December snowfall sets record
Nearly 92 inches of snow that fell in town during December is an apparent record for the month, topping 77.1 inches that came in 2006, according to Nicole Ferrin, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Juneau.
All but one inch of December’s 91.8 inches measured downtown came in the month’s final three weeks, starting with 5.8 inches on Dec. 10. The dumping peaked Dec. 13-14, when 14 inches fell.
As of Monday, winter’s accumulation totaled 118.2 inches. That’s a little shy of last year’s season total of 128.5 inches, but off the pace of the record season snowfall in 2011-12, when 360.7 inches fell, starting with 129.8 inches in November. (Another 40 inches of snow fell in December that winter.)
“We got whacked pretty good,” said Carol Waldo, whose family operates a snowplow business. “We were busy (during the holiday). So was everybody else.”
Waldo said recent snows don’t compare to one that came in the winter of 1948-49, when her family couldn’t get out the door at #9 Officer’s Row. “We woke up one morning and had to go out through the upstairs window. It was the biggest snow we had here and all over the West. It was a terrible winter everywhere.”
The town’s snow-moving equipment back then was limited to a few tractors left over from the Army, she said. “They didn’t close school. You walked” and parents escorted children to make sure they weren’t lost in snowdrifts, she said.
Ski shop owner Dan Egolf, who returned home Monday after leaving Dec. 20, said he got a kick out of the day’s weather forecast, as reported by KHNS. “The announcer said there was going to be two inches of snow mixed with rain, and that it was a pretty good day, weather-wise. I thought, ‘Geez, what did I miss?’”
Egolf said an early-winter freeze that went deep into the ground should ensure a good snowpack and helps keep trees upright under heavy snow loads, by virtue of their roots being frozen in place.
Warming spells that followed the big dumps, starting about New Year’s Day, mean backcountry users should use caution. Jeffrey Moskowitz, a volunteer forecaster with the Haines Avalanche Information Center, said new, wet snow atop a layer of crust has increased avalanche danger.
As of Monday, avalanche danger was “considerable,” with natural avalanches “possible” and human-triggered ones “likely,” Moskowitz said. “Basically, it’s wet out there and that’s adding stress to the snowpack (and) the crust makes a good sliding surface for newer snow.” More detailed local avalanche information can be found at http://www.alaskasnow.org/haines.
Weather Service meteorologist and forecaster Rick Fritsch said December’s dumping owed to the Madden Julian Oscillation, an enhanced area of convection the size of Texas that occurs in pulses and originated with a cluster of thunderstorms in the Indian Ocean. The effect typically lasts for about three weeks at a time, he said.
“You can see it from the Gulf of Alaska all the way to the Philippines. The fronts tap into that moisture and carry it right into our area,” said Fritsch. With an average daily temperature of 25.6 in Haines for December, “if everything is normal, that adds up to snow weather.”
Juneau received 40.4 inches of snow in December, more than two feet above normal for the month, he said.
Town snowfall in Haines for November was 19.3 inches, including 10.2 inches that fell Nov. 22.
Borough officials this week said plow operators logged 144 hours of overtime in December and the borough also hired a temporary operator who logged 60 hours.