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Far North winter: snowy and warm

October 16, 2007

Courtesy of  Far North Science
By Doug O'Harra

The climate prediction folks at NOAA have polished the dust from their crystal spheres and conjured a winter outlook that's warmer for North America - with relatively steamy conditions near the thinning Arctic ice and the possibility of big snow for Alaska's southern coast.

relatively steamy conditions near the thinning Arctic ice and the possibility of big snow for Alaska's southern coast.

Source: Alaska Climate Research Center

"This winter is predicted to be warmer than the 30-year norm," says the story posted online. "For the country as a whole, NOAA's heating degree day forecast for December through February projects a 2.8 percent warmer winter than the 30-year normal, but a 1.3 percent cooler winter than last year."

The Old Farmers Almanac - known for its innovative and often uncannily accurate weather predictions - also warns of higher winter temperatures: two to four degrees above normal due to a warmer January.

For all those Alaskans who love snow (and you know who you are), the Almanac offers this delicious tidbit:

Precipitation will be above normal, with much-above-normal snowfall in the Panhandle and south-central region and near- or slightly above-normal snowfall elsewhere.

The heaviest snowfalls will occur in mid- and late March in the north; mid-November, early January, and mid-March in the central region; late November, early December, late January, and mid- and late March in the Panhandle; and late November, late December, and early February in the south-central region and Aleutians.

If you drill down a little further into the NOAA forecast, you can find some alarming tidbits that portend another meltdown for Arctic ice.

First, look at the Climate Prediction Center's outlook for January to March.

Warmer than average temps on the North Slope of Alaska by the Arctic Ocean, where sea ice has retreated further north and west than at any time in modern human history. Shift forward one month to include April, and the warm anomaly covers the entire northwestern two-thirds of Alaska, all during the period when sea ice is supposed to reach its maximum extent for the cold season.

The outlook for creating new ice that's thick enough to withstand summer melt grows dimmer. Any one getting disconcerted yet? By March-April-May, the warm bubble grows. By April-May-June, the whole state has warmed.

Could 2008 be another off-the-chart meltdown for Arctic ice?

So far, October hasn't released any kind of Arctic express on the Northwest Passage and the waters north of Alaska. The Canadian Ice Service posted a 30-day forecast that preserves the extraordinary expanse of open water in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Periods of moderate to strong east to southeasterly winds will develop over the Western Arctic during the second half of October. Temperatures will be slightly above normal over most locations during the last two weeks of October. The main pack of multi-year ice will remain well offshore over the Beaufort Sea during the period with greywhite ice forming between ice floes.

Here's more detail from the Climate Prediction Center's newest explainer:

NOAA forecasters are calling for above-average temperatures over most of the country and a continuation of drier-than-average conditions across already drought-stricken parts of the Southwest and Southeast in its winter outlook for the United States, announced at the 2007-2008 Winter Fuels Outlook Conference in Washington, D.C., today.

"La Nina is here, with a weak-to-moderate event likely to persist through the winter," said Michael Halpert, head of forecast operations and acting deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "The big concern this winter may be the persistence of drought across large parts of the already parched South. And while December through February is likely to be another milder-than-average winter for much of the country, people should still expect some bouts of winter weather."

For the 2007-2008 U.S. winter, from December through February, NOAA seasonal forecasters predict:

In the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic,temperatures are expected to be above average in response to the long-term warming trend. Snowfall for the region will depend on other climate factors, which are difficult to anticipate more than one-to-two weeks in advance.

The drought-plagued Southeast is likely to remain drier-than-average due to La Nina, while temperatures are expected to be above average.

In the Great Lakes and Tennessee Valley, temperatures and precipitation should be above average.

The south-central Plains should see drier-than-average conditions and warmer-than-average temperatures. Above-average temperatures are also expected in the central Plains. The northern Plains has equal chances of above-, near-, or below-average temperature and precipitation.

In the Northwest, there are equal chances for above-, near-, or below-average temperatures. Precipitation should be above average in much of the region due to La Nina.

Drought conditions are expected to persist in the Southwest due to La Nina, and temperatures are likely to be above average.

Northern Alaska is expect to be milder-than-average, while the rest of Alaska has equal chances of above-, near-, or below-average temperatures and precipitation. In Hawaii, temperatures and precipitation are expected to be above average.


Doug O'Harra Most of  Far North Science is written and edited by Doug O'Harra, a writer and journalist based in Anchorage, Alaska.
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