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2016-17 Winter Forecast for Interior Alaska: More Cold Snaps, Near-normal Snowfall Likely

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National Weather Service
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Residents of the Interior will likely see more snow and a cold snap or two this winter.

Now that the El Nino that helped make the Arctic so balmy last winter has morphed into a La Nina, National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Thoman says it appears Alaskans will finally get enough snow to ski and run dog sleds this winter. And along with more snow, there will likely be some cooler temperatures.

“The way things look now,” he said, “we have a much better change for at least some outbreaks of significant cold – which we got nothing of last year.”

Because the outbreaks will be occurring in the context of a warming climate, Thoman says we’re unlikely to see anything like the harsh, weeklong cold spells that were common a few decades ago. Still, they may take some people by surprise, because recent winters have been so mild.   

“Most Fairbanksans remember what 50 below is like,” he said. “But the last three winters have caused people to forget, really, what can happen.”

Thoman says the El Nino may be gone, but two other important factors will continue to moderate temperatures in the Arctic this winter: a near-absence of sea ice to the north of Alaska; and continued above-average sea-surface water temperatures in the Bering Sea and, to a lesser extent the Gulf of Alaska.

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Credit ACCAP
Rick Thoman is climate science and services manager at the National Weather Service's Fairbanks office.

But despite the new climate-changed normal, other factors make it likely we’ll experience a midwinter cold snap like we saw in 2012.

“That could easily happen again,” he said. “And, more than easily could happen, it is virtually certain to happen, sooner or later.”

Thoman says other areas around the Interior are likely to get even colder than Fairbanks, for longer periods.

“Particularly in the eastern Interior – so, say, east of Fairbanks – there is maybe a very slight tilt toward significantly lower temperatures, on average,” he said. “That’s based on previous La Nina events.”

Thoman outlines the details of his forecast in his latest briefing entry on the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy website, posted Friday.