El Nino, ‘The Blob’ prime Alaska for another warm winter

Sea surface temperature anomalies (standard deviations from the mean) in NE Pacific Ocean for February 2014 based on the record from 1981–2010. (Graphic courtesy of American Geophysical Union)
“The Blob” is a mass of unusually warm seawater off the Pacific coast. (Graphic courtesy of American Geophysical Union)

Alaskans can expect warmer, drier days this coming winter. That, according to the National Weather Service, is drawing on new tools and techniques to peer into the future.

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Rick Thoman is the Alaska region’s Climate Science and Services Manager at the National Weather Service. He says over the last three years advances in modeling are giving meteorologists more confidence to say what the future looks like. Based on those techniques, he says Alaska will see a significantly warmer winter this year.

“We’ve got a very strong El Nino in progress. We also have very warm sea surface temperatures continuing in the Gulf of Alaska. We’ve got less sea ice than the long-term normal. All of those things really add up to give us a leg up on warmer than average temperatures.”

And what may be good news for those who shovel their own driveways, Thoman does not see much snow in the late winter, after New Year.

“There is a tilt toward drier than average winters during these moderate and strong El Nino events.”

Thoman adds it only takes one or two significant weather events to dump enough snow for mushers and skiers.

With the warmer temperatures expect more days of freezing rain. Thoman says the conditions that turns roads into ice-rinks have been increasing over the last five year. But he says that increase seems to be part of a cycle. In the 1920s and 1960s there were also significant periods of freezing rain.

With increasingly robust tools and techniques, Thoman predicts within a few years, forecasters should be able to say how stormy a season is likely to be.

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