Mid-May snow expected to top off cold spring

Casey Grove

For even the hardiest Southcentral Alaska residents, it sounds like a bad joke: Snowfall. In mid-May.

It's no joke, forecasters say. Anchorage can expect 3 inches of snow in the city and up to a half-foot on the Hillside from Friday night to Saturday morning. It's the product of unseasonably cold weather that is setting records around the state, according to the National Weather Service.

"The impacts are primarily psychological," said Dave Snider, a weather service meteorologist. "This is not going to be the storm to end all storms. But it's late in the season. A lot of people have their (snow) tires off. A lot of people probably took advantage of the big Mother's Day plant sale."

"People are just frustrated," Snider said. "It quite literally is a four-letter word."

If the forecast pans out and there is measurable snow accumulation -- at least a 10th of an inch -- at the Weather Service's Anchorage forecast office in Sand Lake, it will break a local record for the longest snowfall season in modern memory, Snider said. The incoming storm is expected to affect everyone from the Kenai Peninsula north to the Denali Borough, he said. Anyone ill-equipped to deal with it, including tourists, should take extra precautions while traveling, he said.

Farther to the north, in Fairbanks, the cold spring has already toppled longtime May records for low temperatures, Snider said. The chilly air has delayed rivers from breaking up in the Interior, he said.

That includes the Tanana River in the town of Nenana. Each year, thousands of people bet on when the ice will go out in the annual Nenana Ice Classic. Whoever gets the closest guess, down to the minute and second, wins a cash prize, which is sometimes split among multiple winners. The 2012 jackpot is $318,500.

But with the cold weather this year and the ice lingering longer than usual, the vast majority of the guessed dates have already come and gone. Of the roughly 261,000 tickets sold, only 3,649 had a chance of winning as of Thursday, Ice Classic Manager Cherrie Forness said. That's about 1.4 percent.

"Until we actually see it staying above freezing, it doesn't give the ice much of a chance to thaw. So it's slowly rotting away here. It's not really melting," Forness said by phone from Nenana. "I know somebody's going to win but I hope it's soon. I'm supposed to work here through the end of May, so I hope it goes out in May. If it doesn't, that's OK. I'll still be here."

It's a common refrain in Alaska: Stick it out, and you will be rewarded. Another one: Adapt or die.

"Feels like October so I spent a few (minutes) in front of my sad light, lit some candles and made some hot apple cider!" wrote Julie Richmond Watkins-Hanson in a Facebook comment to the Daily News. "I'd still rather live in Alaska with crappy weather than anywhere else!"

Adapting seems to be how many gardeners are coping with the cold, said David Horvath, retail manager at Alaska Mill and Feed. That and trying to stay optimistic, he said.

"I think the biggest indication of that has been the consistent selling of the green goods, as well as the other goods that helps them create that garden experience," Horvath said. "I think most of us are grumbling under our breath, in regards to it being cold and damp. A lot of the hush-hush, 'Don't dare say the S word.' But the upside is, we seem to just take what we can get. We're always looking for a positive, sunnier, brighter tomorrow. We're just keeping our fingers crossed that it comes sooner rather than later."

Shawna Tidwell, a born-and-raised Alaskan, said she had a different plan.

"This spring gave me the push I needed," she wrote. "I'm moving somewhere warmer. Love Alaska, and will love to miss it."


Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.



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