May 2, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 17

April nearly as cold as February; record snow

Five days of snowfall in the past week buried plans for the annual Haines Invitational track meet and caught motorists and plow drivers by surprise.

The weather set an apparent record for total snowfall for the month of April downtown – 13.3 inches – but not one for cold. The month’s average temperature, 34.9 F., was five degrees colder than normal but still a bit warmer than the coldest April on record, which came in 2002 when the monthly average was 34.7 F., according to National Weather Service officials in Juneau.

Haines High School activities director Tiana Taylor said she cancelled the track meet Wednesday due to soggy conditions. Athletes competed in the snow last weekend in Juneau on a rubberized track, but the gravel surface of the Haines track absorbs moisture.

“There’s four inches of water on the track. They can’t line it. It’s under water,” Taylor said. A 1987 graduate of the school, Taylor said she couldn’t remember the last time the event was cancelled.

In April, the days got longer, but not warmer.

The average low temperature for the last 10 days of the month – 27.1 F – was 1.5 degrees below the average low for the first 10 days of the month, according to the weather service. The highest temperature for the month – 52 F. – came on April 7. The lowest temperature – 19 F. – came Sunday night.

“Everything in Alaska is seeing this weather. It’s a cold mass of air funneling down from the Yukon and the Arctic into the Interior and Southeast,” said Richard Lam, weather service meteorologist.

But the cold may seem especially cold due to unusually warm weather early in the year, and typically mild weather here at April’s end.

According to the weather service, April’s average temperature was less than one degree warmer than February’s average temperature of 34 F. But February’s average was 7.2 degrees warmer than normal for the month. January’s average – 27 F. – was four degrees above normal.

Snowfall in the past week also set several daily records. Snowfall accumulations on April 25, 26 and 27 set records for all three days. Historically, only a trace of snow has fallen on those three dates.

The month’s snowfall also compared to zero accumulation last April, which saw average temperatures of 42.2 F.

Meteorologist Lam said the late spring in Juneau may interfere with tours off the season’s first cruise ship, which was to arrive there Thursday, May 2. The trail to a waterfall that’s a popular destination is still covered with snow, Lam said.

In Haines, borough public works crews took chains off their vehicles’ tires and the wing plows off graders a few weeks ago, public works director Ralph Borders said Monday. His crew switched from moving snow to sweeping streets in early April, he said.

Borders chained up the grader Monday to move snow off Beach and Young roads. “You figure it’s going to snow until the end of April and that’s it. The sand truck is all taken apart and put away.”

Because he had taken new, studded snow tires off his all-wheel-drive Subaru a month ago, longtime resident Len Feldman said he was traveling “dead-slow” in six inches of untracked, slushy snow on Mud Bay Road near the Letnikof Estates subdivision late Saturday night.

He lost control of the car for about 150 feet, he said.

“When I got to the top of the rise there, the car was basically toboganning. I had no control. I was watching it happen and wondering where it was going to go off the road,” Feldman said. The car dropped off a steep embankment, rolling over in slow motion, he said. The only passenger in the car, he was able to climb out and make it to a nearby house for help.

Due to continued cold weather in the state, motorists can keep their studded snow tires on until May 15, Alaska Department of Transportation officials said this week.

School activities director Taylor said the weather stood in contrast to last year, when 360 inches of snow fell downtown, but stopped before April. “We had 30 feet of snow last year and we still had a track meet. They had to bring the state snowblower in.”