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Winter keeps chilly grip on much of Alaska

Jerzy Shedlock
The snowfall from the past two days in Anchorage makes 2012-2013 the longest snow season since records began in 1917, according to the Weather Service. Loren Holmes photo

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, Alaskans may be reticent about their plans for outdoor barbecues in light of unrelenting winter weather conditions. Father snow has fallen asleep in the guest room.

On Friday, a light snow blanketed Anchorage, breaking multiple records, including one nearly a century old. Now communities north of Alaska’s largest city are going through much the same.

Let’s start with the records. The National Weather Service in Anchorage measured 0.3 inches of snow on Friday. That set a new daily snowfall record for May 17, edging out the old record set in 1989 by a tenth of an inch. And a new record for liquid precipitation, as rain and snow joined forces to drench the city in 1.3 inches, broke a previous record set way back in 1959 -- the year Alaska became a state.

As of 10 a.m. Saturday, the Weather Service measured another tenth of an inch of snow, breaking a previous record of trace snow on the same day.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that bicyclists who braved Anchorage’s streets on Friday for Bike to Work Day were taking part in a bit of Alaska history. The snowfall from the past two days makes 2012-2013 the longest snow season since records began in 1917, according to the Weather Service. The first measured snowfall of the season was recorded on Sept. 29, for a total of 232 days with snow this season -- so far. Winter’s lasted well over a third of the year. The Weather Service says the previous record was 230 days.

Scattered snow showers are forecasted for the Anchorage area on Saturday, with the possibility of an inch of snow. Temperatures will float in the mid-30s to low 40s, so the white stuff likely won’t stay around. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Weather Service predicts cloudy skies for the rest of the week but no snow.

Don’t rule out more snowfall, however. In fact, the cooling spell may not let up for years.

The state's overall temperature dipped 2.4 degrees during the first decade of the new century, a notable shift from the previous 100 years. And Alaska in 2012 was 2.9 degrees colder than normal, a trend that researches say will continue.

North of Anchorage in the Matanuska Valley, it’s a wet one, with snow on Saturday morning and scattered showers throughout the afternoon. The National Weather Service predicts snow accumulation of up to three inches.

A winter weather advisory was in effect for Matanuska until 1 p.m. Snow affected visibility and road conditions in and around the communities of Palmer, Wasilla, Sutton and Chickaloon, among others. Isolated snow showers will continue into the evening, but snow isn’t expected for the rest of the week, according to the Weather Service.

Besides Sunday night, with temperatures expected in the 20s, the Valley will heat up throughout the week with highs consistently in the 50s. The area’s farmers should finally be able to seed their crops; they’re about two weeks behind schedule.

Directly to the west of the Matanuska Valley, its sister the Susitna -- the two valleys often get lumped together -- could get up to four inches of snow, mainly in the small community of Talkeetna, the launching pad for expeditions up Mount McKinley, and father north. The weather also looks like it will let up throughout the week in this area.

A winter storm warming was in effect for McKinley but cancelled as of noon Saturday. Climbers, who reportedly number in the thousands at the moment, can breath easy. Light snows and winds of up to 20 miles per hours will accommodate them on their climb to the summit.

A winter storm warning will remain in effect until later tonight for the area east of Denali National Park and Preserve. The northeastern slopes of the eastern Alaska Range, a 400-mile long range that stretches from Lake Clark in southwest Alaska to White River in Yukon Territory, Canada, is currently experiencing near blizzard conditions, according to the Weather Service. But snow is diminishing and expected to end this evening.

A winter weather advisory is in effect until 6 p.m. for the Tanana Valley; a flood advisory is in effect for the mid-Tanana Valley until 10 p.m.; and a winter storm warning is in effect on the southern slopes of the eastern Brooks Range, Alaska’s other enormous string of peaks. Small villages in the Brooks Range area could see up to four inches of snow.

In other weather-related news, residents of Circle and Eagle are watching the Yukon River carefully. A flood watch is in effect through Tuesday evening for Circle, as moving ice is contributing to the formation of ice jams

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com