The big chill

Dig out the cold-weather gear. The National Weather Service now says there’s a better than 90 percent chance that La Niña, that famous push of cold Pacific Ocean water north up the West Coast, is headed north again.

There is no guarantee this phenomenon will bring colder, snowier weather with it to Alaska, but the odds certainly increase.

The “little girl,” as La Niña translates to English, hammered Anchorage in September last year. More than a foot of snow fell on the city’s Hillside on Sept. 23. Trees still covered in leaves bent beneath the weight of it, breaking, falling and sometimes taking out power lines on their way to the ground.

Thousands of people were reported without power, and schools were ordered closed for the day although lower-elevation neighborhoods saw much less snow.

Still, the stage was set to turn Anchorage into a winter wonderland in the wake of the fall equinox.

October passed fairly normally, but the National Weather Service then reported the 11th coldest and 17th snowiest November in its 70-year record for Anchorage.

The average monthly temperature was a whopping 7.8 degrees below normal, the agency said. There were 9 days when the temperature dropped below zero, three times as many as is the long-term normal. It had been two decades since the city had witnessed so many days with the temperature below zero.

Some city residents relished it; some hated it.

December did creep back closer to normal, but the temperature for the month was still 2.5 degrees below the long-term average, according to the Weather Service, and although the 11.7 inches of snowfall for the month was only 63 percent of the average, the cold weather and lack of melting made it seem like more.

But if you’re a warm-weather lover stuck in the cold, dark north, don’t panic.

Despite the strong odds now being given for this being the third year in a row with la Niña conditions “expected to persist through the Northern Hemisphere winter,” the national Climate Prediction Center says conditions should moderate by February or April of next year.

And the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization says that what it is calling the century’s first “triple-dip” La Niña will not cool things down for long.

“It is exceptional to have three consecutive years with a la Niña event,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas was quoted saying in an online report. “Its cooling influence is temporarily slowing the rise in global temperatures, but it will not halt or reverse the long-term warming trend.”

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  1. The cooling influence is “temporary” until it isn’t.
    The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which warms and then cools the northern Pacific over what I recall are roughly 50-to-60-year cycles, may be switching to its cooling phase. If it does, it’s influence on global temperatures, based on the current state of the science, has been far larger in the past than the projected influence of CO2.
    CO2 is a bit player among all the other temperature affecting forces in nature.

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