Left: Snow beginning to fall on I-80 west of Laramie on Sunday, September 24th at 4:16 pm local time; Right: Partly cloudy skies looking south from Juneau Harbor toward the Gastineau Channel on Sunday, September 24 at 4:16 AKDT
There are some illusions surrounding Alaska’s temperature and climate, specifically cooler temperatures in the summer and early fall months. But, what makes a location’s climate unique? Weather is comprised of individual events and climate is the average of these conditions. Proximity to a body of water, topography, and elevation all can play a factor in shaping the climate.
For the purposes of comparison, Albuquerque, New Mexico is one of the highest elevation cities at an average elevation of 5300 feet and a latitude of 35°N. This city lies at the northern edges of the Chihuahuan Desert, and thus, experiences large ranges in diurnal temperatures due to the specific heat of dry air being less than that of water (humid air takes longer to heat and cool than dry air does). Laramie, WY (located in southeast Wyoming along the Colorado Front Range) is located at 41°N and 7220 feet above sea level. Similar to Albuquerque, Laramie is also a semi-arid climate, but the high plains location is susceptible to long, cold winters.
Juneau, Alaska (fondly referred to as Capital City by locals) is nestled between the Gastineau Channel to the west and several large mountainous peaks to the east, separating it from Canada. It is located at 58°N, with the Article Circle beginning at a latitude 65°N. Juneau is considered a maritime climate due to the stabilizing presence of the Pacific Ocean. Temperatures are relatively mild here and small variations may exist between high and low temperatures, contrary to what its latitude may suggest.
During the last week of September, several differences were noticed for these locations. A slow-moving Pacific storm system hit Laramie, WY with its first “measurable” snow (greater than or equal to 0.01”) on Sunday, September 24th . With about a month and half away from its first predicted snowfall, Juneau experienced a heavy rain event beginning Monday evening the 25th through the 28th with up to 2.5” of precipitation in some areas, as a front pushed through the southeast Alaska panhandle. A separate backdoor cold front backed into eastern New Mexico and moved through the central portion of the state by Wednesday, September 27th. Meanwhile, Juneau International Airport experienced a maximum temperature of 59°F, almost 6 degrees above normal. The overnight low of 55°F in Juneau was almost 10 degrees warmer than portions of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming (49°F in Albuquerque and a mere 36 degrees in Laramie, WY).
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©2017 Meteorologist Sharon Sullivan