Alaskan Winters: Glaciers, Skiing . . . and Beaches? (Photo Credit: Brian Brettschneider)
Alaska-centric median values for the coldest temperature in a given year (Brettschneider).
When you think of Alaska you might picture it being dark, cold, and snowy. However, some parts of Alaska are actually very temperate and receive more rain than snow. There are five main categories within the Köppen Climate Classification System: tropical (above 64.4F), dry or semiarid (in which evapotranspiration exceeds precipitation), mesothermal (warmest month above 50F and all months between 32 and 64.4F), microthermal (warmest month above 50F, all months below 64.4, and at least one month less than 32F), and tundra (all months below 50F). Most of Alaska falls within the microthermal climate type, while most areas in the southeast U.S. do not meet the minimum criteria for this type. Along the Alaskan coast, the number of stations meeting the tundra criteria have been vastly shrinking in recent years.
A group of Midwest climatologists created the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index to rate locations for their winter low temperatures, snowfall, and snow depth. This can be used to compare the severity of winters between various locations and how it affects commerce, snow removal, and transportation. (This system does not account for wind however). They found that Juneau, AK averages winters that are no less severe than those found in Denver, CO, Anchorage mild by Alaskan standards, and matches up with winters found in Duluth, Minnesota, and Ketchikan milder than Baltimore.
Juneau, AK’s climate is a tie between a continental climate and an oceanic climate, depending on the isotherm used. The city is milder than its latitude may suggest, partly due to the influence of the Alaskan Current transporting warm Pacific water northward along the coast and Aleutian Islands and temperatures frequently in the 30-50F range. Juneau has approximately 230 days per year of precipitation, 300% more rainy days than Denver and 74% more than Seattle does. This location has a smaller annual temperature range due to the presence of the ocean nearby (ocean water heats and cools more slowly than land and releases heat during the winter months). In fact, the 2014-2015 ski season allowed the Eaglecrest Ski Area to be open a mere 30 days due to a lack of snow on the upper mountain, 5 days for the 2015-2016 ski season, and 59 days for the 2016-2017 season. In 2018-19, Eaglecrest enjoyed 74 operating days, despite low natural snowfall, sustained rain events, and an unseasonably warm March with temperatures over 60 degrees.
Due to Alaska’s higher latitude and if you average this daylight over the course of a calendar year, it averages between 12.6 to 12.7 hours of daylight. Juneau’s shortest day is a mere 6 hours, 22 minutes with the sun setting at 3:05 pm and longest at 18 hours, 16 minutes. The sun set on the town of Utqiaġvik (formerly known as Barrow) on November 19th and won’t return until January 23rd, 2023- that’s 65 days without sunlight! Hawaii, on the other hand, averages 12 hours of daylight. Places near the equator usually average close to 12 hours of daylight daily. But, for those suffering from seasonal depression disorder, Arizona and California would want to be the states you would want to head.
To learn more about all things winter, please click here!
©2022 Sharon Sullivan
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