Alaskans can expect higher temperatures and more precipitation this winter, according to a forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In a national winter outlook that covers December through February, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says Alaska will have a greater than 40% chance of having a warmer than normal winter.
Alaska is also forecast to see more than normal amounts of precipitation, NOAA says. For the Aleutians and Southwest Alaska, there’s at least a 50% chance of higher than normal precipitation.
Warmer air masses hold more moisture, said Bill Ludwig, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage. But the combination of higher temperatures and more precipitation doesn’t necessarily mean Alaska could experience a rainy winter season.
"For most of Alaska, even a few degrees above normal is still well below freezing,” Ludwig said. It’s hard to say exactly how much higher the temperatures could be, he added.
According to Ludwig, there are two factors that contributed to NOAA’s outlook for Alaska. (He was on a pair of phone conferences with NOAA earlier this week about the national winter forecast before the predictions went public.)
The first, he said, is a lack of normal amounts of sea ice, which has been been forming along Alaska’s coasts later than in years past.
The second is a trend of higher than normal temperatures in Alaska, Ludwig said. Temperatures in Alaska have been been higher than usual over the last 10 to 15 years, according to Ludwig, which will affect baseline “normal” temperatures going forward.
NOAA updates its average normal temperatures every 10 years with data from the previous 30 years. For example, the current baseline temperature was established by data collected from 1981 to 2010.
The next updated baseline temperature — the new normal — will come out in 2021 and include data from 1991 to 2020.