Thursday, December 14, 2023

Stormy Weather

The last few days have brought wild weather to large parts of Alaska, courtesy of a very powerful upper-level trough and associated low pressure system over the northern Gulf Coast.  Anchorage received measurable snow for 7 days in a row, with a total of almost 20", and that's enough to put them in first place for season-to-date snowfall at this point in the year.

Not surprisingly, the surface pressure analysis on Tuesday afternoon looked very similar to that from about a month ago, when Anchorage received its really big snow storm: the low center was a hundred miles or so to the southeast of the city.

Compare to the November 9 map posted here:

The 500mb map from the same time on (this) Tuesday afternoon shows the mid-atmosphere trough in all its glory:

The eastward "tilt" of the trough at lower latitude is characteristic of particularly strong storm systems with a lot of upper-level "energy".  The sub-500 dm height at Anchorage (499dm to be precise) is notably low: about a third of winters in recent decades haven't seen a 500mb height that low all winter.

Here's an estimate of 3-day total liquid-equivalent precipitation, and the second map below indicates the estimated return frequency: over 5 years in parts of the higher terrain from the northern Panhandle up towards the Alaska Range.

The Fairbanks area received a significant snowfall, with a surprisingly large precipitation total of 0.54" (liquid equivalent) in the last 2 days (Tuesday and Wednesday).  I say "surprisingly" because temperatures were fairly low, only peaking at 10°F and 7°F on the two days respectively, and the snow:water ratio was an unusually low 11:1.  About 50% of winters in Fairbanks don't see a single 2-day precipitation event as large as this - although it has become more common in recent years.

Finally, the big pressure gradients associated with the broader circulation anomaly also generated big winds, especially for the West Coast, where the winds were northerly and created blizzard conditions.  Here are peak wind gusts (mph) for Monday and Tuesday.

Sadly the weather appears to have been a contributing factor in the deaths of two Nome residents on Sunday night:

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