Ask a Climatologist: First snows accumulate around the state, about on time

Snow blankets the hidden lake trail above Anchorage, Oct. 22, 2017. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The first measurable snow of the season fell in Anchorage Saturday. The city got three-tenths of an inch.

The snow came six days later than normal, according to Brian Brettschneider, with our Ask a Climatologist segment.

Brettschneider says the first measurable snow is different than the first trace of snow.

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Interview Transcript:

Brian: A trace means less than one-tenth of an inch. That could be a snow flurry or it could be a dusting that’s less than one-tenth of an inch. Normally, the first trace of snow would be observed on Oct. 5, but we didn’t even get a flurry until our measurable snow on Oct. 21, so our trace amount was actually 16 days late versus six days late for measurable snow.

(Graphic courtesy of Brian Brettschneider)

Annie: What about the rest of the state?

Brian: This season, the rest of the state is pretty much on track. Some places were a little early. Some places are a little late. The only place that’s pretty late right now is Bethel. They should have had their first measurable snow on Oct. 11. So they’re pushing two weeks late on their measurable snow.

Annie: Has climate change impacted when the first snow occurs in Alaska?

Brian: The first snow is this great marker for the season: it’s winter. Because we are warming, that’s incontrovertible, we are warming, Alaska’s warming faster than the rest of the world, that means we’re having shorter winters. That being said, the date of the first snow fall is really a very poor marker for climate change because you can have a small confluence of local events dump a quick tenth or two-tenths of snow and then you’ve marked it in the books as your first snow date. So generally around the state we haven’t shifted that date very much over time. For example Fairbanks, their first measurable snow date is about three days earlier now than it used to be. Other places like Bethel, it’s about three days later. So most places are within about a week or so of the date now versus when the date was say, more than 40 years ago.

Annie: Does the first snow of the season mean anything for how much snow we’re going to get during the winter?

Brian: Everyone likes to say, “Oh we had an early snow, that means it’s going to be a good snow winter,” or “man the first snow was really late. We haven’t had much snow in October, that means it’s going to be a really low snow winter.” The thing is, in Alaska, it makes no difference at all. If you plot out all the dots of when snow fell versus the seasonal total, you get just complete random patterns. It means absolutely nothing.

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Annie Feidt is the Managing Editor for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KTOO Public Media in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49th state just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie