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Arctic air keeps winter in Alaska, may bring snow

Ben Anderson
April showers bring May flowers? In Alaska, it's more like April cold spells bring May snowfall. A cloud of air blowing in from the Canadian Arctic has kept much of the 49th state well below normal, even as the sun shines. In Anchorage, a late-season snow could even be in the works. Loren Holmes photo

Thanks to a mass of cold air arriving from the Canadian Arctic and hanging over much of Alaska, winter doesn't look quite ready to loosen its grip on the Last Frontier. In Fairbanks on Sunday, the temperature was just 2 degrees at the airport, 6 degrees cooler than the nearly 90-year-old record set in 1924, reports the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. In Anchorage, the state's largest city wasn't breaking records, but at 26 degrees was still well behind the normal low of 34 for this time of year.

And perhaps the worst part? Snow in the forecast for both cities over the next several days.

On Monday, the Alaska Department of Public Safety once again extended the deadline to remove studded tires from May 1 to May 15, after having already previously delayed it from April 15. The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce also delayed its annual citywide cleanup, which will now begin May 4. Fortunately, unlike in 2008 when a late snowfall led to its cancellation, the Anchorage Heart Run went off without a hitch Saturday.

Mike Lawson, a forecaster at the National Weather Service's Anchorage office, says a high pressure system out over the Bering Sea has been blocking the arrival of warmer spring air from the Pacific. Instead, a block of cool air from the Arctic has persistently chilled out (pun intended) over the state, bringing clear skies but well-below-average temperatures. Still, Lawson was looking on the bright side.

"It’s not going to be quite as bad as it looked a week ago," he said. "A week ago, it looked like we were going to get much worse of the brunt of that Arctic air, which could have brought temperatures even lower."

He added that there's a "pretty good chance" that a "quick moving disturbance" in the system could bring a bit of snowfall all the way from Talkeetna to the Kenai Peninsula, though snow accumulation should be minimal.

Although Fairbanks residents were dealing with colder temperatures, they also have a bit of a benefit with their longer daylight hours and location in Alaska's Interior.

"We’re all under the same general upper air pattern, but up there they have more of a continental climate," Lawson said of Fairbanks. "This time of year, the sun really starts to work during the day, and since they don’t have the marine climate" like Anchorage, they have more drastic temperature swings between day and night.

Right now, there's no end in sight, either -- the five-day forecast is predicting cool temperatures all the way through the end of the week. The story is the same across much of Alaska, too: Only the southerly portions of the state are expected to see temperatures in the 40s. This time, Alaskans will be hoping the forecast is wrong.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com