Alaska Climate Research Center

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2019 March Monthly Report


Highlights

Snow melt in Anchorage was the fourth earliest on record, behind 2016, 1980 and 1987. Snow depth of under one inch is normally reached around mid-April; this year the one inch threshold was reached on March 30th. Fairbanks is not far behind with a significantly below normal snow depth of 6 inches on March 31st. Fairbanks saw consecutive days with lows above freezing during the last week of March, the first time this has ever been recorded in March.

Break up on many rivers is expected to occur earlier than normal this year, as is “green-up” day, defined by the National Weather Service as the first day to have “leaf buds in birch and aspen open just enough to produce a faint but distinct green flush through the forest canopy”. The Nenana river is reported to be flowing at Nenana and a small ice jam has formed on the Tanana downstream of the Boondox. There has been some speculation that breakup of the Tanana at Nenana may occur before the Ice Classic entry period ends – this would be unprecedented in the long history of the event.

A number of sporting events were affected by the unusually warm temperatures and lack of snow and ice: Mushers of the 2019 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race had to deal with stretches of wet and soggy trail and adjusted their rest schedules to deal with the warm weather. The course of the race was moved overland between Elim and Golovin because of a lack of sea ice. Due to the thin ice associated with the recent high temperatures, the Sonot Kkaazoot Nordic Ski Race, held in Fairbanks on Saturday March 23rd, was moved from its usual course on the Chena River to Birch Hill. The 40 and 50 km events were combined and shortened to 30 km and the 20
km event was shortened to 9.5 km.

Unexpectedly high temperatures, together with heavy rainfall events and strong wind, raised avalanche risk in mountainous areas. The Alyeska Resort in Girdwood (Chugach State Park) shut down mountain operations for few days due to high avalanche risk. On March 9th an avalanche on Madson Mountain close to Moose Pass (Kenai Fjords National Park) killed a 33-year old Anchorage resident. A second fatality was reported in the same week: a 34-year-old was buried by an avalanche on Takshanuk Mountain near Haines. Both incidents were related to weak layers in the snowpack associated with the unusual weather.