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Snow in Alaska? — You’d Be Surprised

Is it snowing in Alaska? Of course it is. But the reality of how much snow Alaska receives can be quite different from the popular concept of snow in Alaska.

Many people think of Alaska as a barren land where it constantly snows in massive amounts and everyone lives in igloos. Such a concept makes Alaska sound like a cold, white land.

In fact, Alaska has more lakes, rivers, and green trees than any state in the United States. The state is intensely green and lush for much of the year. But the total precipitation and total snowfall may be much lower than you think.

Alaska snowfall totals

Here are some average annual precipitation and snowfall totals for a cross section of Alaska.

Wetting—Precipitated 15.37″—Snowfall 69.0″

Wheelbarrow ——- 4.67″ ———– 28.0″

Fairbanks—-10.37″———–68.0″

Homer ——- 24.93″ ———– 58.0″

Juneau —— 52.86″ ———– 101.0″

McGrath —– 16.18″ ———– 93.0″

Name ——– 15.64″ ———– 56.0″

Valdez ——- 61.50″ ———– 320.0″

By comparison, Buffalo, NY, averages 80″ to 100″ of snow per year. Some sections of upstate New York, also impacted by their proximity to the Great Lakes, receive an average of 150” to 200” of snowfall per year. Hooker, NY received 466″ of snow during the winter of 1976-77.

Minneapolis, Minnesota received its highest seasonal snowfall total of 98″ during the winter of 1983-84.

As you can see from the Alaska totals above, most of Alaska is relatively dry, receiving less than 20 inches of precipitation per year. The south-central and south-eastern coastal areas receive much higher rainfall.

Far northern Alaska receives precipitation totals typical of a desert. Notice Barrow’s annual total of only 4.67″ of moisture. Of course, most of that total falls as snow. Due to ice beneath the ground and lack of intense sunlight, runoff and evaporation is minimal.not a dry desert despite low rainfall.

Snow records in Alaska

It’s always interesting to hear about extremes and they’re definitely found in Alaska. For example, Thompson Pass, a popular extreme skiing and snowboarding area north of Valdez, once received a record 974.5″ of snow during the winter of 1952-53.

Thompson Pass recorded 62″ of snow in a single 24 hour period in December 1955. In February 1953 Thompson Pass received a record 297.9″ of snow. That’s almost 25 feet of snow in just one month!

The thickest snowpack recorded in Alaska, and the thickest in all of North America, occurred at Wolverine Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula during the winter of 1976-77. The depth was 356″. That’s packed, condensed snow. Almost 30 feet deep!

By comparison, Barrow in the dry north received a record minimum amount of snow during the winter of 1935-36 of just 3″.

Here are some other extremes for total precipitation. Montague Island in 1976 received a record 332.29″ of precipitation. That’s almost an inch of rain a day! On the other hand, Barrow received only 1.61″ of precipitation the entire year 1935.

Alaska stores an immense amount of fresh water in its glaciers. An incredible 75% of the world’s fresh water is found in glaciers around the world and Alaska holds more than its fair share.

Alaska has more than 5,000 glaciers, covering more than 100,000 square miles. Alaska has more glaciers than all the rest of the world combined, excluding the ice fields of Antarctica and Greenland.

Valdez, the Switzerland of the North

Valdez sits on the south-central Alaskan coast and averages over 300″ of snow annually. Typically, there are 6-foot snowdrifts on the city skyline. The canyon at a few kilometers north of Valdez is home to several frozen waterfalls and makes Valdez a world class destination for ice climbers.

Thompson Pass, further north of Valdez, has some of the best extreme skiing and snowboarding terrain accessible by helicopter in all of North America. No wonder Valdez has been nicknamed “the Switzerland of the North”.

Every year, Valdez organizes a winter carnival. During the 1990 Winter Carnival period, the year’s snowfall topped the 500″ mark. snowbank Talk about an outdoor drive-in!

What is snow?

Snow is frozen crystalline ice and the size and shape of the crystals depends on the temperature of their formation and the amount of water vapor present during the formation.

Pure snow crystals are hexagonal, six-sided. The basic water molecule consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom and forms a triangle with three equal sides. During crystallization, each new ice crystal bud forms at a 60 degree angle. Crystallization continues until 6 of these triangles are complete. As the crystal falls through the atmosphere, it becomes larger and larger, and its six-sided structure becomes the framework for more complex snowflakes.

Common shapes of snowflakes include stars, needles, planes, columns, capped columns, dendrites, and irregular clusters. Some snowflakes can measure up to 1″ in diameter.

For one of the most interesting human stories about snowflake research, consider that of Wilson Bentley. He earned the nickname “Snowflake” Bentley because he was the first person to photograph a single crystal of snow in 1885. He studied over 5000 snowflakes and said there were no two identical snowflakes, a quote that has been passed down from generation to generation. anonymously since.

In 1931, the year Snowflake Bentley died, he published a book titled, snow crystals. The book contained over 2400 images of Snowflake Bentley.

How many Eskimo words are there for snow?

It is said that there are 52 words in the Eskimo, Inuit or Yupik language for snow. It is also said that there are 21 words, and it is also said that there are more than 400. Where is the truth?

The idea that since snow is so important to the lives of northern Indigenous peoples that there must be a multitude of words to describe it has reached the level of a myth. The truth is that there are probably as many Eskimo words for snow as there are English words for snow.

Climate Change in Alaska

According to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, “Alaska is being hit harder by global climate change than any place in the world.” Global warming has been a trend for many years, but very few places show as much of the consequences of the trend as Alaska. The average temperature has increased by nearly 7 degrees over the past 30 years.

Changes due to global warming mean, for example, that permafrost in Fairbanks and other cities is no longer permanent. The land has collapsed due to melting permafrost and hydraulic jacks are needed on many buildings to keep them level. Further north, in Barrow, there are now mosquitoes where there were none before.

In the coastal village of Shishmaref, rising water has eroded the land beneath the village buildings. The village may have to move further inland.

Spruce bark beetles have killed 4 million acres of white spruce forests on the scenic Kenai Peninsula, the greatest insect devastation ever seen in North America. The beetles were able to reproduce at twice their normal rate due to the higher summer temperatures. Dead trees are a huge fire hazard around many populated areas and major recreational sections are at risk.

The glaciers are retreating at an incredible speed. The Portage Glacier, south of Anchorage, has retreated so much in the past 20 years that it is no longer visible from the visitor center. The Columbia Glacier on Prince William Sound is currently the fastest moving glacier in the world, retreating 80 to 115 feet per day. It has retreated more than 6 miles since 1982.

There are still lots of glaciers and lots of snow in Alaska, but the changes are happening at an accelerating rate and will have effects around the world.

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