Does it snow in Alaska? Sure it 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 an arid land where it snows constantly in massive amounts and where everyone lives in igloos. Such a concept makes Alaska sound like a cold, white land.
In reality, Alaska has more green lakes, rivers, and trees than any other state in the US The state is intensely green and rich most of the year. But the total rainfall and total snowfall may be much less than you think.
Snowfall totals in Alaska
Here are some average annual precipitation and snowfall totals for a cross section of Alaska.
Anchorage — 15.37 “Precip. —- 69.0” Snowfall
Barrow ——- 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, New York, receives an average of 80 “to 100” of snow per year. Some sections of upstate New York, similarly affected by its proximity to the Great Lakes, receive an average of 150 “to 200” of snow per year. Hooker, NY, received 466 “of snow during the winter of 1976-1977.
Minneapolis, Minnesota received the 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 per year. The south-central and southeastern coastal areas receive much more precipitation.
The extreme north of Alaska receives total rainfall typical of a desert. Look at Barrow’s annual total of only 4.67 “moisture. Of course, most of that total falls as snow. Due to the ice below the ground and the lack of intense runoff and evaporation are 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 and 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 snow cover ever recorded 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 “. It’s packed, condensed snow. Almost 30 feet deep!
By comparison, Barrow, in the dry north, received a record low 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 the rest of the world combined, excluding the Antarctic and Greenland ice fields.
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 per year. Typically, there are 6-foot drifts of snow on the rooftops of the city. The canyon a few miles to the North of Valdez is home to several icy waterfalls and makes Valdez a world-class destination for ice climbers.
Thompson Pass, further north in Valdez, boasts some of the best extreme ski and snowboard terrain with helicopter access in all of North America. Not surprisingly, Valdez has been called “the Switzerland of the North.”
Every year, Valdez celebrates a Winter Carnival. During the 1990 Winter Carnival period, snowfall passed the 500 “mark. As part of the winter celebration, the city showed the movie” Back to the Beach “on a 20-by-18-foot” screen “that had carved out of a snowbank Talk about an outdoor drive-in!
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, 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 completed. 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 snowflake shapes include stars, needles, flat 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 about snowflake research, consider that of Wilson Bentley. He acquired the nickname “Snowflake” Bentley because he was the first person to photograph a single crystal of snow in 1885. He studied more than 5000 snowflakes and declared that no two snowflakes are exactly alike, a quote that has been passed down from generation to generation. anonymously since then.
In 1931, the year Snowflake Bentley died, he published a book titled, Snow crystals. The book contained more than 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 original 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 warming climate 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 in 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, the water level has been eroding the land below the village buildings. The town may have to move inland.
Fir bark beetles have killed 4 million acres of white spruce forests on the scenic 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 the higher temperatures in summer. Dead trees pose a great fire hazard around numerous populated areas and major recreational sections are threatened.
The glaciers have retreated at an incredible rate. The Portage Glacier, south of Anchorage, has retreated so much in the last 20 years that it is no longer visible from the visitor center. The Columbia Glacier in Prince William Sound is currently the fastest moving glacier in the world, retreating 80 to 115 feet per day. It has gone back more than 6 miles since 1982.
There are still many glaciers and a significant amount of snow in Alaska, but the changes are happening at an ever-increasing rate and will have an impact around the world.