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Anchorage has a deep snowpack but an almost normal snow season

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 3:52 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Take a walk off the beaten path around Anchorage and it would be easy to think this has been a heavy snow season.

Snow depth, meaning the amount of snow still on the ground, is officially 28 inches for Anchorage. That’s the third highest snow depth for this time of year but that doesn’t equate to a heavy snow season.

“If you look at the other two years that had a little bit more snow, and we’re just talking one or two inches more snow, both of those years had over 120 inches of snow by now,” said Brian Brettschneider, a research scientist with the National Weather Service Alaska Region. “We’ve had less than 70 (inches).”

Anchorage is actually below normal for the snow season total as of March 25. So far this year, Anchorage has seen 67.6 inches of snow with the normal totals at 68.5 inches. By this date in 2020, Anchorage had 83.6 inches of snow.

So why does Anchorage have all this snow on the ground?

“We basically had no melting events,” Brettschneider said. “We had a day in early January where we had a half-inch of liquid rainfall and that dropped our snow depth by about two inches, but other than that we’ve had nothing. We’ve had no windy days, almost no above freezing days, and the snow that has fallen has been fairly fluffy snow.”

On average, the snowpack in Anchorage melts away by April 14, not including random, late season snowfalls. But, it doesn’t look like the snow will be gone by then this year.

“Given where we’re at in the snow depth and for the next few weeks it’s expected to be colder than normal,” Brettschneider said. “I would say it’s a guarantee we’re going to have snow on the ground after April 14th.”

That means some spring activities might be delayed as well such as gardening. A heavy snowpack will often insulate the ground so the soil doesn’t freeze as deeply. That might not been the case with this year’s snow cover. Brettschneider compared it to ice measurements around Anchorage, which are about where they should be.

“You could then extrapolate that to say the ground frost line is about where it should be for this time of year,” he added. “So if it takes an extra 7 to 10 days to melt the snow out, which is a reasonable first guess, then we’ve got to thaw the ice in the ground so I would expect it to be a late gardening season.”

The snowpack doesn’t impact fire season much, except for in the early part of the season.

“Even the really bad fire season we had two summers ago. Everyone remembers all the smoke,” Brettschneider said. “People forget we had our wettest May on record. Again, what happens early in the season moisture wise has very little bearing on the fire season.”

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