Does it snow in Alaska? Of course she does. But the reality of how much snow Alaska receives may be very 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 where everyone lives in igloos. Such a concept makes Alaska sound like a cold white land.
Alaska actually has more lakes, rivers, and green trees than any other state in the US The state is intensely green and rich most of the year. But total precipitation and total snowfall may be much less than you think.
Alaska Snowfall Totals
Here are some average annual precipitation and snowfall totals for a cross section of Alaska.
Anchorage — 15.37″ drop —- 69.0″ snowfall
Trolley ——- 4.67″ ———– 28.0″
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, New York, receives an average of 80″ to 100″ of snow per year. Some sections of upstate New York, similarly affected 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 1976-1977.
Minneapolis, Minnesota received its heaviest seasonal snowfall total of 98″ during the winter of 1983-1984.
As you can see from the Alaska totals above, most of Alaska is relatively dry, receiving less than 20″ of precipitation annually. The South Central and Southeast coastal areas receive much more precipitation.
The northern tip of Alaska receives rainfall totals typical of a desert. Note Barrow’s annual total of just 4.67″ of moisture. Of course, most of that total falls as snow. Due to the ice below the ground and lack of intense drying, runoff and evaporation from the sun is minimal. That’s why northern Alaska is not a dry desert despite small amounts of precipitation.
Alaska snowfall records
Extremes are always interesting to hear about and they can certainly be found in Alaska. For example, Thompson Pass, a popular extreme ski and snowboard area north of Valdez, once received a record 974.5″ of snow during the winter of 1952-1953.
Thompson Pass recorded 62″ of snow during a single 24-hour period in December 1955. During February 1953, Thompson Pass received a record 297.9″ of snow. That’s almost 25 feet of snow in just one month!
The deepest snowpack on record in Alaska, and the deepest in all of North America, occurred on the Wolverine Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula during the winter of 1976-1977. 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 1935-1936 of just 3″.
Here are a couple of other extremes for total precipitation. Montague Island in 1976 received a record 332.29″ of precipitation. That’s almost an inch of rain per day! On the other hand, Barrow received only 1.61″ of precipitation for all of 1935.
Alaska stores an immense amount of fresh water in its glaciers. A staggering 75% of the world’s fresh water is found in glaciers around the world, and Alaska has 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 of the rest of the world combined, excluding the ice fields of Antarctica and Greenland.
Valdez, the Switzerland of the North
Valdez is located on the south central coast of Alaska and receives an average of more than 300″ of snow a year. There are typically 6-foot snowdrifts on roofs around town. The canyon, a few miles north from Valdez, is home to several frozen waterfalls and makes Valdez a world-class destination for ice climbers.
Thompson Pass, further north of Valdez, boasts some of the best helicopter-accessible snowboarding and extreme skiing in all of North America. It’s no wonder Valdez has been called “the Switzerland of the North.”
Every year Valdez celebrates a Winter Carnival. During the 1990 Winter Carnival period, the year’s snowfall topped the 500″ mark. As part of the winter celebration, the city showed the movie “Back to the Beach” on a 20-foot by 18-foot “screen.” feet they had carved out of a snowbank Let’s talk about an outdoor drive-in movie theater!
What is snow?
Snow is frozen crystalline ice, and the size and shape of the crystals depend on the temperature of their formation and the amount of water vapor present during formation.
Pure snow crystals are hexagonal, with six sides. 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 an angle of 60 degrees. Crystallization continues until 6 of these triangles are completed. As the crystal falls through the atmosphere, it gets larger and larger, and its six-sided structure becomes the framework for more complex snowflakes.
Common snowflake shapes include stars, needles, planes, columns, crowned columns, dendrites, and irregular clusters. Some snowflakes can be up to 1″ in diameter.
For one of the most interesting human stories on snowflake research, consider that of Wilson Bentley. He acquired the nickname “Snowflake” Bentley because he was the first person to photograph a single snow crystal in 1885. He studied more than 5,000 snowflakes and declared that no two snowflakes are exactly alike, a quote that has been passed down from generation to generation. in generation. anonymously ever since.
In 1931, the year Snowflake Bentley died, he published a book titled, snow crystals. The book contained over 2,400 images of Snowflake Bentley.
How many Eskimo words are there for snow?
It has been said that there are 52 words in the Eskimo, Inuit, or Yupik language for snow. It has also been said that there are 21 words, and it has also been said that there are more than 400. Where is the truth?
The idea that since snow is so important in the lives of the native peoples of the north, there must be a multitude of words to describe it, has reached the level of a myth. The truth of the matter is that there are probably as many Eskimo words for snow as there are English words for snow.
Climate Changes in Alaska
According to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, “Alaska is more affected by global climate change than anywhere else in the world.” Global warming has been a trend for many years, but very few places show as many consequences of the trend as Alaska. The average temperature has risen almost 7 degrees in the last 30 years.
Changes due to climate warming mean, for example, that the permafrost in Fairbanks and other cities is no longer permanent. The ground has sunk 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 town of Shishmaref, rising waters have been eroding the land under the town’s buildings. The town may have to move inland.
Spruce bark beetles have killed 4 million acres of white spruce forest on the picturesque Kenai Peninsula, the largest insect-caused devastation ever experienced in North America. The beetles have been able to reproduce at twice their normal rate due to higher summer temperatures. Dead trees pose a major fire hazard around numerous populated areas, and major recreational sections are under threat.
The glaciers have been retreating at an incredible rate. Portage Glacier, south of Anchorage, has retreated so much in the last 20 years that it is no longer visible from the visitor center. Columbia Glacier in Prince William Sound is currently the world’s fastest moving glacier, retreating 80 to 115 feet per day. It has regressed more than 6 miles since 1982.
There are still lots of glaciers and lots of snow in Alaska, but the changes are happening at a faster rate and will have effects around the world.