Digging deep: Uncovering the numbers of the historic snow in Southcentral Alaska

Anchorage is on pace for the snowiest December ever recorded
FastCast December 15, 2022
Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 10:27 AM AKST|Updated: Dec. 15, 2022 at 11:05 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Do you remember when eBay first became popular? How about the start of the one-of-a-kind Ask Jeeves website, or the first-ever cloning of a mammal, Dolly the Sheep? It’s been a quarter of a century — 26 years to be exact — since all of these events took place. So, why the recollection of these major events at one point in history? Simple, to whip up some nostalgia, but also to draw your attention to the past and just how quickly time can fly.

Stepping outside at any point this past week, many Alaskans across Southcentral have been shocked and amazed, as well as fed up with the amount of snow that has occurred in such a short period of time. Nearly 4 feet of snow has buried parts of Southcentral, with other areas seeing upwards of 5 feet of snow.

All of this has been thanks to a never-ending cycle of winter storms that began on Dec. 5. While we’ve seen some dry time here and there, back-to-back storms dumped 41.1 inches of snow on Anchorage. The last time the region saw this much snow in the same time span was February 1996, when 44.6 inches of snow fell from Feb. 5-Feb. 14. That time period also brought the snowiest month on record, a feat that thankfully Anchorage likely won’t break this month. Even with the record snow we’ve already seen, Anchorage would need at least up to a foot of additional snow between now and the end of the year to achieve a new snowiest month of all time.

RankMonth & YearTotal Snowfall
1February 199652.1″
2February 195548.5″
3December 195541.6″
4December 202241.1″
5November 199438.8″
6December 200337.6″
7December 199837.6
8December 200636.9″
9December 197837.6″
10January 200034.4″

It’s no surprise that historically, December tends to be our snowiest month. Looking at the data, Anchorage and much of Southcentral tends to see most of the snow come either at the beginning of the season, in November-December, or toward the end of it, in late February-March. Snowfall in January and February, on average, has lighter amounts as a result of drier and colder conditions coming down directly from the North Pole. It’s here when the coldest air of the season generally anchors itself and sticks around for a few weeks.

So now that we’ve seen that history can repeat itself and new records can be achieved, let’s dive into the numbers of the most recent winter storms and uncover just what that means for us as winter truly begins to settle into much of Alaska.

Roughly 70% of the average season snowfall has already blanketed Anchorage
Roughly 70% of the average season snowfall has already blanketed Anchorage(Alaska's News Source)

If one were to rank the numerous storms that swept through Southcentral over the last two weeks, they would be as follows:

  • Dec. 11-12 Anchorage officially saw 16.2 inches
  • Dec. 6-7 Anchorage officially saw 11.6 inches
  • Dec. 14-15 Anchorage officially saw 9.0 inches.

Two minor storms occurring between the ones mentioned above brought 1 to 4 inches of snow over the last two weeks as well, although it was the three big storms mentioned above, that really packed a punch. While totals varied greatly across Southcentral, everyone is having to work to dig out of what will likely end up being the snowiest December ever recorded. Currently, December 2022 is sitting just outside of the number 1 spot.

2022 is currently sitting at the 2nd snowiest December on record
2022 is currently sitting at the 2nd snowiest December on record(Alaska's News Source)

As of Thursday morning, Anchorage only needs just over half an inch of snow to replace 1955 as the snowiest December on record. Will we do it? There is a decent shot that we’ll see it, although the upcoming weather pattern favors drier and colder weather leading up to Christmas Day. Speaking of Christmas, thanks to the recent snowfall, the region will likely wake up on Christmas morning with the deepest snow depth that has ever been recorded. Right now the snow depth in the Anchorage Bowl is sitting at a staggering 35 inches, with 30 inches back in 1994 being the deepest snow depth on Christmas.

Of course, it all wouldn’t be possible without the consecutive snow storms that pummelled the region. So, just how much snow fell with this recent storm and did we break any records?

Southcentral snowfall totals from Wednesday PM through Thursday AM - updated 12 p.m.
Southcentral snowfall totals from Wednesday PM through Thursday AM - updated 12 p.m.(Alaska's Weather Source)

On average, a large portion of Southcentral saw anywhere from 6 to 16 inches with some localized heavier amounts. While it wasn’t enough to shatter any daily records for Anchorage, the recent wild weather did help propel Anchorage to the wettest year ever recorded.

What caused the record-setting year and what can we learn from it as each new year arrives?

It’s no surprise the climate is changing, Anchorage is just one location out of thousands across the globe that continues to break decades-old records. Most of those records are coming in the form of more extreme temperature swings and precipitation trends. It just so happens that Anchorage saw both extremes this year, as not only will the year close as the wettest on record, but it’s currently sitting comfortably in the top 10 warmest years on record.

As the climate continues to warm, that in turn is heating our oceans and leading to more water evaporating into the atmosphere. You learn in school that warmer air can hold more water. It’s one of the reasons that we use heating elements to dry things out, as warmer air absorbs moisture.

We’re already seeing this take place in the waters surrounding Alaska, as Arctic sea ice continues to dwindle. This year Arctic sea ice was well below the long-term average, with most regions of the Arctic continuing to show an increase in ocean plankton blooms.

In essence, a warmer climate means more moisture and more moisture means more for storms to work with. When you get the perfect set-up as we’ve seen across the southern half of Alaska, it’s a recipe for snow and plenty of it.

It’ll be back-breaking work to clean, but as we dig out across Southcentral remember to stay safe, use caution and drive slowly.