A more "normal" winter in store for Bristol Bay?

Oct 19, 2017

NWS three month climate outlook suggests slightly above average temps, and slightly above average precipitation through January. (Not the well-above average temps and rain in 2014/15.) After that, La Niña may produce colder, drier conditions through late winter.

Consistently cooler temps kept the mild snow base in place for a fantastic spring in 2017, as pictured above. Will a La Nina help bring more snow than rain this year?
Credit KDLG

The early winter forecast for Bristol Bay looks like a return to more normal temperatures and precipitation. El Niño conditions appear to have faded, and may be replaced by La Niña this fall and winter.

As temperatures drop below freezing, many wonder just how good a winter is around the corner. Cold enough to keep some snow on the ground for sledding, skiing, and hunting, but not so cold as to break the bank on heating oil? Finally the year to invest in a new snow go, or better to put that money towards tickets to Hawaii? Will we ever see ptarmigan again?

Bill Ludwig at the National Weather Service office in Anchorage keeps an eye on the big picture factors that can drive the climate in the months ahead.

“One of them is whether we have El Niño or La Niña, and it looks like right now we’re kind of leaning toward a little bit of a La Niña," he said Thursday. "The other thing that can impact the area is the amount of sea ice further north, as well as the sea surface temperatures.”

Arctic sea ice stopped melting back in mid-September, reaching its eighth lowest extent on record. Analysis of this month’s growth has not been published yet, but NOAA still predicts Norton Sound will see its first sea ice by the first week of November, and Bristol Bay by the second half of November, starting in the freshwater river deltas.

Sea surface temperatures along the Bristol Bay coast right now are about eight degrees celcius.

“The sea surface temperatures in the Bering Sea are still above normal, not as much as they have been in the last few years. And the sea ice is definitely further back than average. Not quite as bad as it had been in past years, but that should have a moderating influence, especially early in the winter season," Ludwig said.

Credit NOAA

As to the November, December, and January weather outlook for Dillingham north and west, "The odds are tilted just a little bit in favor of temperatures being above normal," and east of Dillingham, from King Salmon into Southcentral Alaska, "looks like they are actually going for probabilities of near-normal temperatures."

The Bristol Bay early winter outlook suggests there may be more precipitation than normal, too.

Ludwig points out this slightly warmer and wetter outlook should not resemble the bizarre conditions that were predicted – and occurred – in 2014 and 2015.

“We had pretty high confidence with the really warm waters and the El Niño that we had [then]. So, it looks like it’s going to be closer to normal this year.”

While the Climate Prediction Center now favors the cooling of equatorial Pacific waters known as La Niña, any effects from that around Bristol Bay will likely be noticeable later in the winter, from January through March. La Niña typically produces cooler and drier winters for much of Alaska.

dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281

Arctic sea ice is gradually beginning to grow since mid-September.
Credit NOAA