Wednesday, December 29, 2021

More Wild Weather

Another day, another climate headline: 2021 is now the wettest year on record in Fairbanks.  Rick Thoman illustrates the remarkable increase since 2013:

A leading hypothesis for explaining the change has to be the sustained tendency for North Pacific high pressure, which is linked to unusual sea surface warmth (recall the so-called "blob" of warmth dating back to winter 2013-2014).  As discussed in recent days, an intense North Pacific ridge is to blame for the current onslaught of wild weather; here's a nice animation courtesy of Stu Ostro at the Weather Channel:

Last night's winter storm in Fairbanks ended with a remarkable and extremely unusual snow squall this morning: heavy snow, near-zero visibility, and winds gusting to 45 mph.

For posterity, here's the airport METAR at the height of the squall:

PAFA 291653Z 28024G39KT 1/4SM R02L/1200V2600FT +SN BLSN FG VV004 M01/M03 A2956 RMK AO2 PK WND 28039/1645 SLP020 P0003 T10061033 $

Heavy wind-driven snow like this is virtually unheard-of in Fairbanks, and I found only a tiny number of past cases when conditions may have been similar.  In fact there are zero previous observations with a combination of moderate or heavy snow, visibility of 1/4 mile or less, and sustained winds of 20 knots or greater; but Rick pointed out that in earlier decades the observer may have just reported "blowing snow".  Even then, the only dates that may have been similar are the following:

March 28, 1948

Dec 28, 1951

March 10, 1963

Feb 26, 2011

Here's one of Rick's comments in the aftermath of the 2011 event: "February 2011 will be long remembered in the annals of Fairbanks weather lore, with back to back storms that are close to "blizzards" as Fairbanks ever gets (which is to say, not that close)."


  1. Interesting observations on the remarkable increase in precipitation in not only the Interior, but also the Alaska Range in recent years. Denali Park and surrounding area reported over 6 feet of snow for the month of December, an astounding amount! This is the much more dramatic side of global climate change up here than any barely perceptible uptick in average temperatures. The lingering warmer ocean temps affect the jet stream and flow of moisture into the heart of the state, creating remarkable weather events such as we are currently enduring. If this is the new normal, it means a much more difficult(and expensive) winter existence for everyone, particularly those living in outlying areas.

    1. Thanks for the comment, I agree - it's very interesting to see these dramatic changes. Some unknown fraction of the precip change is probably "natural" decadal variability, but we won't know how much for a very long time. In the meantime, yes - significant challenges to adapt.