Winter is coming, but the snow might not be

Looking up the winter forecast for Alaska can bring about a plethora of different opinions, results and predictions. Some sources say we’re in for little to no snow like the last two winters. Other sources contend that snowfall is up this year compared to the last few winters. Most experts are saying that there’s little more than a 50/50 shot at getting either a La Niña winter, or an El Niño one.

A majority of people don’t exactly know what El Niño or La Niña means beyond the Spanish translations. Basically, El Niño and La Niña, when spoken about in climate terms, are terms used to describe different temperatures of sea surfaces in the Pacific Ocean. These temperatures effect the seasons we receive not only in Alaska, but all throughout North America. Jackie Purcell, Chief Meteorologist at KTUU, describes what exactly El Niño and La Niña are.

“El Niño is a period of prolonged, warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the vicinity of the Equator. La Niña is just the opposite; sea surface temperatures are cooler than normal for an extended period. It doesn’t even take much to be considered an El Niño or La Niña. Just about a half of a degree Celsius, either way, is all it takes to reach that threshold,” Purcell said.

Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Generally, for Alaska this means that in El Niño years, Alaskans get not a lot of snow, but in La Niña years, the state gets more than usual. Right now, the verdict is still being decided on whether or not our weather is going to be La Niña or El Niño. However, more experts are leaning toward La Niña being the case this year. David George, Morning Edition Anchor and Meteorologist at KTUU, thinks that this winter is going to provide more snow than usual.

“In the El Niño years, here in Alaska and Pacific time zones, we tend to get more active weather depending on where the jet stream is located. In La Niña years, we tend to get more stable and dry weather,” George said. “If we weren’t really going through a strong La Niña the last two years, I don’t see us going through one this year. Looking at 10 year snow trends, you tend to kind of work your way back up when you bottomed out. That’s what we did by bottoming out two winters ago, and then last winter, getting at least a foot more of snow than that.”

Still, some sources believe that our winter is going to be just a normal year. It is believed by some that we won’t have an El Niño event or a La Niño event. Rob Guarino, Chief Meteorologist and founder of Live Weather Blogs, is one such meteorologist who believes that the 50/50 split means neither for Alaska.

“A lot really depends on where the Northern Jet places itself up there. We’re not gonna have a La Nina, we’re barely there now, we’re gonna slide between the 50/50 and have a neutral winter. So, you’re not gonna have a dominant La Nina, or a dominant El Nino, you’re kind of left with a climate average,” Guarino said.

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As far as what that means for snowfall in Alaska, Guarino sees us getting more snow than usual, but not too much more than normal.

“I would lean to seeing that you get slightly above average snowfall there. Because, there’s a lot of low pressure now forming up near the Arctic Circle. So, the pressures are lower than normal up there, we do know that. That’s right now. We also know that Siberian snow cover is above average. Sea ice is a little below average; the Arctic Sea Ice Formation is lower. But, snow coverage in Siberia tends to bring colder air across [into Alaska] and down to America,” Guarino said.

Ultimately, weather is a very hard thing to predict and as of now, no one is completely sure on what is going to happen this winter. For Alaskans that enjoy the snow, hopefully they do get to enjoy a nice, cold blanket. However it seems to be that no one will really know until winter finally gets here.