Snow dumped on Southcentral Alaska this weekend, with more than 8 inches falling in the Anchorage area and about 5 inches in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. That brought this year’s winter snowfall total to more than 100 inches.
National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Brettschneider joins Alaska Public Media’s Wesley Early for our Ask a Climatologist segment and says this weekend has led to a record amount of snowpack this late in the season. While the month of April may bring to mind spring weather, or at the very least ice breakup, Brettschneider says in Alaska, it can be kind of hit or miss.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Brian Brettschneider: We’ve had some really big April snow months and we’ve had Aprils with practically no snow. So it’s really kind of one extreme or the other. We’re already about 8 inches for the month, but that doesn’t even put us into the top 15 snowiest Aprils. So even though people are kind of mentally over with winter in many cases, April snow is not a certainty every year but it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Wesley Early: You note that this snow isn’t unprecedented and cold weather this time of year is pretty normal. But you’ve said that the combination is pretty rare. Can you explain what that combination of really cold and lots of snow creates for April?
BB: Well, typically April snow occurs right around the freezing mark. And so it’s usually pretty wet, sloppy snow. This snow that Anchorage received the last few days occurred mostly with temperatures in the teens. And so it was very light, what we call low-density snow. It was very fluffy, high ratios. So if you squeeze out the water, it actually wasn’t a lot. But because it was so fluffy, it really piled up.
WE: Another thing that’s notable is how much snow is still on the ground. How does that compare to other years?
BB: Well, for this date, I mean even before today, we were already at record snow depth for this late in the season. So we started the day at 27 inches. But now as we’re recording, we’re up to 31 inches, which is a monthly record. So we’ve never had this much snow on the ground anytime in the month of April, much less, you know, a third of the way through the month.
WE: Southcentral is really snowy. What’s the rest of the state looking like?
BB: You know, for the western part of the state, this is really a historic cold snap. Nome recorded their lowest April temperature on record, in any year. Kotzebue has set four or five record daily lows. McGrath has, too. Bethel, King Salmon and Anchorage have set record low high temperature, so coldest high temperatures — and day after day. So it’s been really remarkable the intensity and the duration. For some of these locations, this is the coldest start to any April on record. And these are some long periods of record. And that has tangible impact, say, on when river breakup is going to occur. There’s kind of a lot of hand wringing about what this breakup season is going to be like. It’s already delayed and it might be delayed for a few days, maybe even longer than that. So what kind of impact does that have for community travel and potential flooding when the inevitable breakup does come? So this cold is really quite remarkable and persistent and intense. In fact, in Nome, their coldest temperature of the entire season occurred this month in April, and that had never occurred before. Same with Kotzebue, the coldest month of this winter in April. This is the latest that’s ever occurred. So we should keep our friends along the west coast in mind.
WE: This last burst of snow pushed Anchorage to over 100 inches of total snowfall this winter. Even the deadline to remove snow tires got extended this year because of the heavy winter. You know, how does this snow total stack up to years past?
BB: 100 inches is a good benchmark for a snowy winter. That puts us into the top 10. And that’s with 100 years of record. So top 10% snowfall, no matter where you are, is pretty noteworthy. And you know it’s only April 10. Just a few more inches will put us maybe into the top five or six.
WE: And from what I can tell from the Weather Service forecast, it doesn’t look like the snow is going away anytime this week. When do you think residents can expect the streets to return to the slushy, puddly, breakup season that we’re normally used to?
BB: Well, the thing about April snow is there’s a high sun angle. So even right now, there’s a lot of black surface showing, even dry pavement just hours after the snow stops. So the roads are not that wintry as you would expect in January and February, but it’s gonna take a while to melt the snow that we have. Two years ago, we melted 20 inches of snow in eight days, this time of the month. It’s not going to happen this year because we’re going to be cooler than normal really for the foreseeable future. And given that it’s April 10, and we’re expecting cool weather for the next few weeks, I would be surprised if we don’t have snow on the ground as late as say April 24-25. And if things come together just right, if there’s maybe some new snow or it’s even colder than expected, we could run out to the end of April potentially.