With new, loose snow more than a foot deep in the mountains that shade Anchorage and hurricane-force winds in the forecast for Monday evening, Alaska’s largest city appeared poised to be clobbered by the perfect holiday storm.
Welcome back to the bad old days.
“People are urged to secure loose objects that could be blown around or damaged by the wind,” the official National Weather Service statement advises. “Prepare for the possibility of widespread power outages. Use caution if you must drive.”
After a string of winters that were starting to make the nation’s largest northern outpost look like it was settling into a balmier, new normal, Mother Nature appears to hitting back.
The shift actually started with the beginning of 2020 when the warmest year in the 49th state’s history shivered into the old cold. On New Year’s Eve of 2019, snow-free, 45-degree downtown streets were splattered with rain.
By midnight however, the temperature had dropped to 25 degrees, and the snow was falling heavily. By noon on New Year’s day, the National Weather Service reported snow depths of 7 inches to almost 22 inches spread across the Municipality of Anchorage.
The rest of the season was not particularly snowy by Anchorage standards but it was more than seasonal. January was almost 11 degrees colder than normal, February a friendlier degree and a half below the norm, and March more than five degrees under the climate normal average of the years from 1981 to 2010.
Alaska’s urban core didn’t really begin to warm until about the time the pandemic arrived in the 49th state, but then few were complaining.
The preceding winter conditions left the land covered in snow and ice prime for winter travel, and a state shutdown to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic resulted in large numbers of snowmobilers, fat-bike cyclists, skiers and others flocking to summer-inaccessible glaciers.
Thankfully, the wide-open spaces of the country’s last great wilderness left plenty of room for social distancing, and the number of COVID-19 infections in the state fell even as some wilderness lovers complained about the swelling numbers of people at the glaciers nearest Anchorage.
Back to the future?
Anchorage is now on pace for a rather normal year with the months of January through April averaging nearly four and a half degrees colder than normal only to see May through October average just under two degrees above normal before transitioning into a near normal November and December.
And now comes more of the normal.
Almost a foot of snow has fallen on the city proper since Tuesday, according to National Weather Service records, with powder to two-feet deep reported in places on the slopes of the Chugach Mountains that tower over the Anchorage Bowl.
Much of that powder is expected to soon be airborne.
By 9 p.m. Monday, the weather service is predicting east winds 50 to 65 mph “with gusts 80 to 100 mph” on the hillsides above Anchorage and along the Seward Highway from the city east to the ski-resort community of Girdwood.
This isn’t expected to be the end of it either. Snow is in the forecast for the whole week with warnings it could be heavy in some places or turn to rain in others.
Temperatures through the week are forecast to oscillate between the mid-30s and high teens. It is was might be called classic winter weather for the north Gulf of Alaska where the snow regularly piles so deep that deer can’t survive and moose often struggle to do so.