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Is a more 'normal' winter in store for Bristol Bay?

October 27th, 2017 | Dave Bedinger, KDLG Print this article   Email this article  

As temperatures drop below freezing, many wonder what kind of 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 sno-go, or better to put that money toward 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 Ni?o or La Ni?a, and it looks like right now we're kind of leaning toward a little bit of a La Ni?a," 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 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 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 Celsius.

"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.

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. East of Dillingham, from King Salmon into Southcentral, it "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 Ni?o 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 Ni?a, any effects from that around Bristol Bay will likely be noticeable later in the winter, from January through March. La Ni?a typically produces cooler and drier winters for much of Alaska.


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