Researcher Looks at Climate Change Effects on Alaska's Snow Regime

Apr 18, 2013

Fairbanks, AK - Scientists at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP) discussed new regional projections for snowfall in Alaska during a webinar presentation Tuesday. Climate change could significantly change the amount of snow that hits the ground and sticks throughout the state.

Climate change in Alaska is likely to bring warm temperatures over the next 50 to 100 years.  With the heat wave, patterns of precipitation are also likely to change.  Stephanie McAfee is a researcher at Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP).  She gathered more than 30 years-worth of climate data from weather stations across the state.  Using five different well-known climate models, she came up with different scenarios to explain potential effects on both snowfall and snow accumulation in the future. “The fact that we can do this for multiple models and multiple scenarios is actually one key benefit," she told fellow researchers.  "We can look at the diversity of future potentials and see how much diversity there is from model to model.” McAfee used models that ranged in severity of predicted climate change effects in Alaska. One of the more aggressive models could mean big changes for Southeast Alaska.
“Southeast might as early as the 2040's start looking a lot like Washington," she explained.  "Where there’s very little snow  along the coast on any sort of regular basis, but up in the mountains, quite frequently, quite a lot of snow.” McAfee says that same model predicts significant changes in the middle of winter for the Southwest region and Alaska’s west coast. “As early as the 2040's in some places and certainly by the 2090’s large portions of this region are going to receiving almost exclusively rain, including Anchorage and even as far north as Nome and Kotzebue a significant proportion of the precipitation could be coming as rain,” says McAffee.  North of the Brooks Range Range McAfee says models show temperatures will stay cold enough that precipitation will fall predominantly as snow, but the same region could also see more rain-on-snow events during the spring and fall shoulder seasons. McAfee’s data are now available through the SNAP website for use among members of the research community.