• Four records broken last year in cold and precipitation
By Naomi Klouda
Homer’s wacky weather patterns showed four new records were set in 2012, starting with a dramatic coldest January since 1939.
January’s average temp dipped to 8.96 F. And if you found yourself sitting around a warm stove into July, there’s a solid basis for that, too. July registered as the coldest month on record since 1939, with a mean temperature of 50.18 F.
Two other records were set in the precipitation department. The Homer area swung from the coldest January to the wettest February with several feet of snow. The National Weather Service recorded it as 6.46 inches of water, which translated to snow is roughly 90 inches.
September, that rainy month when it seemed rivers fell from the sky, also set a notable showing at 5.35 inches recorded while other years recorded as low as 1 or 2 inches.
Peter Q. Olsson, the Alaska State Climatologist at the Alaska State Climate Center and the chief scientist of the Alaska Experimental Forecast Facility, pulled Homer’s numbers going back to 1939. Some data is missing as the years went by, but for the most part the evidence is in that 2012 proved the coldest winter since the winter of 1955-56.
“We had cold temperatures last winter all along Southcentral Alaska. January just happened to be your coldest,” Olsson said. January in Anchorage missed being its coldest month by fractions of a degree.
Our next coldest January, in the data, was January of 1947, the year residents remember as clogged ice in Kachemak Bay reputed to be so thick people could walk across it. The average mean temperature of January 1947 came in at 9.32 degrees.
The Weather Service 2012 numbers aren’t analyzed yet for a full review, since that data is read and vetted in February and March, Olsson said. “In March, we will have a better handle on it.”
Alaska, in spite of its place in the forefront of climate change and the need for data, continues to lack weather observers in many parts of the state.
“The lack of observation will always be here because Alaska is a sparsely populated state. Two-thirds of all its residents live from the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage area,” Olsson explains. “On the Bering Coast, there’s almost no data aside from certain Islands in the Bering. There are hundreds of kilometers between data points. Even the Kenai Peninsula isn’t instrumented like Colorado.”
But then, Colorado needs to track its water supply through snow measures that help predict volume to flow into the Columbia River. That water needs to serve agriculture all the way to California, he noted. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference for us.”
Even forecast models for weather ahead – what kind of summer can we expect? – aren’t perfected.
“In the Lower 48, they’ve taken a huge statistical model, using El Nino and La Nina and Arctic oscillation and North American oscillation – then they spit out a guess on what it will be like in the next 180 days,” Olsson said.
Alaska has most of its data pocketed in Southcentral Alaska, making creation of such models more difficult.
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