles…”
        So if after nearly 20 years and $2 Trillion in U.S. debt for this war, the Iraq government is still in “shambles” are we just further funding extremists groups with our presence?
        It seems like 80 cents a barrel is a hell of a good deal by the way for multi National multi Billion dollar Petro corporations who profit off this type of Imperialism.

  4. Good in-depth article. Craig M. is a great journalist (a very rare thing) and writer. We are lucky to have him in Alaska. Weather changes. Always. These continual attempts by laymen and women to demand the weather stay the same because it is affecting their lives, and blaming these changes on mankind’s efforts to stay alive (cities, pollution, civilization, etc.), merely demonstrate the arrogance on mankind. This planet can, and will, wipe us out before we can wipe it out. A few really large earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and some drought will wipe out most, or all, of us. Be thankful for what we’ve got. And if you want to stop pollution, get China to cut back their destruction of the environment by not buying Chinese products and buying less products in general. Live the a small footprint lifestyle and BE the example instead of screaming at everyone else about how change their lives.

  5. While there are more scientifically-sophisticated arguments, it does now appear that the Greta Thuneberg phenomenon tells us everything we really need to know about the Anthropogenic Global Warming movement.

    I mean … if I was a guy who supports the notion that the main driver of climate on Earth is the sun, what is my appropriate reception for New Age Sun Worshipers trying to chime in with support? Am I going to embrace science-free allies who corrupt my message with hocus-pocus?

    Well, ‘Climate’ has done exactly that, in embracing & celebrating Ms. Thuneberg. She makes no pretense of ‘working the science’, instead her entire modus operandi consists in ‘working the Media’.

    This may be a turning point, at Davos.

  6. Oh my….it is obvious one can never win the anti-Global Warming argument. More excuses than I can argue.

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