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It's official: Alaska shivered through a cold winter

Where was that global warming deal when we needed it most? Alaska just shivered through one of the chilliest winters in years, largely driven by La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific, according to the spring issue of the Alaska Climate Dispatch, released this week by the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"Most of Alaska experienced temperatures noticeably colder (i.e. negative deviation) than the normal 30-year average this winter," the quarterly newsletter explains in an article analyzing December through January conditions. “This winter was more typical of the winter weather conditions experienced in the 1960s and early 1970s. This is in contrast to autumn 2010, when the temperatures were generally above normal."

At the same time, sea ice in the Bering Sea peaked earlier and covered much less territory than it did in 2010. As of late February, the Bering ice pack extended over about 232,000 square miles -- about 30 percent below the 328,000 square miles covered at the same period last year.

As many Alaska residents might shudder to remember, the frigid season bore down hardest in December, when Interior communities averaged 10 degrees Fahrenheit below normal, and Anchorage was a whopping 7 degrees F under the line.

"There were only two stations with above normal temperatures, Barrow (+1.4°F), the most northerly station in Alaska, and Annette (+0.6°F), the most southerly station in the southeast panhandle."

Precipitation was down most of the winter in most places -- right up until the moment they got hammered by blizzards.

"February was a remarkable month as far as the precipitation is concerned. Strong winter storms brought lots of moisture to Alaska, impacting mainly Northern, Western and Interior Alaska. Barrow reported 417 percent, Fairbanks 356 percent, Gulkana 215 percent and Kotzebue 290 percent above the expected amount. Fairbanks had the second highest snowfall amount (30.3 inches) ever reported for February; the records, which go back to 1904, show that only February 1966 recorded a larger snowfall. Especially remarkable was the snowstorm of February 20-21 with a total of 18.6 inches. Wind gusted up to 49 mph, and blowing snow and snow drifting could be observed, a fairly rare occurrence for Alaska’s Interior. Due to the heavy snowfall and drifts the roads to the north, the Dalton and Steese Highways were closed."

Overall, Anchorage was about 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for the season, and 11 percent down on snowfall and rain. 

The March-May outlook isn't much better.

"Historically during the spring season, the below-normal temperatures associated with La Niña have been strongest in the southern portion of the state," is the glum prognosis. Further out, conditions are expected to improve, with this climate prediction map for April-June giving southern Alaska good odds for normal temperatures as summer approaches. And Arctic Alaska might be much warmer.

The newsletter -- produced by the center with help from the Alaska Climate Research CenterNational Centers for Environmental PredictionNational Weather Service, and the SEARCH Sea Ice Outlook -- also included a detailed primer on spring river flooding, plus gobs of charts and weather data and links.  

Contact Doug O'Harra at doug(at)alaskadispatch.com